General Mills has recalled about 100,000 5-pound bags of Gold Medal flour over concern they may be tainted with salmonella.
The Golden Valley-based company hasn't received reports of any consumers getting sick but issued the recall Wednesday after discovering contaminated flour had been sent to retailers nationwide.
Only 5-pound bags of Gold Medal unbleached flour with a better-if-used-by date of April 20, 2020, are affected. Consumers are encouraged to check their pantries and shelves and dispose of any product that fits that exact description. The salmonella was found during random on-shelf sampling of the flour.
The news stirred memories of the company's 2016 recall of Gold Medal. That recall was much larger — 45 million pounds, or about 2 percent of its total annual output — vs. about 500,000 pounds now. The 2016 recall was due to E. coli contamination, and at least 46 people reported illness.
"This one is completely different from 2016 because there are no reports of illness," said Mike Siemienas, a General Mills spokesman.
Flour is a raw food product that, just like meat, eggs and vegetables, holds some risk of dangerous bacteria being carried in from the field or growing facility. Flour has been the source of several foodborne illness outbreaks over the past decade. But Bill Marler, a prominent food-safety lawyer, said he can't remember another flour recall related to salmonella. "The mechanics of salmonella or E. coli in flour is the same. Both are a fecal pathogen," he added.
The product in both recalls was processed at the company's Kansas City mill.
To date, General Mills said there's no truly effective "kill step" available to them. The leading method for killing off harmful bacteria is heat treatment, which the company said would alter the chemistry and baking properties of flour. Prepackaged cookie dough is different. It is heat-treated to kill pathogens before the product is packaged, shipped and sold to consumers.
"These natural occurrences of contamination are not something that we can prevent completely," the company said in a statement Thursday.
General Mills said it routinely tests its flour for the presence of pathogens at the manufacturing facilities but is more strict about certain foods. For instance, every batch of gluten-free Cheerios is tested for gluten before it leaves the plant, Siemienas said.
Salmonella causes an estimated 1.2 million illnesses every year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the vast majority of those infections coming through food. Common symptoms include diarrhea, fever and cramps. It can be more severe in those with weakened immune systems, older adults and young children and can lead to a painful joint condition called reactive arthritis.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reminds consumers to not eat raw dough and that salmonella is killed through baking, frying, sautéing or boiling products made with flour. The agency and General Mills advise consumers to wash surfaces and utensils that come in contact with raw flour or dough.