NEW YORK - Federal authorities are investigating a newnational outbreak of a bacteria-triggered illness, this timerelated to a sweet treat treasured by the heartbroken andchildren-at-heart -- packaged raw cookie dough.
The federal Centers for Disease Control said its preliminaryinvestigation shows "a strong association" between eating rawrefrigerated cookie dough made by Nestle and the illnesses of 65people in 29 states whose lab results have turned up E. colibacteria since March.
About 25 of those people have been hospitalized, but no one hasdied. E. coli is a potentially deadly bacterium that can causebloody diarrhea, dehydration and, in the most severe cases, kidneyfailure.
Nestle USA voluntarily recalled all of its Toll Houserefrigerated cookie dough products after the U.S. Food and DrugAdministration advised consumers to throw away any Nestle TollHouse cookie dough products in their homes and asked retailers,restaurateurs and other foodservice operations not to sell or serveany of the recalled products.
Customers also can return any recalled product where they boughtit for a full refund. The recall does not affect other Toll Houseproducts, including ice cream that contains raw Toll House dough.
FDA spokesman Michael Herndon said officials were confident thatNestle refrigerated dough products caused the outbreak.
"This has been a very quickly moving situation," said RozO'Hearn, spokeswoman for Nestle's baking division, adding thecompany took action within 24 hours of learning of the problem.
Spokeswoman Laurie MacDonald for Nestle USA in Glendale, Calif.,a unit of Switzerland-based Nestle SA, said the company hastemporarily stopped making the refrigerated dough products whilethe FDA investigates the Danville, Va., factory where all therecalled items are made.
"We hope to resume production as soon as possible," she said.
There are about 550 employees at the facility, just across theborder with North Carolina, about half making Toll House products.Spokeswoman Roz O'Hearn said Friday the company doesn't know howmany will be temporarily laid off, but it could be as many as 250.
Nestle holds a 41 percent share of the prepared cookie doughmarket.
The recall includes refrigerated cookie bar dough, cookie doughtubs, cookie dough tubes, limited edition cookie dough items,seasonal cookie dough and Ultimates cookie bar dough. Nestle saidabout 300,000 cases of Nestle Toll House cookie dough are affectedby the recall, which covers chocolate chip dough, gingerbread,sugar, peanut butter dough and other varieties.
The FDA said consumers should not try to cook the dough, eventhough it would be safe to eat if cooked, because the bacteriacould move to their hands and to countertops and other cookingsurfaces.
Raw cookie dough is so popular that it has spawned more than 40groups on Facebook, complete with postings that read like lovenotes.
Stacey Oyler, a 33-year-old San Francisco resident, called ither "secret indulgence" -- a treat that became irresistible whenshe was pregnant with her second child last August. She said shestill indulges occasionally.
"I love the combination of the salt and sweet," she said."You can't get that from a piece of chocolate."
But no raw cookie is necessarily safe. The eggs in Nestle TollHouse's dough are pasteurized, which eliminates most of the risk ofsalmonella infection from raw eggs. But other ingredients couldcontain pathogens or bacteria, and the company warns in productlabels not to eat the dough raw.
Several recent food recalls have been related to bacterialcontamination, including a salmonella outbreak last winter tracedto a peanut company that sickened more than 600 people and that wasblamed for at least nine deaths. A separate outbreak of salmonellalast year linked to jalapeno peppers from Mexico led 1,400 peopleto become ill.
Sarah Klein, staff attorney in the food safety group at consumeradvocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, calledthe cookie dough news disheartening.
"Unfortunately, I don't think that people who have been workingin food safety for years can be surprised at this point and sadly,I don't think the American people are surprised either," Kleinsaid.