The Nestle Toll House “Break & Bake” Recall: How Does Wood End Up in Cookie Dough, Anyway?

Updated: Aug. 14, 2023

A food safety expert explains how this "foreign material" could have made its way into a batch of popular chocolate chip cookies you find in the chilled case.

We don’t think of those legacy grocery-store brands often having food safety errors, but on August 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration published Nestlé USA’s announcement about their voluntary recall of Nestlé USA Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough “break and bake” bars. Representatives for the company said they were issuing the recall “out of an abundance of caution after a small number of consumers contacted Nestlé USA” about “the potential presence of wood fragments.”

The announcement noted that no consumers had reported any health issues to date, but the occasional brand-name recall like this can cause questions: How do “foreign materials” make their way into manufactured supermarket products?

We’ll back up, in case this affects your groceries: The US Food and Drug Administration announced that Nestlé USA initiated a voluntary recall of two batches of the “break and bake” bars produced on April 24 and 25, 2023 with batch codes 311457531K and 311557534K due to presence of wood. The company reported this recall does not involve any other Nestlé Toll House products.

“This is an exceedingly rare occurrence, especially in a facility as large as Nestle’s manufacturing center,” says Keith R. Schneider, PhD, a food safety expert and professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “The presence of foreign debris makes up a small segment of recalls compared to bacterial contamination.”

That’s somewhat reassuring, perhaps…but how could wood have gotten into the cookie dough? There are a few potential scenarios, Dr. Schneider tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest.

Dr. Schneider floats a few possible explanations: It could be splintering from a wood pallet or flat transport structure that supports packaged cookie dough while being lifted by a forklift. In this case, the contamination with wood would have occurred after packaging if wood cut through the plastic wrapping.

Another scenario? “It’s possible that a large wooden spoon that was used to transport batter could have splintered, but most equipment is made of stainless steel,” he notes.

The wood could also come from raw ingredients. “If flour is milled, wood may have gotten into the milling process,” Dr. Schneider speculates.

There is not a lot of information available on the size of wood fragments. “It could be sawdust that found its way into the batter from a wooden walkway,” Dr. Schneider says.

Lisa R. Young, PhD, RDN, an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University in New York City, agrees that foods can get contaminated with strange items like wood in a variety of ways during preparation, storage or distribution. “Pieces of wood could have gotten into the batch from the surface it came in contact with,” she adds.

Now, the company will do a traceability study to see if they can find the answers. Nestle is working with the FDA on this voluntary recall.  The FDA is asking consumers who purchased these products to return them to the place of purchase for a refund or a replacement or to call Nestlé USA at (800) 681-1678.