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Nestle’s cookie dough returns to store shelves

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 19-Aug-2009

Nestle’s Toll House cookie dough has returned to stores with different packaging than the E. coli-tainted batch that was recalled two months ago, after “helpful discussions” with the FDA, the company said.

All the new refrigerated cookie dough will carry blue ‘new batch’ labels and come in blue shipping containers, instead of the previous black and will contain the statement: “Do not consume raw cookie dough”. Nestle said it discarded and replaced all of its ingredients, and worked with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the thorough dismantling and testing of its equipment and facility. But investigators did not find E. coli at the plant and never worked out how the bacterium – which is normally found in cattle intestines – found its way into the cookie dough.

“The adoption of this distinct labeling is the result of helpful discussions between FDA officials and Nestle, following reports of E.coli O157:H7 illnesses that appeared to be related to the consumption of raw cookie dough,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

The outbreak has now been linked to 80 illnesses across 31 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No one has died.

General manager of Nestle USA’s Baking Group Paul Bakus said: "While the FDA inspection at our Danville, Virginia facility has concluded, Nestle's commitment to food safety continues, as does our intensive testing. We test ingredients as they arrive and our cookie dough as it's made.”

Children

The outbreak drew particular public concern due to its victims including such a high proportion of children, at 66 percent. And it came hot on the heels of the multi-state salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products, which also had a profound effect on the public as half of those who contracted the bug were under 16 and 21 percent were under five.

That outbreak triggered a flurry of proposals on a local, state and federal level for food safety reform, including the Food Safety Enhancement Act, which passed through the House late last month.

Source remains undiscovered

The FDA’s assistant commissioner for food safety David Acheson has said that the agency is unlikely to discover the source of the E. coli outbreak linked to Nestle’s cookie dough, despite conducting extensive tests at the Nestle plant, as well as probing its ingredient suppliers.

However, he suggested that flour was the most plausible source of E. coli as it is a raw agricultural ingredient that could have been contaminated by animals when it was still in the field. This led health officials to inspect Nestle’s flour supplier after tests at the Danville plant did not find the bacterium.

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