Illness outbreak propts Nestle to pull back Toll House packages

Grants Pass residents Sheree Morris and her daughter, Alyssa, went in search of their favorite packaged cookie dough — Nestle Toll House chocolate chip — Friday at WinCo Foods in Medford, but found the product's slot on the refrigerated shelves was empty.

Nestle USA on Friday voluntarily recalled more than 40 varieties of prepackaged Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough after illnesses were reported by some people who ate the dough raw.

"I thought they were just out of it," said Morris, who bought a different brand of packaged cookie dough Friday. "I'm glad they pulled them. My kids eat the dough raw all the time."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control are investigating reported E. coli illnesses that might be related to eating the dough.

In a statement, the FDA said there have been 66 reports of illness across 28 states since March, including one in Multnomah County. About 25 people have been hospitalized, but no one has died. E. coli is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration and, in the most severe cases, kidney failure.

Grocery stores in Jackson County, including Food 4 Less in Medford, immediately removed the Toll House cookie dough products.

Dennis Stockton, assistant manager at Food 4 Less, posted a note on the shelf explaining why the packaged dough was missing.

"Otherwise, they come in and ask, 'Why can't we get any cookies, so if I put this up here, then, they'll know," Stockton said.

"I wasn't disappointed," said Food 4 Less shopper Jessi Sitzer, of Eagle Point. "I make my own dough. That (packaged) stuff is too sugary."

The FDA recommended consumers throw away any Nestle Toll House cookie dough products in their homes and asked retailers, restaurateurs and other food service operations not to sell or serve any of the products. The agency also advised consumers not to cook the dough. While eating cooked dough would be safe, there is a risk of consumers' hands, counters and other cooking surfaces being contaminated by the raw dough.

"This has been a very quickly moving situation," Nestle spokeswoman Roz O'Hearn said, adding the company took action within 24 hours of learning of the problem.

O'Hearn said the company will "cooperate fully" with the FDA's investigation.

The FDA and CDC continue to investigate the source of the E. coli. Food safety experts have recommended not eating raw cookie dough because of concerns about salmonella in raw eggs. Eggs, however, are not known to be an E. coli source.

The recall affects about 300,000 cases of Toll House packaged dough, including refrigerated cookie bar dough, cookie dough tub, cookie dough tubes, limited edition cookie dough items, seasonal cookie dough and Ultimates cookie bar dough. It includes chocolate chip dough, gingerbread, sugar and peanut butter dough and other varieties.

It does not affect other Toll House products, including ice cream that contains Toll House raw cookie dough.

Nestle holds a 41 percent share of the prepared cookie dough market.

Several recent food recalls have been related to bacterial contamination, including a salmonella outbreak last winter traced to a peanut company that sickened more than 600 people and that was blamed for at least nine deaths.

"This recall was a lot easier than the nuts," Stockton said. "Every item in the world seems to have nuts."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.