Dive brief:
  • All Pillsbury refrigerated cookie and brownie dough will be safe to eat raw, according to a statement from General Mills.
  • The reformulated cookie dough is made with heat-treated flour and pasteurized eggs, which kills pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses in the raw product, according to the company’s website. The company says the recipe has not changed, just these ingredients, so the cookies and brownies should taste the same.
  • General Mills is in the process of transitioning its dough products to be safe to eat raw, and has new packaging with a seal to indicate which products can be eaten both raw and cooked. The transition will be complete this summer. 

Dive insight:
Decades ago, eating raw dough was the best part of baking cookies. But massive food safety outbreaks spoiled that treat.

In 2009, 72 people in 30 states were sickened by eating raw refrigerated Nestlé Toll House cookie dough. Baking Business reported the outbreak was traced to flour. And in 2016, a massive E. coli outbreak, which sickened 63 people in 24 states, was tied to people eating raw dough made with Gold Medal flour. The outbreak led to more than 30 million pounds of flour in the U.S. and overseas being recalled. 

Since these outbreaks, the CDC has tried to educate the public about the dangers of eating raw dough. And manufacturers have worked to make dough safe for consumers to eat. Flour is the common weak link in these outbreaks. Because the grain milled into flour is grown outside in fields, it can easily be contaminated by animals or other environmental factors. But the raw eggs in cookie dough — which are usually not included in unbaked dough products, like the dough lumps for ice cream — can also be contaminated with salmonella.

Small manufacturers have been getting into the edible dough space for years, though almost none of the products could be baked. Nestlé was the first big name to produce an edible version of its dough, and it launched last year. The product, which does not contain eggs and is not suitable for baking, is currently available in four varieties. It is sold in a tub to make it easier for scooping and snacking.

General Mills’ Pillsbury launch takes this concept up a level by creating a dough that can also be baked. Instead of making a new product line, the company is enhancing the current one and creating an experience that many adults remember from childhood. While preparing these cookies, consumers can sneak a taste and not need to worry about illness. Instead of creating a product to serve one specific consumer need, as Nestlé and smaller cookie dough manufacturers have done, General Mills has made the products already on shelves serve many functions.

Reformulating existing products to serve consumer needs — whether they are reducing sugar or becoming more clean label — is something manufacturers are constantly doing behind the scenes. It’s likely that this reformulation has been in the works for years. But now, as the pandemic makes manufacturing, ingredients and grocery shelf space tight, this kind of reformulation seems to be tailor made for the times. This edible cookie dough adds a completely new product function — and one that meets consumer desire for comfort food in an uncertain time — without new SKUs.