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.

Laws are like catfish sausages

I feel so much better about the safety of my catfish now. And have a better understanding of non-tariff trade barriers.

According to the New York Times, After years of delay, the Agriculture Department on Wednesday established tough new rules to inspect imported catfish, yielding to pressure from domestic catfish producers that risks retaliation from America’s trade partners.Untitled-4081.png

The rules come seven years after lawmakers from the South, at the request of catfish farmers in states like Mississippi and Arkansas, helped secure legislation in the 2008 farm law that moved inspections of catfish from the Food and Drug Administration to a more rigorous program at a new office within the Agriculture Department. Domestic producers of catfish called it a safety measure, but opponents said the new inspection program was a veiled trade barrier intended to limit imports.

 “The point of this process has been to ensure that the farm-raised catfish served to American families is safe and nutritious. The U.S.D.A. is in the best position to get this done,” said Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, who pressed to have the inspections moved.



Taylor Farms produce mixture fingered in Costco chicken salad/E. coli O157 outbreak

A retailer or food service operator is only as good as the ingredients they use. Even with the best internal food safety programs, a good food safety culture includes supplier standards and verifications. Audits and inspections are never enough.

According to the Associated Press, Costco believes that contamination of their rotisserie chicken salad is linked to produce.costco.chicken.salad_.nov_.15

Costco officials say testing has pointed toward a vegetable mix from a California food wholesaler as the source of E. coli in the company’s chicken salad that has been linked to an outbreak that has sickened 19 people in seven states.

Craig Wilson, Costco vice president of food safety and quality assurance, said Wednesday he was told by the Food and Drug Administration that the strain of E. coli seems to be connected to an onion and celery mix.

Wilson says the company uses one supplier for those vegetables in the chicken salad sold in all its U.S. stores.

He says one additional test is needed to confirm that the vegetables carried the same E. coli strain connected with the outbreak.

Wilson identified the supplier as Taylor Farms in Salinas, California.

The great Canadian cheese heist

My favorite Breaking Bad episode centers around a train heist. Spoiler alert: Walt, Jesse and company acquire methylamine by stopping a train in the desert and replacing the crystal meth precursor with water.

The theft nets them $15 million in chemicals.

A bit more than what three Ontario (that’s in Canada) criminals got when they stole a truck containing over 30,000 lbs of cheese, according to The Star.5x5_Dead_Freight_(02)

According to police, the suspects allegedly stole a parked tractor trailer ‘loaded’ with dairy near Hwy 7 and Vaughan Valley Blvd. in Brampton around 1:40 a.m.

They then managed to make it to the area of Hwy 7 and Hwy 427 in Vaughan before crashing the truck and taking off on foot. One of the suspects was later arrested driving another car and the other two were located trying to hail a taxi.

Police followed the truck using an installed GPS system and a canine unit was brought in to track down the suspects.

Although unsure of the exact amount, “there might’ve been between 30,000 and 36,000 pounds of cheese in the truck,” said Const. Andy Pattenden. “The truck was fully-loaded.”

He also noted that police have ‘no idea’ if the thieves were specifically targeting the cheese or not.

Maybe there’s a black market for cheese in Ontario.

Bay of Plenty provides plenty of black market shellfish

One of my hockey buddies told me recently that he was offered too-cheap-to-be-true shellfish and shrimp out of a guy’s trunk a few weeks ago. He passed, not knowing where it came from or why it was so cheap.

Poaching or stealing and then selling the food on the black market raises lots of food safety questions. According to, an illegal New Zealand shellfish ring was raided yesterday.

Fishery officers have seized 116kg of illegal paua worth $15,000 in the bust of a black market shellfish ring.1448420766061

According the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), fishery officers monitored the black market for 12 months before they moved in and seized paua, diving gear and electronic equipment across the Bay of Plenty over November 24 and 25.

During this time, it is believed 231kg of minced paua with a commercial value of $30,000 was poached and sold. It is believed 43 litres of kina were poached and sold for $3500.

The black market ring was allegedly centred on Motiti Island, off the coast of Tauranga, where divers gathered paua and kina and sold them to a network of buyers in Tauranga, Whakatane, Hamilton and Auckland.

A Tauranga food business is alleged to be involved in the sale of paua and kina.

Lifehacker covers the science of Thanksgiving

Lots of folks like to say that food safety in the home is simple. It isn’t. There are a lot of variables and messages have historically been distilled down to a sanitized sound bite. Saying that managing food safety risks is simple isn’t good communication; isn’t true; and, does a disservice to the nerds who want to know more. The nerds that are increasingly populating the Internet as they ask bigger, deeper questions.

Friend of barfblog, and Food Safety Talk podcast co-host extraordinaire, Don Schaffner provides a microbiological catch-phrase that gets used on almost every episode of our show to combat the food-safety-is-simple mantra; when asked about whether something is safe, Don often answers with, ‘it depends’ and ‘it’s complicated’. And then engages around the uncertainties.IMG_4138

Beth Skwarecki of Life Hacker’s Vitals blog called last week to talk about Thanksgiving dinner, turkey preparation and food safety and provided the platform to get into the  ‘it depends’ and ‘it’s complicated’ discussion. Right down to time/temperature combinations equivalent to 165F when it comes to Salmonella destruction.

Here are some excerpts.

How Do You Tell When the Turkey Is Done?

With a thermometer, of course. The color of the meat or juices tells you nothing about doneness, as this guide explains: juices may run pink or clear depending on how stressed the animal was at the time of slaughter (which changes the pH of the meat). The color of the bone depends on the age of the bird at slaughter. And pink meat can depend on roasting conditions or, again, the age of the bird. It’s possible to have pink juices, meat, or bones even when the bird is cooked, or clear juices even when it’s not done yet.

So you’ve got your thermometer. What temperature are you targeting? Old advice was to cook the turkey to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, but that was a recommendation based partly on what texture people liked in their meat, Chapman says. The guidelines were later revised to recommend a minimum safe temperature, regardless of what the meat tastes like, and that temperature is 165. You can cook it hotter, if you like, but that won’t make it any safer.

There’s a way to bend this rule, though. The magic 165 is the temperature that kills Salmonella and friends instantly, but you can also kill the same bacteria by holding the meat at a lower temperature, for a longer time. For example, you can cook your turkey to just 150 degrees, as long as you ensure that it stays at 150 (or higher) for five minutes, something you can verify with a high-tech thermometer like an iGrill. This high-tech thermometer stays in your turkey while it cooks, and sends data to your smartphone. Compare its readings to these time-temperature charts for poultry to make sure your turkey is safe.

The whole piece can be found here.

Can’t keep food safe without the right tools (and using them): Atlanta food truck edition

Part of having a good food safety culture is having all the right tools. But making food safe takes more than having the tools; folks actually have to employ risk reduction practices.

According to, an Atlanta food truck failed an inspection after not having handwashing sink and water.hand-washing

Employees at The Corner Hot Foods Service in Atlanta need a sink inside the portable facility where they can wash up while prepping food.

They’ve been going next door into Bims Liquor Store and using a restroom sink instead, said a Fulton County health inspector.

The mobile food service unit is also missing a three-compartment sink to wash, rinse and sanitize dishes. The only sink inside was blocked by a container of food during the recent routine inspection.

Points were also taken off because the food service facility does not have its own water supply, though it is a fixed unit that does not move. The unit should be connected to the city of Atlanta water system, but is instead getting its water through a hose coming from the liquor store, the inspector said.

But do they wash their hands?

More cases linked to Chipotle; some patrons aren’t concerned

As the E. coli O26 cases associated with Chipotle restaurants grows to 45 (with six additional cases linked to restaurants outside the Pacific North West) shares fall and according to Reuters, folks start talking about trust. Blue Bell is dealing with this too, but the cult of Texas ice cream eaters might be stronger than burrito lovers in college towns and the burbs. Or not.

Diners at Chipotle Mexican Grill locations on Saturday said freshness and convenience outweighed concerns about contamination following the news that food poisoning cases had erupted at the chain’s locations in six U.S. states.Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 10.37.11 PM

“I’m not going to get flipped out by all the horrible things that could happen. I think Chipotle is cutting-edge,” said Marguerite Regan, 50, in Wichita, Kansas.

Brandon Doby, a 19-year-old Colgate University student who picked up food at a Chipotle in Syracuse, New York, said: “I’m aware of the E. coli breakout, but I’ve got bigger things to worry about than E. coli.”

Alex Boucounis, 17, who also ate at the Syracuse restaurant on Saturday, said he was concerned and planned to research exactly which stores had been hit. He said he had not realized that New York was affected.

“It tastes good. It goes down good, and it’s a lot cheaper than bar food, and it’s a lot better for you too,” he said.

“I can’t live my life worried about some minute possibility something might kill me,” said Stan Yao, 29, a Harvard Law School student.

In a statement on Friday, Chipotle said it had expanded testing of key ingredients and examined food-safety procedures in its restaurants in the wake of the outbreak.

“In practice, as someone in food safety and someone who focuses on that and as a concerned customer, I’d want to know what the specifics of that are,” said Ben Chapman, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University who studies food safety.

I was talking about the plans Chipotle lists on their website:

Chipotle is also taking significant steps to be sure all of its food is as safe as possible. Specifically, we are expanding testing of key ingredients, examining all of our food-safety procedures to find any opportunity for improvement, and are working with two renowned food safety scientists to assess all of its food safety programs, from the farms that provide our food to our restaurants.

It’s easy to talk food safety, but what does this all actually mean? Testing of what, for what? What specific food safety procedures. Some details would be nice.

The secret life of kebabs and donairs

Like Sloan’s Patrick Pentland, I used to be a fan of donairs, kebabs and street meat. Or late-night chinese food. Anything heavy and greasy tastes good after a few beers, but the places serving them have to know the risks associated with what they are serving, and where things might go wrong.

About a decade ago donairs or kebabs were linked to three outbreaks of E.coli O157 in Alberta, and I stopped eating them.mega-donair

Outbreak investigators found that traditional cooking practices including a rotating a cone of meat next to a heat source, were problematic.

Often, especially in the post-bar-closing rush, the heat sources are turned up so the outside of the cone gets scorched, but meat just below the surface doesn’t reach safe temperatures (because it’s being cut off quickly to meet demand). The cooking practice, along with the tendency for the meat cones to be made with ground meat and stored frozen can cause a perfect outbreak scenario.

A national committee was created to look at donair risks associated and the group recommended grilling post cone cut-off to ensure pathogen-killing temps. Good call.

And for those in Australia looking to learn more about kebab culture, according to, there’s a reality show for you.

No matter your choice of filling, it’s almost a rite of passage to end up at a kebab shop after a big night out.

A kebab shop worker witnesses everything you would rather forget in the morning.
He sees when you spill the sweet chilli sauce down your white shirt or shamefully profess your love to a stranger.

Mustafa Mohammed has owned Smith Kebabs in Collingwood for more than four years. He has seen it all and has never had a dull moment.

“We get a lot of drunk people in our area, there are a lot of clubs and we have to be patient every day,” he said.

“The challenges are people drink too much and they can’t stand and sometimes can’t even talk.

“They just come in and say ‘I want a kebab’ and you have to try and communicate with them politely to find out what they want.”

Mr Mohammed’s story and the antics in his shop will be revealed on a new miniseries on SBS called Kebab Kings.

Executive producer Michael Cordell said cameras were set up in the kebab shops during peak periods.

“We thought the kebab shops provided an unusual window into contemporary Australia,” he said.


My noro nightmare: vomit on a plane

A few years ago I had a noro nightmare.

Jack, my then four-year-old son, and I were visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Calgary (that’s in Canada). I was there for a talk, Jack tagged along to hang out with the fam – and so we could buy him hockey equipment (there’s way more selection in the true north).Jackpic2

As we went from store to store, in and out of the car, Jack said that his stomach hurt. I asked him what would make him feel better and he suggested eating Doritos would do the trick.

Ten minutes later, half a bag in, Jack yacked all over the car.

We went home, he stayed on the couch all day complaining of stomach cramps. He fell asleep around 6pm.

We left for the airport at 5am the following morning and he puked in the car (and all over his clothes) again.

After going through security and customs we boarded our first flight to Minnesota. Jack seemed to be better and wasn’t complaining of nausea. When we got to our connection airport he talked me into buying him an ice cream sundae. It wasn’t my proudest parenting moment.

Back in the air about an hour following the dessert-for-lunch meal and all was fine. Until we hit some turbulence as we approached Raleigh. The shaking plane triggered another round of puke, which ended up on him and the window.

The flight attendants responded quickly, and provided me with plastic bags to contain the pukey clothes and coffee pods to manage the smell.

Because there are some sympathy yackers out there.

The flight crew let us off the plane first (although we were in the second-to-last row). I picked Jack up with one arm, carried the vomit-covered clothes bag in the other with our carry-on strapped on my back. I squeezed down the aisle, potentially inoculating the plane with norovirus.

The post-script to the story is that while I didn’t get sick (surprising since I handled all the puke) my brother and sister-in-law did. And maybe a few other passengers.