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.

Stadium food safety expose linked to firing

When I turned 16 my dad and I (below, exactly as shown) took a trip around the U.S. and caught a bunch of baseball games at MLB parks. Seven cities, seven games in eight days. In each of the stadiums my dad and I ate a standard hot dog (to compare and rate) as well as a sample of the local food specialty (poutine in Montreal, cheesesteaks in Philly, etc.).

I wasn’t the healthiest teenager.n564500217_1828077_9385

Food is a big part of the stadium experience for many.

In November 2014, ESPN’s Outside the Lines ran a story about Jon Costa, an Aramark employee at Kaufmann Stadium who reported frustration with his bosses over not being able to address food safety problems. Today, ESPN reported that Costa had been fired.

Jon Costa shared with “Outside the Lines” a copy of a letter he said his former employer, Aramark, sent him on March 17 saying Costa was being fired “for cause.” The letter outlines a number of reasons, the first of which is that he violated the company’s media policy by taking his concerns public.

The company defended its food safety record: “In Kansas City, we have served over 17 million fans since 2007 at hundreds of games and events and have a strong record of performance. We have continued to work closely with the Kansas City Health Department who has inspected Truman Sports Complex more than 100 times over our operating tenure. None of our Kansas City sports operations have ever been shut down by the Health Department and there have been no cases of food-related illness tied to our operations.”

In its letter of termination, Aramark also said Costa “failed to take prompt action to address food safety issues, notwithstanding documented support from his managers and direction from them to do so” and to discipline employees who were violating food safety practices.

But Costa said he had tried to solve problems by addressing them on site and bringing them to the attention of managers who never supported his efforts. He said he did not supervise anyone and had neither the authority nor training to discipline fellow employees.

The letter detailing his firing also says that Costa hampered Aramark’s relationship with the local health department and that he did not follow protocol in dealing with the department. Costa, who used to work for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department, denied those allegations. When “Outside the Lines” interviewed health department division manager Naser Jouhari in November, he said he knew Costa as a former employee and Aramark representative and that, “It’s all been pleasant. We never had any major concerns.”

Katie Overbey: March gastro madness

Katie Overbey, a food science graduate student at NC State who focuses on food safety communication and norovirus writes:

Basketball has been on my mind a lot this past week and I’ve wondered a few times what would happen if a team participating in the NCAA tournament fell victim to norovirus? Today, I got my answer.ncaa-san-diego-st-duke-basketball.jpeg10-620x412

San Diego State men’s basketball players and coaches got a bit more March Madness than they were counting on this past weekend when members of the team came down with GI illnesses before their game against Duke on Sunday. According to Fox Sports, multiple players, as well as the head coach, experienced symptoms, which sounds like norovirus (but wasn’t confirmed).

The trouble began when senior guard Aqeel Quinn came down with what the team thought was a case of food poisoning after eating a turkey sandwich Thursday.

Head athletic trainer Tom Abdenour said he started hearing that others weren’t feeling well by Saturday evening.

“Coach Fisher said he wasn’t feeling well after practice, then … there’s a text from this one, text from that one,” he said. “It was, ‘Wait a second, what’s going on here?'”

Abdenour said Fisher and assistant coach Brian Dutcher needed IVs on Sunday, while several players told him they weren’t feeling well at breakfast.

Abdenour said radio play-by-play announcer Ted Leitner was also battling the bug.

“That’s not fun to deal with that, but that had no impact on how we competed, what we did, how we played,” Fisher said. “That had no bearing on it.”

Intense GI distress of the norovirus variety doesn’t usually leave me in peak physical condition.

Pennington writes: Outbreaks are full of lessons

I’ve never met Hugh Pennington (or Sir Hugh as he’s known to some), but as far as food safety gurus go, he’s way up there. In 1997 he led a public inquiry into a massive E. coli O157 outbreak linked to a Scottish butcher resulting in 21 deaths. In 2006 he was tasked with deconstructing an additional E. coli O157 outbreak that tragically led to the death of 5-year-old Mason Jones.hugh.pennington-184x300

Pennington has some serious street cred. He writes in Scottish Justice Matters this month about E. coli and the law. The below is an impactful passage that exemplifies a daily barrier to keeping food safe.

HACCP works. Ideally a food business prepares its own plan, but SMEs will probably buy one. Their understanding of hazards is sometimes poor. And there is dishonesty; William Tudor lied to environmental health officers, and John Barr was economical with the truth. Such behaviour poses a big challenge for regulators. While it is a step too far to continually invoke Paxman’s principle (‘Why is this person lying to me?’), box ticking will not do; personal experience and even intuition is very important in detecting the ill-intentioned but well- informed operator.

In my experience Inquiries have been good at identifying lessons but less effective at ensuring that they are learned.

The lessons are all there; learning them – and doing something – is the challenge.



Walking the walk

Ashley Chaifetz, a PhD student studying public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill writes:

A company should be able to survive and improve in the wake of a major food recall; it’s an opportunity to reevaluate and strengthen what’s great about an operation and fix what has gone impossibly wrong.2014-03-10 17.23.50

In 2013, my dog Chloe’s (right, exactly as shown) food was recalled due to Salmonella contamination. After some struggles with refunds, we haven’t returned to feeding her any of the Natura brands foods. After trying multiple brands, we landed on the Diamond Naturals Grain Free Chicken kibble and she’s been consuming it for more than a year already. I am a fan of its ingredient list (lots of fats and proteins) and nutritional content (probiotics, omega-6 and 3, complex carbs, antioxidants), as well as its price point; Chloe seems to find it delicious.

Diamond Pet Foods had a 2012 recall due to Salmonella that resulted in 49 cases of foodborne illness in humans in 20 states due to contamination at a single production facility, discovered via a routine check. Two years later, Costco (a distributor of the Kirkland product, also recalled) settled claims for over $2M initiated by the death of Barbara Marciano’s dog, which ate the contaminated food purchased from Costco. The contaminated food had not yet been recalled. Part of the settlement included “new and improved quality control procedures and therapeutic reforms that had not been implemented prior to the recalls.”

During the investigation, the FDA observed the following: 1) All reasonable precautions are not taken to ensure that production procedures do not contribute contamination from any source. 2) Failure to provide handwashing and hand sanitizing facilities at each location in the plant where needed. 3) Failure to maintain equipment, containers and utensils used to convey, hold, and store food in a manner that protects against contamination. 4) Failure to maintain equipment so as to facilitate cleaning of the equipment.

Now, the Diamond website depicts its commitment to food safety and mentions: on-site product testing, mycotoxin control, microbial testing, water quality, air quality, and its test-and-hold program. To the average consumer (including myself), its difficult to decipher what this means and how it is different from the pre-recall era.

I called Diamond for an explanation.

The customer service person answered all my food safety questions without stumbling. She explained since the 2012 recall, they’ve made a lot of changes. Some of her descriptions remained a bit vague; others came with more detail. She said all ingredients are tested (a series of tests, she explained) and then multiple times as they are manufactured. There are on-site labs at each facility—one of the biggest changes since the recall. For each batch of food, they retain samples to test for Salmonella. Each batch must be tested and held before it is released; if it comes up as Salmonella-positive, they will not distribute it. She explained that they used to send samples out for testing, but not hold the product – so the dog food could be consumed by the time Salmonella was detected.

Additionally, there are new safety protocols in each of the plants; incoming products are segregated from final product, not just within a space, but also by room through the use of walls and dividers. The result, she told me, is less cross-contamination. I also asked about how manufacturing might have changed, if there were any major changes in how the food was processed and she said no.

It’s hard to know what any manufacturer is doing to reduce risk of contamination, it’s all about trust; I appreciate that Diamond answered the call and my questions. It’s important to me to believe that a company can learn from bad experiences and improve its operations in the face of a recall, rather than attempt to cheat the system or disagree with the recommendations. But I also pay close attention to pet product recalls (there are so many!); if there’s another recall like the one in 2012, there’s a good chance Chloe will get to try another brand.

No hepatitis please; I’m not that punk

As I listen to my iTunes library on shuffle, the punk rock oracles, NOFX, come on and at the end of Bob off of I Heard They Suck Live (they kind of do) one of the singers says in some stage banter, ‘Don’t spit on me. You could get hepatitis like that.’


But the follow-up is pretty good

‘I’m not that punk’

Go to 2:23 below to hear it.

The foodborne illness parade

I have a few signature dishes that I cook regularly: corn/basil salad, beef bourguignon, butternut squash soup and steak salad. They are in a weekly rotation. People (Dani) tells me that the meals are good.

But I wouldn’t sell them.

Cooking for my family and cooking for the public, and selling it are two totally different things.IMG_4513.JPG

Most regulatory bodies in North America treat them differently (stuff for sale is regulated and food that’s prepared and eaten at home isn’t) except, in Surrey, British Columbia (that’s in Canada), according to The Leader.

In Surrey, food that’s made in homes, and sold by homeowners along a parade route, as long as it’s sold on the homeowners property, goes is exempt from food safety regs.


If you plan to make food for the Vaisakhi parade this year, you better get cooking early.

Private citizens and businesses wishing to serve home-made food to the public on commercial roadways along the parade route are required to fill out a temporary food premises permit application.

Erin Labbé, a spokeswoman for Fraser Health, said officials will be following the health authority’s enforcement protocols for the April 18 event.

“Sometimes at festivals, depending on the types of foods served and the duration of the event, enforcement can lead to immediate closures, based on risk,” Labbé said.

However, the food safety regulations don’t apply to people serving home-cooked meals on their own property along the parade route. This means if people are standing on their own front lawns erving their meals they are not at risk of being shut down.

Lawsuit filed in norovirus-linked fatality

Foodborne norovirus is linked to around 5.5 million illnesses a year and costs the U.S. around $3 billion annually. Fortunately most of the cases result in a couple of days of really bad vomiting or diarrhea – but usually not deaths (an estimated 150 annually).

According to Oregon Live, a 2013 norovirus outbreak at Maggie’s Buns may have resulted in a unique and tragic outcome: 43-year-old Kevin Weeks’ died a week after exposure to the pathogen.Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 12.53.52 PM

The wife of a 43-year-old man who died after allegedly eating food contaminated with the norovirus has filed a $2.9 million lawsuit against a popular Forest Grove restaurant.

Stacey Weeks faults Maggie’s Buns for catering a meal that she believes was tainted with the norovirus. Her husband, Kevin Weeks, was a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry and ate the food at the work event on Friday, March 15, 2013.

Public health investigators said 15 other people fell ill by the following Saturday, but most were feeling better by Monday. Weeks, however, died the following Tuesday — four days after dining at the gathering.

Investigators determined that most of those who were sickened ate watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple or strawberries from a fruit tray. But investigators said in March 2013 that they didn’t know how the virus ended up there.

The virus is spread directly among people through contact or through contaminated food, water or surfaces. It’s highly contagious, but doesn’t usually kill.

Shortly after Weeks died, deputy state medical examiner Dr. Clifford Nelson said Weeks was exposed to the norovirus at the event, but it appeared that Weeks had health problems that caused his death. Nelson said, however, that he was awaiting some test results before he could draw a final conclusion.

Chewing on a band-aid isn’t fun

I spend most of my time at the hockey rink. Between Jack’s practices/games on weekends and my adult beer league games on Mondays and Wednesdays, my non-food safety social interactions revolved around the ice.

Sometimes my two worlds cross-over.

IMG_8203One of my hockey buddies sent me a citizenfoodsafety submission (above, exactly as shown) that exemplifies a physical (and potentially biological) food safety hazard. The story that goes along with the picture goes like this: my friend’s colleague was eating some guacamole, sensed something chewy and pulled a band-aid out of her mouth.

Uh oh: health officials investigating multiple hepatitis A cases in Napa; including two food handlers

Most of the hepatitis-A-in-restaurants events follow this formula: A food handler or a server shows symptoms, the virus is confirmed, health folks provide patrons with shots and hopefully no one else gets sick.

The story in Napa County is a bit different: According to the Napa Valley Register, five people, including two food handlers at restaurants are ill and it’s unclear whether this cluster is an outbreak or a coincidence.546b8ec85be23.image

The source of the infection is under investigation. This is the first time in more than five years that acute Hepatitis A infection has been confirmed in a Napa County resident, the county said.

Two cases involve employees of La Toque restaurant and BANK Café and Bar in The Westin Verasa Napa. The source of these infections is unknown and there are no known cases involving customers, the county said in a news release.

The other three cases have no known association with these locations or other public settings, the county said.

In a county news release, Ken Frank of LT Napa Partners, which owns and operates La Toque restaurant and BANK Café and Bar, said, “La Toque restaurant and BANK Café and Bar take the health of our guests very seriously. We have strict health standards in place, and we are cooperating fully with Napa County Public Health to identify the source of the virus.”

Don Shindle, general manager of The Westin Verasa Napa, said, “We continue to assist Napa County Public Health and are taking all appropriate measures to ensure the safety of our guests and associates. We are confident that Frank and his team are diligent in following their high standards and working closely with Napa County Public Health.”



Tragic: Brittany Scadlock dies from pathogenic E. coli infection

Pathogenic E. coli is a horrible bacteria. Between O157 and non-O157 there are an estimated 175,000 illnesses, 2,400 hospitalizations and 20 deaths annually in the U.S.. But those just statistics. Behind each case is a real person. Like Sister Brittany Scadlock who tragically passed away in Brazil from an E. coli infection, according to Herald Extra.

Sister Brittany Scadlock, a 19-year-old missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died Wednesday at a hospital in Sao Paulo, Brazil from an E. coli infection.550210f8bb2eb.preview-620

The West Haven resident was serving a mission in Argentina and had been transferred from her mission to the Sao Paulo hospital where she died.
Scadlock was a graduate of Roy High School and, according to media reports, was just 10 days shy of her 20th birthday.

According to family members, they just recently learned she was having medical issues. It was originally thought she was having problems with appendicitis. Unable to fight off the E. coli in her intestinal system, she went into cardiac arrest.

The family is seeking help in funding the transport of Scadlock’s body back to the United States and funeral arrangements