Ben Chapman

About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.

Life sentence recommended for former PCA president

It’s trite and cliched, but a food safety culture begins at the top of a company. CEOs, COOs, presidents and other business-y people have to value not making customers ill to really establish a working food safety program.

And provide resources to operational staff – the folks who put process and training systems in place to make food safer.8387b40a8cc5f54c53dc3a171e921aaa25744918

Most companies have internal conflicts on food safety priorities – but the good ones don’t let profits and market trump public health – like Stewart Parnell, former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) president did.

The shockingly poor food safety culture established by Parnell’s Salmonella-positive-just-ship-it mentality spread throughout the company, resulting in over 700 illnesses and 9 deaths linked to PCA’s products.

According to Korin Miller at Yahoo News, Parnell’s actions have led prosecutors to recommend a life sentence in prison.

The recommendation for his sentencing, which a lawyer for one of the victims called “unprecedented,” was revealed on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.

After a seven-week trial, Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, were both charged with 76 federal counts linked to intentionally shipping peanut products that tested positive for salmonella, CNN reports.

This case is disturbing because salmonella is so potentially dangerous, says food safety specialist Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor at North Carolina State University. “Not everybody who eats salmonella is going to get sick, but the issue is that you don’t know if you’re going to get sick,” he tells Yahoo Health. “That’s why we really don’t want to have salmonella in our food.”

So, while Parnell’s case is unprecedented, the proposed punishment does seem to fit the crime. “We saw through the trial that some really egregious things happened,” says Chapman. “It’s important that people who have knowingly done things to negatively effect other people’s health are held responsible and accountable — it sounds like that’s being done here.”

Ziploc says cook your burger to 125F for rare (and pathogens)

I love Pinterest (and pinned a few things at especially when people get into the food safety world.Pinterest Burgers

Kinsey Porter, one of the folks on the news team behind barfblog showed me this picture (right, exactly ask shown), that she saw on Pinterest this week: Ziploc’s attempt to teach the world how to cook a hamburger.

Except all the suggestions, save one, go against science-based messages. Cooking burgers below 155F for 15 seconds, or 160F = risky burgers.

Ziploc’s parent company SC Johnson say that they are all about families – they might want to provide info on how to keep families safe from foodborne illness. And stick to bags and containers.


Durham County health department looking at mobile vendors

Some of my favorite people are environmental health specialists. Between routine, unscheduled inspections of restaurants and institutions, many spend time working with individuals and small businesses to ensure that they make and sell food safely – and legally. According to, Durham County (NC) environmental health folks are looking to mobile vendors to ensure that they are inspected and are following food safety rules.

The Durham County Department of Public Health wants consumers to know if food from mobile food vendors is coming from somebody who has a permit to sell it.

Environmental Health Director Christopher Salter said the department is also working to inform vendors of food safety regulations, which bar home food prep and selling from a stand without a permit.

Salter said there are 126 mobile food units acting legally in the county. They are heavily scrutinized for healthy food preparation and storage practices. Salter said these vendors not only pose a health risk, but they undercut the businesses of food vendors who follow the legal channels.

“I know that they’re just trying to make a living, they’re trying to get by,” Salter said. “But we have the rules and regulations and what’s right and wrong, and bottom line is we have to protect the public health.”

And it’s not just the mobile vendors, as I peruse my Facebook feed and the Wake Forest Community Information page, there’s food that folks are selling out of their homes. Like cupcakes and pesto.


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Portland, I’m about to be in you; get rid of your Salmonella

I’m all caught up on my Portlandia viewing, I’ve got my beard trimmed and my suspenders packed.

I’m even going to bring my mason jars to drink out of.

I’m ready for IAFP in Portland.

Maybe the conference karma will be better for the food safety nerds than it was for attendees of the Open Source Bridge Conference. According to conference organizers, health authorities at least 50 attendees of the developers conference came away with salmonellosis.


We have determined that Salmonella caused gastrointestinal illness among conference attendees. Laboratory tests helped investigators identify a distinct Salmonella strain (Salmonella typhimurium) in six attendees who became ill between June 26th and June 30th. In addition to these six cases, 45 other people reported having symptoms consistent with Salmonellosis. They were among more than 220 conference attendees who responded to a Health Department survey that conference organizers shared last week.

The Health Department is continuing its investigation to identify the source of the bacteria that caused the illness. There is no indication that this outbreak spread beyond people connected to the conference. We are monitoring illness in Oregon to assure this is the case.

Food Safety Talk 78: Brogues are low risk

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University. Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.  They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.

The show opens with the guys reminiscing about their visit to Southern California and the Hopscotch Tavern where they witnessed a Fark worthy car chase on TV.

Ben shared his love of Top 40 music , and his worries about exposing his kids to inappropriate music like Beyoncé or Sublime1436278542099

From there the discussion moves to the value of real world experiences like those detailed in Kitchen ConfidentialHeat, or by Gord Surgeoner during his retirement dinner.

The food safety talk begins in earnest with a discussion of Hepatitis A illnesses linked to frozen berries in Australia, and Don shared his back of the envelope quantitative microbial risk assessment for frozen berries based on this article. This was followed by a discussion on why viruses might be such a problem in frozen berries, and frozen food safety risk management in general.

Next up is an exploration of Listeria in public lavatories based on this peer reviewed publication. The conversation then devolves into Shoe Safety Talk, and the risks posed by brogues, not broughs, but the brogue shoe.

The After Dark includes a mention of Roderick’s RendezvousThe Dan Benjamin Hour, and Don finally remembers the name of Battle Creek.

Rotten meat paste linked to botulism cases in Algiers

Botulism is no joke. Whether it’s from home-canned potatoes, pruno, fermented seal flipper, or meat paste.

There might be something lost in translation but according to Ennahar Online, at least two people have died and another eight are ill from bot toxin-containing meat paste.p7l7Nya

A second person died, Friday, July 3, following a cardiopulmonary problem in Batna. This is the second death of botulism after the death of a child Thursday in Khenchla.

This is a sexagenarian hospitalized on June 23 in the University Hospital of the province along with 8 other patients suspected of having contracted the disease, according to the APS agency quoting the director of the abovementioned health facility. 

The consumption of rotten meat paste (cachir) would be the cause of this serious disease, pending “the result of bacteriological analysis by the Pasteur Institute of Algiers.” Quantities of nearly a ton of cachir and 339 kg of chicken paste were withdrawn from sale in the provinces of Batna and Khenchela

Ciguatera intoxication happens; not cigar-related

When I teach food service folks a certified food protection manager class I often stumble over the pronunciation of ciguatera poisoning (the New York Times says it’s sig-WAH-terra – I’ll go with that). The toxin is produced by a dinoflagellates (usually Gambierdiscus toxicus which lives on algae or dead coral) and is eaten up by sporting fish like barracuda, amber jack and some types of grouper and snapper.

The fish eat the small organisms and overtime bioaccumulate the toxin in their tissue.images

Then folks who like fish, eat it and get sick. Even if it’s cooked.

The toxin is pretty heat stable (FAO says that even 20 min of cooking at 158°F/70°C for 20 min was insufficient to fully denature the toxin protein). Ciguatera was responsible for an outbreak aboard a cargo ship earlier this year, leading to a code orange at a Saint John, New Brunswick (that’s in Canada) hospital. Thirteen crew members fell ill within hours of eating toxin-ridden fish.

Elizabeth Radke and colleagues at Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute published research earlier this week estimating that ciguatera is a much larger issue than the reported illness disease trackers believe. Public health data show that barracuda, grouper and amberjack caught from subtropical waters in the Bahamas and the Florida Keys are key risk factors.

From the paper:

Our finding that only 7% of diagnosed cases were reported to the FDOH may at first glance be surprising. However, for many notifiable diseases, physicians rely on laboratory reporting of cases, which is not available for ciguatera because of the lack of a diagnostic laboratory test. In addition, because ciguatera is not a communicable disease, physicians may be unaware that it is a notifiable condition in the State of Florida. One survey in Miami-Dade County found that only 47% of physicians knew that ciguatera was notifiable and this is likely to be lower in less endemic parts of the state.

We also found that Hispanics experience the highest rate of ciguatera illness in Florida, possibly due to more frequent consumption of barracuda than non-Hispanics. This may represent an opportunity for targeted, culturally relevant educational messaging after more narrowly identifying high-risk cultural groups.

Know your target audiences, their practices and communicate to them directly.

Ask questions at the farmers market; the grower is (usually) right there

Where I grew up (Port Hope, Ontario – that’s in Canada), there was a small tailgate farmers market Saturday mornings in the parking lot adjacent to Valu-Mart. My mom and I shopped there sometimes and I never really wondered whether the stuff was safe. I didn’t think a whole lot about food safety and regulation until years later. I figured that if someone could sell it, they must know what they are doing, and I didn’t have to worry about it.

Food safety is all about trust, and I had lots of it.

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As a more mature food safety-focused shopper, I don’t care what size the farm is, where they are located geographically or what their production style is – I only want to know whether the person making what I’m eating can manage food safety risks or not. And whether they do it all the time.

When our group started working with farmers markets a few years ago we created a strong partnership with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Together, with funding from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund, we developed best practices and engaged with market managers and vendors through workshops and on-site visits. The focus was to help market folks manage food safety risks – and engage with the interested public around what they do to keep food safe.

The growing trend of farmers’ market shopping allows for direct engagement between producer and eater and when Kim Painter of USA Today asked me about questions I ask when I walk through vendor stalls I told her I go full food safety nerd and ask about handwashing (and other stuff).

Markets are subject to state and local food safety rules, but some practices – including the provision of hand-washing facilities for vendors – should be followed everywhere, says Benjamin Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University. Chapman also asks whether workers have had food safety training and how equipment is kept clean. Finally, he asks about farming practices, including how farm water is tested for safety and how farms that raise animals keep animals and their waste out of fruit and vegetable fields. Illness outbreaks have been linked to foods sold at both grocery stores and farmers markets, he says. “I think there’s a perception that the products you would get at a farmers market are safer. But we don’t have that data.”

Click here to check out the asking questions at farmers’ markets infosheet we put together last year.


Food Safety Talk 77: Sous vide is French for under vacuum

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University. Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.  They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.large_89552732661

Ben and Don start by catching up about technology. Ben is quite excited about Google fiber coming to Raleigh, NC, Don, already subscribed to Verizon fios says that the fiber is great. Ben then leads a discussion about his new obsession, the Wake Forest Community discussion board on Facebook. The page is a forum for pretty much anything from tooth abscesses, to snakes, to local business ratings. The guys delve into the community forum concept and explore the intersection with food safety (sale of goods, transportation from out of state). Don mentions that he has been volunteering with the innovation committee in Freehold borough who also is looking at a community forum.  Ben introduces the concept of lip dubbing and Don provides his favorite, a NFL video about reading of lips incorrectly.

The real food safety portion of the podcast starts by Don talking about Better Process Control School. Don talked about some feedback he was giving to a couple of small companies about aseptic processing, challenge studies and jacketed kettles, and expressed some frustration with FDA because sometimes their interpretation of science isn’t clear.

The discussion goes into regulatory hurdles, retail food safety, variances and HACCP plans. Ben talked about an individual that is interested in food sustainability who is looking to divert food waste from restaurants to pantries, using reduced oxygen packaging for storage and transport. The guys talk about regulating food even that is given away (but not it all states) and the variance process.

NC Senator Thom Tillis garnered headlines for suggesting that restaurants be allowed to opt out of handwashing regulations as long as they post a disclosure or advisory – or  replacing one regulation with another. The podcast ends with a discussion of a possible norovirus outbreak at NC State.

Staph toxin in French Roquefort cheeses leads to recall in Canada 

I like Roquefort cheese, probably too much. My favorite weekend lunch combination is Roquefort on crackers with honey, proscuitto and a Malbec. I prefer my cheese without staph toxin though.

According to a press release, Saputo Inc is recalling a couple of French Roqueforts under the Papillon brand.

There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products. 

The affected products have been distributed across Canada. This voluntary recall represents approximately 900 kg of Papillon brand Roquefort cheese products in 100 g and approximately 1.375 kg random weight half wheels.

The Brand, Product Name, Product Size, UPC, and Codes that appear on packages of the affected products can assist consumers in identifying the recalled products