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Put down the raw cookie dough until you check your flour. Getty Images
  • The Gold Medal brand of flour is being voluntarily recalled over concerns it may be contaminated with E. coli.
  • Even though few people consume raw flour, the FDA and General Mills advise throwing out the flour instead of cooking with it.
  • The particular strain of E. coli is more virulent and can cause more severe symptoms.

General Mills has voluntarily recalled batches of unbleached all-purpose flour due to a potential contamination with a harmful strain of E. coli.

The contamination was identified during a sampling of the product. So far, no illnesses have been linked to the contamination, but the type of strain — E. coli O26 — can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration. In more serious cases, it can be deadly.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now urging consumers to dispose of the flour.

“Guidance from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) continues to warn that consumers should refrain from consuming any raw products made with flour,” General Mills wrote in an announcement posted on the FDA website on September 16.

Eating raw dough or batter that contains the contaminated flour could give you a serious infection.

The affected products were sold in 5-pound bags as Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose Flour.

They had a “better if used by” date of September 6, 2020, and the package UPC 016000 196100.

An image of the product can be seen here.

General Mills is asking those who bought the product to contact their customer relations team at 800-230-8103 or online.

Try to save the product name, bar code, and better if used by date so the company can give you a replacement coupon.

Although the bacteria can be killed when exposed to high temperatures through baking or cooking, health experts recommend not cooking with it.

“If your flour is impacted by the recall, it is best to discard the product in order to minimize risk,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Though some types of E. coli are relatively harmless, this particular strain — E. coli O26 — can release toxins into the body and has the potential to cause a severe infection with symptoms such as bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain.

These toxins are known for their ability to severely damage the kidneys, according to Adalja.

“When a particular strain of E. coli, especially those which secrete certain toxins, creates an infection in part of your body, symptoms may develop related both to the infection and the toxin produced,” says Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.

Most people will recover with a week.

Generally, symptoms don’t need to be treated unless they’re severe, according to Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an infectious disease specialist with Stanford Health Care.

If symptoms worsen or don’t clear up, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

“The infection usually resolves on its own but severe infection may be sometimes treated with antibiotics,” Maldonado said.

If dehydration occurs, patients can be rehydrated with intravenous (IV) fluids.

If the kidneys begin shutting down, patients will likely need dialysis — a treatment that takes on the job of the kidneys and removes water and toxins from the blood.

Older adults, young children, and people with compromised immune systems have the greatest risk and should avoid the contaminated flour at all costs.

While flour may not seem like an obvious host to bacteria, it’s not unheard of since flour typically isn’t treated to kill bacteria when its harvested and milled into flour.

Flour comes from wheat, which is grown outdoors where it’s potentially exposed to all types of bacteria — especially when wild animals are in or around the fields.

“Likely some fecal contamination from an animal source made its way into the flour,” Adalja said.

Earlier this year, 21 people fell ill after eating flour contained with the same bacteria — E. coli O26. People typically fell ill about 3 to 4 days after eating the flour and symptoms — which included stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting — lasted about 5 to 7 days.

Although that outbreak ended around July, health officials have warned consumers that all-purpose flour has a long shelf life and can still make people sick.

Other than avoiding the flour altogether, hand-washing can help you stay healthy.

“Without a doubt, the single best prevention against E. coli infection is careful hand-washing,” Cutler said.

General Mills has voluntarily recalled batches of unbleached all-purpose flour due to a potential contamination with a harmful strain of E. coli.

The type of bacteria — E. coli O26 — can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and in more serious cases, kidney failure. Health officials recommend disposing the contaminated flour and washing your hands if you think you’ve been exposed to it.