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Nestle USA heat-treated flour switch planned for months

By Rory Harrington , 19-Jan-2010

Nestle USA said the switch to heat-treated flour in the production of its Toll House dough has been planned since late summer and confirmed it had yet to find the source of the E.coli detected in its samples.

The company told FoodProductionDaily.com that proposals to change its flour had been underway since late summer 2009 – around the same time as it re-started production at its Virginia plant following a nationwide recall of its raw cookie dough. Output at the Danville facility was halted in June after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched an investigation that consumption of the dough was linked to 69 cases of E.coli across 29 states.

The food giant announced the change to using heat-treated flour after E.coli was detected in two more dough samples last week. No recall was issued as no product had left the plant.

Heat-treated not irradiated

Nestle said Friday it would be purchasing its flour from a third party supplier and that the new ingredient, made using a proprietary process, would be heat-treated – not irradiated. Flour is heated to high temperatures in a bid to kill all harmful bacteria. The company said the move was a safety enhancement.

“We'll be making some changes related to bringing the new ingredient into our facility and we'll retrain employees on working with the new ingredients,” Nestle USA spokeswoman Roz O’Hearn said.

Minimise risk

The firm said it had not confirmed that its current flour was responsible for the E.coli H7:O157-tainted sample results either last week or last year but that it had made the switch on precautionary safety grounds.

“We do not know that flour is the source for E. coli O157.H7,” said O’Hearn. “It is however a raw agricultural commodity and raw agricultural commodities can carry some risk. To improve our product safety and minimize risk we've made a prudent decision to switch to heat-treated flour.”

The company’s food scientist had been formulating new recipes since the decision was made last year, she added. Last week, Nestle USA said its plant would be closed until 25 January while the changeover was implemented. It said it would be building up inventory throughout February with a view to rolling out supplies nationwide in early March.

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