Nestlé USA's Baking Division announced yesterday that it was suspending production of Toll House Refrigerated Cookie Dough after finding E. coli O157:H7 in two samples of finished product.
The contaminated cookie dough was never shipped, thanks to Nestlé's enhanced "test and hold" protocols.
As a precaution, Nestlé also has blocked the shipment of the batch of Cookie Dough that was produced immediately prior to the contaminated batch, as well as all Cookie Dough that was produced subsequent to the E. coli O157:H7-positive batch. This product will all be destroyed, according to Laurie MacDonald of Nestlé USA.
Nestlé does not ship its finished Cookie Dough products until after each production batch receives lab clearance. The Company implemented a stringent ingredient, environmental and finished product testing protocol following the 2009 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that was linked to consumption of raw Toll House Refrigerated Cookie Dough.
As part of its investigation into last year's outbreak, FDA conducted an extensive inspection of Nestlé's Danville, Virginia production facility, where Toll House Refrigerated Cookie Dough products are made. FDA labs recovered E. coli O157:H7 (but not the outbreak strain) from a retained finished product sample of the Cookie Dough. Neither FDA nor Nestlé were able to pinpoint the source of the contamination, although the FDA inspection report noted two equipment design concerns that impeded proper cleaning and sanitation.
Lab tests are currently underway to determine whether the latest strain of E. coli O157:H7 matches either the outbreak strain from 2009 or the genetically different strain that FDA recovered from the retained finished product sample.
I'm told by Laurie MacDonald that Nestlé decided last summer to eliminate a possible source of E. coli o157:H7 by converting its raw Cookie Dough product to heat-treated flour. This necessitated recipe reformulations and extensive testing – which has been going on ever since – to ensure both the safety and the sensory quality of the products.
Nestlé is using the shut-down triggered by the latest finding of E. coli O157:H7 to complete its conversion to heat-treated flour. During the two week shutdown, equipment will be retooled and staff will be retrained to handle the revised process. Production of the new version of Toll House Refrigerated Cookie Dough products is expected to start the week of January 25th.
FDA has been advised of the E. coli O157:H7 findings, and has been kept informed of the company's plans. There has been no product recall, since the E. coli O157:H7-contaminated production batch never left the Danville factory.
Nestlé USA reminds consumers that Toll House Refrigerated Cookie Dough is a raw product and should be baked before being eaten.
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