Ben Chapman

About Ben Chapman

An assistant professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. He's interested in learning from and sharing stories from outbreaks. Through using new methods and messages, Ben hopes to compel folks from farm-to-fork to change food safety behavior and create a culture of food safety.

Disclosing inspection results: Voluntary or mandatory?

My philosophy on disclosing restaurant inspection information hasn’t wavered much in the past 10 years: Make inspection results public and communicate them meaningfully to help patrons make decisions. There’s a patchwork approach to disclosure throughout the world: happy faces, letter grades, number grades or the not-well-used barf-o-meter.


Whatever the system is, it’s necessary to pull back the curtain on what happens when inspectors are around. The transparency not only builds trust in the system, but also allows folks to choose businesses based on their own risk tolerance.

According to Australia’s Fraser Coast Chronicle, businesses will be provided with a rating score but will not be required to post it. The hope is that businesses receiving a stellar score will see the marketing advantage and will voluntarily post the ratings – while those not posting due to less-than-ideal ratings will raise their level of attention to get the higher rating.

Branded Scores on Doors, the program’s aim is to encourage food safety across the Fraser Coast.

Businesses will not be forced to display their ratings but the thinking is those with better scores will display to gain customer trust and improved trade.

A report showed those with a lower rating would be made to pay more fees, while the businesses that scored better paid less because fewer inspections were needed.

Joep Dekker from Wild Lotus in Hervey Bay said he would proudly display his score.

He said he was confident of a strong rating because he knew his business had high standards when it came to cleanliness.

“It is something to be proud of, a good score,” he said.

According to the Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne-Allen County (Indiana) health department is taking a different path to disclosing inspections: Moving to a risk-based rating and a corresponding smartphone ap.

Ann Applegate, director of the health department’s Food and Consumer Protection Division, said her department is considering programs from across the country to find a good match for the county.

“We have been looking at several different models of these restaurant grading systems and seeing how we can implement those into what we currently have,” Applegate said.

The new grading scale or points system would place more emphasis on risk-based violations, making it easier for the public to understand the severity of the violation.

[Mindy] Waldron said the department is also in the process of developing an app for smartphones that would allow people to view public documents such as food and beverage inspections.

Not a good week for North Carolina Papa John’s

First a manager at a Charlotte Papa John’s was diagnosed with hepatitis A resulting in hundreds of IgG shots and now a Raleigh-area outlet has been questioned about storing and transporting raw dough unsafely. One situation is a real public health risk, the other elicits some yuck-factor response.29334616_1381404884

According to WRAL’s Monica Laliberte, a local viewer called the TV station to report some less-than-ideal dough handling after not being happy with the restaurant’s response.
When Jim Barnhill saw stacks of pizza dough sitting uncovered outside a Brier Creek Papa John’s, he wondered about the health issues that might raise.

When he saw the same thing again and again, he notified the restaurant. The first time, a manager said, “have it thrown away immediately.” The second time, they told him they’d address the issue.

When it happened a third time, Barnhill brought his photos and video to 5 On Your Side.

He saw dough sitting outside in the rain. “It was sprinkling so the dough was getting hit by the raindrops,” Barnhill said.

Then the exposed dough balls were placed in the back of an employee’s car.

“That’s a problem,” said [health inspector] Thomas Jumalon, upon viewing Barnhill’s video.

“Had this happened during an inspection, if that product had had any rainwater, anything like that, we would advise them to toss it,” he said.

Jumalon had some points of assurance for diners.

He pointed out that pizza dough cooks at 500 degrees for 20 minutes – enough to kill just about anything that could be on it – and that food is exposed to the outdoors whenever you dine outside. He also said transporting food in a personal car is no different than using a company vehicle.

Maybe some physical hazard risks, but not the kind of stuff that leads to foodborne illness.

Norovirus outbreak hits Florida school

Over the past couple of days I drove the family from sunny and somewhat warm Raleigh, NC to the frigid tundra of Southern Ontario. I knew things would be bad when it started snowing as we passed through Maryland – in mid-April.

One of the consequences of a long cold winter is an extended norovirus season (the virus is more stable in cold weather). Norovirus-at-school

Even in Florida.

According to local10, a Broward County, FL school is dealing with a norovirus outbreak – and some folks seem to think drinking from water fountains is a risk factor.

A contagious stomach flu-like virus is making an unusually high number of students at Boulevard Heights Elementary School in Hollywood sick.

“Been a lot of children in our school that are sick,” said student Taylor Frangesh.

“He was nauseated when he came home,” Bianca Hampton said of her son. “He told me he drank from the water fountain, so he was a little nauseated and he had a little fever.”

With the high number of students getting sick, the virus has made its way into some of their homes.

“He got sick, the brother, the sister and me — the whole family,” said Melissa Prado.

Broward County Public Schools released a statement saying the district is working with the health department over gastric concerns that were being experienced by an unusually high number of students. School officials were cleaning and sanitizing classrooms, common areas and the playground.

“They said that the water was causing it and not to drink from the water fountains and if you didn’t bring your own bottled water you still couldn’t drink from the water fountain,” said Frangesh. “They put garbage bags over the water fountains.” 

It was the buns, with Salmonella, in the buffet line

In January 2014 over 30 patrons of Maple Grove MN’s Old Country Buffet fell ill with salmonellosis. Following the illnesses, health authorities investigated the pathogen source and according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal are pointing to contaminated dinner rolls as the most probable food. Rolls are a non-traditional foodborne illness source – but a massive norovirus outbreak was linked to Japanese bread earlier this year.old-country-buffet-300x224
The rolls were likely cross-contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis from raw chicken used in the restaurant (or maybe an asymptomatic food handler or pooled eggs?  that’s what MDH found in their investigation -ben ), Minnesota Department of Health spokesman Doug Schultz said.
“Most outbreaks are preventable: They occur] because a food worker came in ill, or because of cross-contamination. … It’s just a question of what steps should have been taken,” Schultz said. “Contamination doesn’t just happen.”
South Carolina-based parent company Ovation Brands (formerly Eagan-based Buffets Inc.) could not be reached for comment.  After the outbreak became known the company said it retrained the entire Maple Grove staff and stepped up food safety inspections.
A final report will be issued as soon as next week.

Charlotte Papa John’s manager diagnosed with hepatitis A

Food business owners should worry about hepatitis A. Individuals can shed the virus without showing symptoms and even an infected handwashing superstar will result in lineups outside the business or at the health department while patrons get their post-exposure shots. Even with the costs associated with turnover, I’d probably vaccinate my staff.29334616_1381404884

According to WBTV, a Charlotte, NC Papa John’s manager has been diagnosed with the virus after traveling out of the country resulting in thousands being exposed.

During a press conference on Thursday evening, officials said the employee was a manager at the Papa Johns restaurant who contracted Hep A while traveling out of the country.

The employee was diagnosed on Monday or Tuesday of this week.

“The Mecklenburg County Health Department is working with the State Health Department and our Public Information Office on coordinating messages about what residents who ate food from the restaurant should do,” the email states.

If you ate at the restaurant between March 28 and April 7, officials say you should get a hepatitis vaccination. The vaccine is effective if you were exposed within the last 14 days and could prevent you from getting sick.
If you ate food from this location between March 24 and March 27, officials say the vaccination would no longer be effective. In this case, you should be aware of the symptoms and notify your physician if you see them.

There will be a vaccination clinic for people at the Cabarrus County Health Department and Mecklenburg County Health Department on Friday from 4 pm to 8 pm.


Potential outbreak at Muskegon sports bar

Muskegon, MI birthplace of the Detroit Red Wings’ Justin Abdelkader and punk rocker Iggy Pop is also home to what looks like a foodborne illness outbreak. According to Mlive, patrons of Bonicki’s Bistro reported illnesses to owner Norm Spyke as well as the local health authorities.395394_237923292949867_1801694089_n

Officials at Public Health – Muskegon County are asking recent patrons of a Muskegon Township sports bar to fill out a survey to gather data for a foodborne illness investigation.

Jill Montgomery Keast, the health education supervisor at Public Health – Muskegon County, said the agency is in the early stages of determining the type and cause of an outbreak that occurred at Bonicki’s Sports Bistro, 1891 East Apple Ave.
Keast said the department received at least six calls from local customers who fell ill between April 3 and April 6. 
“We were in full compliance as far as I know. They are looking into the matter,” Spyke said.

Bonicki’s achieved compliance with the Michigan Food Law on Jan. 8, according to the latest inspection data available online at The records show that sanitarians cited the restaurant for priority violations related to ice and food storage that were eventually corrected.

On the Bonicki’s Sports Bistro Facebook page is a message from the ownership:

Contrary to some news organizations poor reporting skills
The Muskegon County Health Department has been here and has checked us on everything, they found nothing wrong with how we store, prepare, cook, or serve our food.
During this time please remember the people that work here, for many of them this is their only job, bad press effects everybody. 
#shoplocal #lovemuskegon

Getting sick from food sucks too.

Crown Princess cruise ship hit with fourth norovirus outbreak in four years

Earlier this year Time Magazine included Princess Cruise Line’s ship, the Crown Princess on a list of the 13 worst cruise-related norovirus outbreaks.


4. Princess Cruises, Crown Princess (January 2010)

Total number sick: 396

In 2010, there were 14 outbreaks of illnesses on ships , including this one. Eight were attributed to norovirus.Crown Princess

5. Princess Cruises, Crown Princess (February 2012)

Total number sick: 363

The cruise, which embarked just a month after another outbreak on the ship, returned to Ft. Lauderdale two days early as passengers started falling ill.
Something is up with that ship as AP reports that 37 patrons of the Crown Princess are yet again barfing onboard.
Princess Cruises spokeswoman Karen Candy says about 37 passengers on the Crown Princess reported being sick while the ship was in San Francisco on Monday.
Candy says the ship’s staff began intense disinfecting of surfaces, and all sick passengers are being encouraged to remain in their rooms.

Las Vegas’ Firefly has food safety problems again

In June 2013 Las Vegas’ Firefly Tapas Kitchen and Bar was linked to over 250 cases of salmonellosis. Investigators fingered cross-contaminated chorizo as the likely source. At the time of the outbreak owner Tabitha Simmons was quoted as saying, “It’s just sad because we’ve been vilified and we did not want anyone to get hurt. We certainly weren’t managing our restaurants poorly.” firefly-300x300

Uh huh.

According to Fox 5, Las Vegas health inspectors gave another Firefly location 38 inspection demerit points resulting in a C grade in March.

The owners of Firefly Tapas Kitchen and Bar acknowledged on Tuesday it received a “C” rating when inspectors for the Southern Nevada Health District inspected the eatery at 11261 S. Eastern Ave. in Henderson on March 31.

Of the 38 demerits it incurred, Firefly was flagged for violations including those for handwashing, improper refrigeration of food, food improperly cooked at the proper temperature and failure to properly store food from potential contamination, according to SNHD’s website.

In a statement from Firefly owners John and Tabitha Simmons, the March 31 inspection was random. The owners also said the eatery was cited for 1-day-old expired food in the refrigerator.

The owners went on to say they corrected the violations within hours of the inspection. A subsequent inspection the following Friday, April 4, brought the restaurant’s rating back up to an “A,” the owners said on Tuesday.

Sure looks like they are managing their restaurants poorly, food safety-wise.

Vibrio outbreak prompts changes in oyster handling

I’ve only once had raw oysters, on a trip to New Zealand while in graduate school where some Kiwi food safety folks urged me to try the delicacy.

They were slimy.

I determined that the taste benefit wasn’t worth the risks for me.

According to the Vineland Gazette, a 2013 outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, linked to Katama Bay (MA) oysters prompted the Massachusetts Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, Division of Marine Fisheries and the Department of Public Health, Bureau of Environmental Health, Food Protection Program to develop a plan to limit Vibrio risks.SUN0705N-Oyster7

A Vp control plan takes effect next month that will require faster cooling and delivery of oysters, changes in handling methods for harvesters, specific requirements for icing and new rules for record keeping among commercial oyster growers.

Backed by the state Division of Marine Fisheries, the rules will be in effect from May 19 through Oct. 19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended last year that Massachusetts develop a plan to control Vp during the warm weather months to prevent illness. 

U.S. National Guard and Navy called in to help child suffering from salmonellosis

Dealing with an ill toddler while away from home is stressful; being 900 miles offshore in a wind-powered boat with a kid who has picked up Salmonella is scary.

According to NBC San Diego, the California Air National Guard and U.S. Navy are involved in a complex rescue mission to help a sick baby on a boat off the coast of Mexico.


The one-year-old girl, her 3-year-old sister and her parents from San Diego set sail two weeks ago for the latest leg of their trip around the world.
The family is sailing aboard a 36-foot boat named the “Rebel Heart,” blogging and posting pictures online.
On Thursday, the Bay Area’s 129th Rescue Wing received a call from the U.S. National Guard about a “seriously ill” girl aboard the boat located about 900 nautical miles off the coast of Mexico.
Two rescue helicopters took off Thursday to join the rescue mission.
After a five-hour flight, a team of four “Guardian Angel” pararescuemen jumped into the open ocean to board the Rebel Heart.
After checking the girl’s vitals, the crew determined the girl was in stable condition.
NBC 7 has learned the baby may suffer from some type of salmonella and has been given antibiotics.