There was a time when eating cake batter right off the mixer beaters was a treat for kids of all ages. Unfortunately, it’s no longer a safe bet.
My mom makes the best lemon pound cake you’d ever taste.
I’ve sampled good pound cakes over the years, but my mom’s cakes always stand out because they keep their moisture.
When I was growing up and she was making a cake for one occasion or another, there were two things I always looked forward to.
There was the obvious one — enjoying the cake once it had been baked and cooled.
But then there was what came before that. She’d pour the batter into a cake pan and bake. And I’d get the batter that was left over. Her batter was almost as good as the finished product.
Not once when I was a kid did I miss the batter. And not once after eating the batter did I ever develop any horrible symptoms of some foodborne illness.
Times have changed.
Whenever I hear a conversation about eating cake batter, there’s always the familiar warning about the risk of salmonella contamination from raw eggs.
But there’s a bigger issue over the years that has come into play that a lot of people don’t consider: it’s not about the eggs. It’s about the flour.
The flour, of course, comes from wheat. The Food and Drug Administration says wheat fields are typically not treated for harmful bacteria like E. coli, which means that the flour derived from contaminated wheat could itself contain the bacteria. It isn’t normally a problem because what the FDA calls “common kill steps” like boiling, baking, roasting, microwaving, and frying remove those risks.
But with raw dough, no kill step has been used because the baking hasn’t yet happened.
There’s something of a mystery about why there seems to be a higher incidence of E. coli in flour. Experts say one reason could be animal activity in fields where the wheat is harvested, where animal droppings could cause contamination.
But I’m sure animals were using fields for bathrooms when I was enjoying my mom’s cake batter all those years ago. In fact, I’m sure animals have used fields as toilets since time began.
Another possibility could be the processing facilities, the water supply, or even the human workers.
A friend of mine who is a nutritionist told me once she thinks one of the contributing factors could be the overuse of land in farming. Farmers, she says, often don’t give the land time to recover and regenerate between crops like they used to. The overuse of land means having to bring in larger and larger amounts of fertilizers and nutrients to keep the soil fertile, and she thinks this could be part of the problem.
Maybe, maybe not.
All I know is that the last time I watched mom make a cake, I had to watch her put the mixing bowl and beaters in the sink with that delicious batter still present.
It made me sad. Not as sad as an E.coli infection would have made me, but it made me sad nonetheless.