Cafe Society

Boulder-based Umbria has some disturbing news about that killer cookie dough

Nestle has recalled all its Toll House refrigerated raw cookie dough, for fear those packages are contaminated with that little nuisance, E.coli. Nationwide, dozens of people have become ill, possibly because of tainted dough. But wait, you say: How much danger is there of more people getting infected, since they'll all be baking away the E. coli when they stick their Toll House Fudgy Brownies with Peanut Butter Filling in the oven, right? Right?


A study of roughly 400 people who bought refrigerated cookie dough in a two-month period found that more than 60 percent consumed the product unbaked. And according to their comments about the transgression, they eat raw dough all the time, E.coli and all: "I ate a roll of raw cookie dough -- again." "Bought another roll of cookie dough. Couldn't wait to get home to eat it. Spooned it into my mouth as I drove." "I hate myself. I've had 12 rolls of raw cookie dough this month."

Umbria, a Boulder-based market-research company, discovered this trend. But how did it get people to fess up to such gluttony? Simple: Umbria - or rather Umbria's super computers - trawl people's blogs. As our January 2007 feature, "The Blogtrotters," explained, Umbria's founders found ways to get computers to do things long thought impossible: read and actually make sense of sentences, for example, and even determine the age and gender of the sentences' authors based on what, exactly, was written.

Back in 2007, the blogosphere was still relatively young - it's come a long, long way since then. With the masses spilling their guts on endless blogs these days, Umbria could probably uncover a lot more disturbing things about how people use their raw cookie dough. But trust us: We don't want to know.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner

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