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.

Maybe something is lost in translation: 4-year-old’s death a misadventure

Kids dying from foodborne illness hits me like a punch in the gut. After following illnesses and outbreaks for 15 years I still take pause to think about my kids when I see a tragic story involving children.

Outbreaks rarely end with the classic smoking gun resolution (a genetically matched strain in the food/environment and stool). Epidemiology, in the absence of pathogen matches, is king and uncertainty is reduced with reliable data and statistics. Once a possible food/site match is made, investigators go out to the field and check the food handling out.broken-telephone

A conscientious investigator can talk about possible risk factors in a report – but the subsequent reporting and broken telephone game of sharing the information can bleed potential factors into must-have-happened fact.

A few years ago an environmental health officer shared her concerns about how the story gets changed between the field and the report interpretation. She had investigated a outbreak blamed on poor handwashing shared with me that her notes showed no soap at the time she was in the kitchen a week after the illnesses were reported – that was translated into poor handwashing by the staff at the time of the outbreak.

She felt that was an extrapolation wrought with assumptions.

Folks who used the example didn’t care.

Getting the risk factor story right really matters.

According to the Straits Times a four-year-old boy in Singapore tragically died from salmonellosis and court proceedings point to food handling practices a shopping center food court stall. Based on the coverage, I’m not sure it’s that simple. And I wouldn’t call it a misadventure.

Shayne Sujith Balasubraamaniam, together with his mother and two-year-old sister, came down with food poisoning on Jan 19 this year, a day after his mother had bought food, including tahu goreng and curry chicken, from a nasi padang stall at Kopitiam food court at Northpoint Shopping Centre.

All three were taken brought to Bukit Batok Polyclinic the next day. Shayne was assessed to be severely dehydrated and was prescribed medication.

He showed apparent signs of recovery, but deteriorated on Jan 22 when his mother found him unconscious at home. He died in hospital about two hours later from salmonella septicaemia.

On Thursday, State Coroner Marvin Bay said in his findings that the boy’s death underscores that careless food handling and inattention to proper hygienic practices can result in catastrophic consequences on young and vulnerable persons. He found the boy’s death to be one of misadventure.

The most significant lapse, the inquiry heard, was the practice of partial cooking and refreezing of chicken parts. The kitchen would receive 80 parts of chicken as a batch. After washing the batch, 60 chicken parts were refrozen for use the next day. They would be stored with plastic bags with other raw food at the freezer, a practice which would encourage cross-infection between the raw and partially cooked food. Swabs from the tongs used to handle food, and the blender found a high concentration of bacteria that exceeded safety limits.

While the post-outbreak investigation demonstrates serious issues with food handling at the business, I’m not sure what was presented is enough to link the salmonellosis. If the stored chicken was partially cooked it implies that it would be further cooked – which if temperatures exceeded 165F would result in a 5-log reduction of Salmonella. Maybe cross contamination between raw and sorta raw chicken is really a factor – especially if there weren’t other illnesses. Or maybe the washing step spread pathogens around the kitchen.

Norovirus grounds NZ plane while health authorities are consulted

In 2013, then four-year-old Jack yacked on a flight which led to a fascinating display of infection control by Delta Airlines involving plastic bags (to contain the potential pathogen) and coffee pods (to manage the smell). The flight crew let us off the plane first, although we were in the second-to-last row, and we potentially inoculated the plane, and passengers, with norovirus.111007015237-sick-throwing-up-airplane-motion-story-top-1

Maybe the best plane-related outbreak was one reported in Clinical Infectious Diseases a couple of years ago. I’d describe my poop and barf-related imagination as pretty good but I couldn’t have dreamt up the scenario that unfolded on a plane leaving Boston bound for Los Angeles in October 2008. The outbreak included a passenger with “multiple episodes of diarrhea, with at least 1 occurring in the aisle of the first-class section. The soiled aisle was not cleaned until after completion of the flight.”

According to the New Zealand Herald  a flight from Queenstown to Christchurch was grounded today as about 40 passengers, all members of a tour group, began feeling ill and reported they had been exposed to norovirus.

“[The flight] was delayed this morning while advice was sought from Canterbury regional public health authorities after reports of unwell passengers on board,” a spokeswoman for Air New Zealand said.

“After public health authorities had assessed the situation the all-clear was given to disembark the passengers, with the unwell passengers advised they cannot be accepted for further travel until they are well again.”

Earlier, one passenger, Charles Finney, tweeted: “Not allowed to leave flight at Christchurch because health authorities worried passengers might have contagious virus! A first for me!”

He continued to update the situation, saying he was “furious” the tour group got on board knowing some of them were unwell.

“Worried about Norovirus. Tour group has had unwell people for days apparently but still travelled!,” he posted.

22 years later E. coli O157 victim still feels the effects daily

The long term effects of foodborne illness can be as nasty as the acute symptoms. The consequences last a lifetime in certain cases. According to The Press and Journal an Aberdeenshire woman, Lois Reid has been dealing with the effects of an E. coli O157 illness since she was two.

She’s now 22 and is graduating from college.

After a kidney transplant at age six.Lois-Reid-660x496

And kidney failure again this year.

Earlier this year, in March, Lois Reid, from Old Rayne, was approaching the end of her second and final year studying legal services at the North East Scotland College when she was admitted to hospital with kidney failure.

When she was just two-years-old, Ms Reid caught e-coli which led to her having to undergo a kidney transplant at the age of six (here’s some old coverage that details the story 15 years ago -ben).

The average lifespan of a replacement kidney is between eight and 12 years and after 15, Ms Reid’s stopped working.

Tomorrow, the 22-year-old graduates from college and says she couldn’t believe it when she found out she had passed the course.

She said: “I was over the moon, and so relieved. I was so nervous to open my results because I didn’t think I would have passed.

“I phoned my mum straight away and she cried.”

Ms Reid spent six weeks in hospital as doctors tried to save her kidney.

She added: “Life is pretty busy between my dialysis, university and working part-time but I’m really glad I came to college and proud that I have achieved my HND.

It’s messed up that a healthy kid eats something that was contaminated and then deals with the effects for 20+ years, not knowing whether her kidney would be saved. That’s the kind of thing folks should be thinking about when handling food  on the farm or in the kitchen – or places in between.


Derbyshire (UK) pub said to be dirty, disorganised and in a chaotic state; owner banned

Local UK environmental health regulators don’t mess around when it comes to food safety in restaurants. While some jurisdictions go with the name and shame approach, others focus on prosecutions and fines. Both approaches have their benefits and limitations.4017757.png

According to the Derby Telegraph, the Spotted Cow in Holbrook had a horrendous inspection that led environmental health officers to seek prosecution for the offences. Inspectors found stuff like untrained individuals, no working handwashing facilities and sanitation issues – even after repeated visits. Things were so bad that officials issued a prohibition order that precludes the owner from managing a food business in the future.


It was found that the owner, Fiona West-Hunt, had left the premises in the charge of untrained staff and the officer found a number of breaches of food safety law and described the premises as being “dirty, disorganised and in a chaotic state”.

The officer took photos of the kitchen and these were given in evidence to the magistrates’ court.

The premises was reopened after staff had undertaken cleaning but further visits by officers found standards deteriorating and further enforcement was required to ensure the public were not exposed to risks to their health.

Mrs West-Hunt pleaded guilty to six Food Hygiene offences, failing to: implement a food safety management system, keep premises clean, provide adequate hand washing facilities, ensure articles, fittings and equipment that food comes into contact with were cleaned and disinfected, and for not ensuring food handlers area were supervised or adequately trained in food hygiene and for wearing protective clothing in food preparation areas.

Magistrates fined her £350 per offence, plus costs – a total of £4,875. She was also issued with a Prohibition Order preventing her from participating in the management of a food business in the future. 

Good Ebola (and foodborne illness) advice: don’t eat poop

We used to use don’t eat poop as a secondary barfblog tagline. Then it was don’t eat uncooked poop.  New York TV, anchor Errol Louis of NY1 has resurrected the advice in reference to the city’s first Ebola case:

If you came across some strange mucus or feces or something out there on the street, on the subway, or anywhere else, don’t eat it. Don’t let it get into your body, don’t touch it.

Good call.


North Carolina firm recalls Serrano peppers

A 2008 Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak initially thought to be solely tomatoes was eventually linked to  a couple of types of peppers. According to a 2011 paper published by the investigation team  raw tomato-containing dishes (like salsa) were linked to three clusters of illnesses but jalapeño peppers at a shipper in Texas and agricultural water and Serrano peppers on a Mexican farm were all found to contain the outbreak strain.

Peppers hadn’t been implicated as a vehicle for illness in an outbreak until then. Since then buyers (like retailers and food service firms) have increased focus on all fresh produce – and have increased product testing. So have state health officials.220px-Serranochilis

According to a press release posted at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website,

A random sample was taken by the Michigan Department of Agriculture on October 13, 2014 from a warehouse in Lansing, Michigan. Bailey Farms, Inc. received notice that the sample tested positive for Salmonella on October 20, 2014.

Bailey Farms, Inc. of Oxford, NC is voluntarily recalling 6,215 pounds of Fresh Serrano Chile Peppers, because it has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.
The Fresh Serrano Chile Peppers was distributed to Meijer, Inc. and customers may have purchased this product from October 14th to October 19th at Meijer stores in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
In addition this product was distributed to Publix Super Markets Inc., Merchants Distributors, Inc., Walmart, Food Lion, Flavor 1st Growers and Packers, US Foods, Military Produce Group, LLC.,C&S Wholesalers, John Vena, Inc. and Harris Teeter. Consumers who suspect they may have purchased Fresh Serrano Chile Peppers from the above listed companies between the dates of October 2, 2014 to October 21, 2014 should check with the above listed companies to verify if the product was subject to recall.
This recall is the result of the possibility that the remainder of these lots could be contaminated with this bacteria. We are working with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to investigate the root cause of the potential contamination.
No illnesses have been reported/linked to this recall.

Food Safety Talk 69: Laura Nelson and Jay Neal

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

The guys start episode 69 by discussing old movies that Ben has never seen, like Play Misty for Me and the Good  the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  Talk turned to chimps, Bonzo and Bubbles (not this Bubbles). They then talked about some more recent TV shows like Californication, The Americans, Dr. Who, Intruders, Comic Book men. And yes, the food safety experts are excited about New Girl season 3 on Netflix. The topic shifted to edible marijuana issues in Colorado related to Salmonella contamination and then Don reviewed a book that he recently read, “The minotaur takes a cigarette break” to which he awarded 5 thermometers.

Don and Ben were then joined by special guests Laura Nelson and Dr. Jay Neal. Laura Nelson is Vice President of Business Development and Technical Services at Alchemy Systems, a food industry training solution provider and Jay Nelson is an Associate Professor at the University of Houston. The group had a discussion started on behavior-based food safety training including a survey that Alchemy commissioned, Global Food Training Survey Reveals New Emphasis on Worker Behavior. Laura also talked about an internal report looking at training staff  on food safety behaviors including an observation/coaching follow-up. The group talked about some of the common issues that the food industry encounters – staff may have been trained but the actual practices aren’t always happening. Laura spoke about how to get at the reasons behind why practices don’t occur – and that food safety culture is tough for some industry folks to define.

Jay talked about a training technique that includes breaking down specific processes into small pieces and how the literature is pointing to encouraging feedback and coaching along with positive reinforcement. Jay’s experiences are that managers are really important to culture and where their priorities are (sales, customer experience, food safety) will affect team performance. All four of them discussed ways to improve workers skills; Don pointed out that measuring behavior is very hard, and the group discussed some work that Jay had published in this area. Jay shared an amusing classroom social experiment where he teaches his students to empathize with non-english speakers. He assigned the students a recipe in a undecipherable font and only the manager has a clear recipe. They must try to cook together but they are not allowed to talk.

In After Dark, Ben introduced Don to the Sponge Bath, a weird way to keep kitchen sponges sanitized. Ben and Don promised to talk more on the topic in future podcasts.

(This is satire) Senate Passes Bill Mandating Hand Washing

Our foray into sharing satire news has backfired a few times. There was this one story about hot oil being spilled in the kitchen during, some uh intimacy, that garnered a bit of backlash for not being food safety enough. 201410006fullOften we get a few emails saying that what was posted wasn’t real news. This one is satire from cap News, and we know it. The folks at cap News even picked the perfect picture (at right, exactly as shown).

A new bill introduced in the Senate that requires Americans to wash their hands after using the bathroom or touching any surface that may contain germs has passed by a 78 to 22 margin and now heads to the House of Representatives where little resistance is expected. President Obama is reportedly already waiting at his desk to sign the bill into law.

“Uhh, this legislation is our first step in the battle against an Ebola outbreak here in the United States,” said Obama. “Between that, hand sanitizer, and coughing into the crook of our arms, we should be in pretty good shape to take this disease head on.”

Democrats and Republicans alike have stepped up in support of the proposal, saying it is a much cheaper alternative than diverting military funds to try to find a cure. Proponents point out that the implementation timeframe is much quicker as well.

“All we need to do is slap up some signs in restrooms across America and we’re good to go,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “Even here in the rotunda, although we’ll probably have to post them every two feet to get the message across.

“Yes, Sen. Vitter, I’m looking at you,” he added. “Do they not make soap in Louisiana?”

Critics of the bill call it unenforceable, saying that similar measures were unsuccessful in stopping the spread of cooties throughout the Midwest earlier this year. The Coalition of Republicans Against the President is calling for tougher legislation, pointing out that dutiful Americans washing their hands won’t matter if current laws continue to allow unhygienic immigrants across the borders.

“For our money, step one is closing down every Walmart, Denny’s and Bowl-a-rama because that’s where the dirty masses congregate with their germs and whatnot,” said CRAP Chairman Fitz McManus. “Those places are just a hotbed of Ebola waiting to burst.”

While passage is expected in the other chamber of Congress, sources say House Republicans plan to tack on a rubber glove rider for the illiterate portion of the population. The additional provision calls for a pair of latex gloves to be supplied to every person for whom restroom signage remains a literary challenge.

“You can’t trust Americans to read and follow a sign any more than you can trust them to wear around a pair of gloves,” said Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA). “We’re all dead either way, but at least we can say we came up with a backup plan.”

The Centers for Disease Control has announced its support of the bill, saying they wish they had thought of it first because “it has Nobel peace prize written all over it.”

“If this works, then we can get back to focusing our efforts on the zombie apocalypse,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden. “I don’t think signs will work with them.” 

Arizona school’s noro outbreak linked to over 100 ill

I was chatting with a couple of guys at a birthday party of one of Sam’s friends this past weekend and relayed that I do food safety stuff. One dude said “I hate this time of year: between the colds, pink eye and norovirus our kids pick up at school we’ll all be sick until Thanksgiving.”

‘Tis the season for school-related infections.norovirus-2-1

According to AZ Central, the so-called winter vomiting virus is making an appearance in the desert. Over 10%, at least 100 students, of Kyrene de la Colina, a Phoenix (AZ) elementary school called in sick last Thursday – definitely an outbreak.

Kyrene Elementary School District spokeswoman Nancy Dudenhoefer said the absences were reported to the Maricopa County Health Department after more than 10 percent of students who attend the Ahwatukee Foothills school called in sick on Thursday.

The district also sent notices to parents about norovirus symptoms and advised them to keep ill children home from school.

In the Tempe Union High School District, Bruce Kipper, principal of nearby Mountain Pointe High, also notified parents about norovirus symptoms.

Kyrene hired a company that specializes in removing norovirus to clean Colina and its school buses before the Friday morning bell. Colina and all other Kyrene schools were open on Friday.

Maricopa County Health Department spokeswoman Jeanene Fowler said norovirus outbreaks are common in schools. “Norovirus is very common,” Fowler said. The solution is “cleaning and getting kids to stay home if they are sick.” (cleaning and sanitizing, with chlorine-based compounds -ben)

Commonwealth Games athletes’ village outbreak report released

In July over 80 staff and volunteers were hit with a touch of the norovirus prior to the Commonwealth Games (the Olympics, sort of, except the only nations invited are part of the British, uh, commonwealth). According to Herald Scotland, HS Greater Glasgow and Clyde released a report (unfortunately we can’t locate it to mine it for other gems) that states that the lack of (and inappropriate) cleaning and sanitation of a specific washroom was to blame – and so was using ineffective alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead of handwashing.2014_Commonwealth_Games_Logo.svg

Now identified as the very common but debilitating norovirus, the bug was first reported on July 15. The Games opened on July 23.

The report said: “This outbreak did not have serious public health consequences. However, due to the timing of the outbreak, there was a risk to the success of the Games if the virus spread beyond the security staff and cases were reported among athletes and team officials.

“Because of the association with the Commonwealth Games there was immense media and political interest.”

The report reveals “deficiencies of cleaning” at the Athletes’ Village. It said: “Some areas of the Village were not covered by any cleaning arrangements. These included the pedestrian screening area, general security areas and one block of toilets being used by security staff.”

It found staff were using the “wrong type of alcohol hand gel, which would not have been effective against norovirus” rather than washing with soap and water.

It also discovered three different cleaning firms contracted at the site were using different products, including quaternary ammonium compounds, which do not kill norovirus. Staff, the report found, did not know how to report something that needed cleaned up.

Eighty of the 83 cases were security staff. No athlete was affected. 

Environmental health officers, meanwhile, checked temporary toilet blocks and found they were substandard. The report said: “In many cases, there were no hand washing facilities with only non-gold standard hand gels being provided.”

Games organisers said their catering, cleaning and waste planning regime was “fully compliant with all relevant industry standards” and insisted they quickly teamed up with health officials to overcome the bug.

Missing a restroom on a list of sanitation stops, using incorrect sanitizers (like quats) in the middle of an outbreak and having only alcohol-based hand sanitizers (that apparently weren’t VF481) isn’t industry best practice.