Federal authorities are investigating a new outbreak of bacteria-triggered illness related to a sweet treat treasured by the heartbroken and children-at-heart - packaged raw cookie dough.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday that, since March, 66 people in 28 states have fallen ill with symptoms caused by e. coli bacteria after eating Nestle Toll House dough raw.
The victims range from 2 years old into their 60s and 75 percent are women, reports CBS News correspondent Priya David.
"This particular strain of e. coli can make you very sick," Dr. Steven Lamm of NYU Medical Center told David. "Your kidneys can shut down and you can actually die."
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.
Nestle USA voluntarily recalled all of its Toll House refrigerated cookie dough products after the FDA advised consumers to throw away any Nestle Toll House cookie dough products in their homes and asked retailers, restaurateurs and other foodservice operations not to sell or serve any of the products.
Customers also can return any Nestle cookie dough product where they bought it for a full refund. The recall does not affect other Toll House products, including ice cream that contains Toll House raw cookie dough.
The federal Centers for Disease Control also are investigating the illnesses.
"This has been a very quickly moving situation," said Roz O'Hearn, spokeswoman for the company's baking division, adding the company took action within 24 hours of learning of the problem.
Nestle USA spokeswoman Laurie MacDonald said the company has temporarily stopped making the dough while the FDA investigates its factory.
"We hope to resume production as soon as possible," she said.
Nestle holds a 41 percent share of the prepared cookie dough market.
The recall includes refrigerated cookie bar dough, cookie dough tubs, cookie dough tubes, limited edition cookie dough items, seasonal cookie dough and Ultimates cookie bar dough. Nestle said about 300,000 cases of Nestle Toll House cookie dough are affected by the recall, which covers chocolate chip dough, gingerbread, sugar, peanut butter dough and other varieties.
The FDA said consumers should not try to cook the dough, even though it would be safe to eat if cooked, because the bacteria could move to their hands and to countertops and other cooking surfaces.
The cookie dough is nearly as popular raw as it is cooked. There are more than 40 raw cookie dough groups on Facebook - one with more than 3,000 members - complete with photos of dough and postings that read like love notes. Most do not relate directly to Nestle products.
Stacey Oyler, a 33-year old San Francisco resident, called raw cookie dough her "secret indulgence" - a treat that became irresistible when she was pregnant with her second child last August. She said she still indulges occasionally.
"I love the combination of the salt and sweet," she said. "You can't get that from a piece of chocolate."
Raw cookie dough may be tasty, but it isn't necessarily safe. The eggs in Nestle Toll House's dough are pasteurized, which eliminates most of the risk of salmonella infection that is present in raw eggs. But other raw ingredients could contain other pathogens or bacteria. The company warns in product labels not to eat the dough raw.
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. A separate outbreak of salmonella last year linked to jalapeno peppers from Mexico led 1,400 people to become ill.
Sarah Klein, staff attorney in the food safety group at consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, called the news disheartening.
"Unfortunately, I don't think that people who have been working in food safety for years can be surprised at this point and sadly, I don't think the American people are surprised, either," Klein said.
CBS News' Priya David briefs CBSNews.com:
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