The FDA has released a statement confirming that they found E. coli O121 isolates from an open sample of General Mills flour belonging to a consumer who was sickened with the pathogenic bacteria. The government used whole genome sequencing to analyze the E. coli bacteria. The isolate was closely genetically related to the clinical isolates taken from sick people. The flour came from a lot that General Mills has recalled.
At least 38 people in 20 states have been sickened with the outbreak strain of E. coli O121. Ten people have been hospitalized because their illnesses are so severe. Some of those who got sick had eaten or handled raw dough. The case count by state is: Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), Arizona (2), California (1), Colorado (4), Iowa (1), Illinois (4) Massachusetts (2), Maryland (1), Michigan (4), Minnesota (3), Missouri (1), Montana (1), New York (1), Oklahoma (2), Pennsylvania (2), Texas (2), Virginia (2), Washington (2), and Wisconsin (1)
The traceback investigation conducted by the FDA found that the raw dough eaten or handled by sick people or used in restaurants was made using General Mills flour that was produced in the same week at the General Mills facility in Kansas City, Missouri. The flour in question was produced in the same week in November 2015.
General Mills has voluntarily recalled flour products produced between November 14, 2015 and December 4, 2015. The products were sold under the brand names Gold Medal flour, Signature Kitchens flour, and Gold Medal Wondra flour. The varieties of flour recalled are unbleached, all-purpose, and self-rising. General Mills also sells flour products in bulk to customers who use it to make other products. These customers have been contacted directly.
Since flour has a long shelf life, and since many people decant flour into other containers, these products could still be in people’s homes. If you have any of these recalled products in your home, or if you are not sure, throw it away. Do not use it even if you are going to thoroughly bake or cook it. Flour can drift all over your kitchen. And 10 E. coli bacteria, which are enough to make you seriously ill, can easily fit on a speck of flour. If you put the flour into another container, wash that container well before you add any other food product.
Eating raw dough, even if you make it without eggs or with pasteurized eggs, is a food safety risk. The flour can be contamianted, as evidenced by this outbreak. Do not taste raw flour or batter. Wash any bowls, utensils, and work surfaces used when you were working with the flour with hot water and soap. And wash your hands with soap and water after baking and after handling raw doughs or batters.
The symptoms of E. coli food poisoning include diarrhea which is often bloody and/or watery, severe abdominal cramps, a mild fever, and perhaps vomiting. People usually get sick three to four days after exposure to the pathogenic bacteria. If you do get sick, see your doctor. E. coli infections can develop into hemolytic uremic syndrome if they are improperly treated, or if the patient is very young or old.