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.

Norovirus, you don’t want it: RNC edition

My neighbor told me over the weekend that he’s done with social media until the U.S. election is over, he said that the polarized debates on his Facebook timeline were making him sick.

Sorta like the at least 11 RNC attendees who have, according to Stat News, acquired some norovirus over the past couple of days.

A handful of Republican staff members in Cleveland for the GOP convention were reported to be suffering Tuesday from a possible norovirus infection.

And if there are a few people with norovirus, it’s likely there will be more.10849902_719581291471357_3442145704847569295_n1-300x3001-300x300

As many as 11 members of the California delegation’s advance team are showing symptoms that are consistent with the norovirus, according to Peter Schade, the Erie County health commissioner, who is investigating the outbreak. They are staying at a hotel in Sandusky, Ohio, about an hour from Cleveland.

“We’ve got about 11 who have been sick over the last few days, and we’ve been out there every day and working with them to eliminate the spread [between] the resort and the delegation from California,” Schade said.

The health department is running tests to confirm whether the Republican staff members have norovirus.

Jim Brulte, the California delegation chairman, told STAT in an email that the trouble started when one of the staff members who arrived ahead of the delegation came down with a virus and infected her husband.

Handwashing, excluding the ill folks from the festivities and cleaning and sanitizing with chlorine-based compounds are best management practices.

Washing salad is no magic bullet; safe sources matter

I’ve become increasingly fond of the convenience of pre-washed, bagged, fresh salad mix. A staple of my weekly meals is 4oz of steak, a crumble of blue cheese, grilled mushrooms, sliced pear, a few walnuts all over a bed of 50/50 mix of pre-washed baby spinach and and mesclun mix.

I just open the bag and throw the salad on the plate.contVis_mesclun

Because there’s not much I can do, safety-wise, to it once it’s in my home. If there’s pathogenic E. coli, Listeria or Salmonella there (or others) I’m stuck with it. I’m following recommendations from a bunch of my food safety friends who reviewed the literature on cut, bagged, washed, ready-to-eat leafy greens from a few years ago.

In the abstract, they write:

The panel concluded that leafy green salad in sealed bags labeled “washed” or “ready-to-eat” that are produced in a facility inspected by a regulatory authority and operated under cGMPs, does not need additional washing at the time of use unless specifically directed on the label.

Leafy green food safety risks need to be addressed before they get to me, all I can do by washing it again is increase the chance I cross-contaminate the salad precursor in my home. My purchasing choice is based in trust that growers, packers and processors know what they are doing, and do it. But at best, they can only remove 90% of what is there with a wash.

Some folks, according to BBC News, disagree. They say things like:

‘washing foods is not 100% fail-safe, but it gives people the best chance against infection.’

and

‘we always wash everything, especially if we’re going to eat it raw. We don’t use much bagged salad or spinach, but if we did, we would definitely wash it.’

I’ll stick with the science.

But what exactly are the best ways to wash your greens? The BBC asked two food industry professionals for the best practice in food safety and hygiene when it comes to salad and vegetables.

Camilla Schneideman worked in the food industry for 18 years having run her own restaurants abroad and in the UK, and is currently the managing director of the Leiths Cookery School in London.

Rosalind Rathouse is a professional cook with more than 50 years of experience, who runs the Cookery School in central London.

Ms Rathouse advises storing all salad and vegetables in a cold environment, because it slows down the rate at which bacteria multiply.

What about ready-to-eat pre-packed salads?

Pre-packed salads are often washed in a low-chlorine solution to kill off the bugs, according Ms Schneideman, so eating straight from the bag is unlikely to harm you.

“It comes down to personal choice whether you want to give it an extra wash,” she said.

Soaking stuff all together also seems like a recipe for cross contamination. If I am washing something I’m going to rinse it down the drain.

Four cases of salmonellosis linked to Seattle luau

My experience with Hawaii is pretty close to zero. I stopped there for a layover on a trip to Australia (for about an hour); I watched Magnum PI reruns when I was a kid; The Descendants is in my top 10 favorite all-time movies.

I’ve never been to a luau. Even a fake one.original

According to JoNel Aleccia of the Seattle Times, the Good Vibe Tribe Luau (which sounds awesome) is the source of Salmonella outbreak.

Illnesses were reported on July 11 and 12, with two reports on July 15.

Investigators are trying to determine what may have caused the illnesses at the event, where food included rotisserie roasted pig, barbecued beef, black beans and rice, tropical fruit salad, pineapple coleslaw, Hawaiian sweet bread and corn on the cob.

The event was catered by Mojito of Seattle. Inspectors visited the catering facility on July 13. No foods or processes have been linked to the illnesses so far.

Orlando restaurant goes on the offensive after outbreak link

One of my close friends owns a restaurant and texts me regularly with questions about stuff that’s going on (like O121 in flour).

He’s the kind of business owner I like: he shares what he sees as deficiencies and we chat about ideas to get his folks to keep his product safe. He’s worried about his livelihood daily. He’s not complacent.

Later this month, while the restaurant is closed, I’ll talk to his employees and tell them stories from barfblog – about the people who got sick and the people that led to the illnesses.txt-lets_get_real

I’ll paraphrase him here, but he’s said lots of times that while he doesn’t think he’s been the source of any illnesses, it could happen tomorrow. And he’d lose his business.

That’s the kind of realism that makes me want to eat at his restaurant.

Sorta the opposite of what’s happening at Spice Modern Steakhouse in Orlando, according to WFTV.

Ben Elliott and Alyssa Mason planned a perfect wedding. Then came the rehearsal dinner at Spice Modern Steakhouse. Within hours, 38 people in the wedding group, and two others, became sick and some described violent food-poisoning symptoms to Florida Health Department investigators.

The couple’s parents said three people went to the hospital.

Documents Action 9 checked and revealed big problems inside the kitchen before and after the food poisoning. The restaurant flunked a routine state inspection just three days before the event. Critical violations included potentially hazardous food temperatures.

Investigators listed spoiled lettuce with slime, moldy strawberries and black algae in a sink. Plus they listed hand wash failures, some employees worked while sick and with poor training. Murphy said those last three issues have been linked to food poisoning outbreaks by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Restaurant owner Manny Tato told Action 9, in nine years, the restaurant served thousands of customers without incident. Tato said he fully expects state investigators to clear his restaurant of any wrongdoing. He also told Action 9 since the complaint, management has changed at the restaurant and all inspection problems have been corrected. Tato said he has hired an outside company to audit food safety issues on a regular basis.

Statement from Manny Tato / Spice Modern Steakhouse:

Contrary to what you have been told, I personally have been involved with communicating with the gentleman who started the complaint (leaving out his name to respect his privacy) since shortly after his first call to the restaurant. I think his phone records could prove this if requested. During my very first conversation with this gentleman, he himself mentioned that I should have insurance to take care of his expenses thus far—as his expenses were substantial—unless I wanted to settle personally. Since we have been fortunate enough not to ever have had any such claim or complaint from a guest in over 9 years at this location, serving thousands of guests weekly, I called our insurance agent. Under our agent’s advice we agreed and our insurance company was notified.

Once I was given the insurance adjuster’s contact information, I passed it along to the gentleman. A few phone calls were exchanged between the adjuster, the gentleman, and me. While being sympathetic to his claim, he was asked a couple of times to provide supporting documentation from doctors, other healthcare professionals, etcetera. He was also asked to pass along the adjuster’s information to all parties allegedly involved so they could discuss this. As of yesterday afternoon, the adjuster has not received any documents or heard from any other parties to the alleged incident. I suppose you could argue the reason for not providing these documents is probably a legal strategy—which shouldn’t even be a thought at this point since the insurance company is willing to resolve this—provided there is supporting evidence. Or it could be that there are no such documents to provide from a physician to support the claim.

While I acknowledge the health department inspection seems lengthy, primarily due to “basic” items they had to note after performing a 6 hours inspection with 3 inspectors present, none of the listed items noted posed a threat to the public according to the inspection reports themselves. The restaurant remains in operation and corrective measures were taken right away. We have been proactive on our end by implementing new guidelines compliant with new health department codes (which change frequently). New management is in place, some aged equipment has been replaced, and we have engaged a third party company to perform regular safety and food handling audits.

We are not a big chain restaurant. We love our guests, staff, and our city. The last thing we want to do is hurt anyone, especially our faithful regular guests we’ve learned to call our friends.

I understand stories need to air or ratings will decrease due to lower viewing audiences. Even so, to prove a point, one may say there have been inspections with quite a few items listed (none that pose a threat, mind you), but I would stand on the mere fact that there has been no proof of any wrong doing on our part. To that end, do we say “guilty until proven innocent” or “innocent until proven guilty”? I think the latter is appropriate based simply on the fact that in all of our years in business, we have never had an incident or claim.

Yeah, we’ve been doing the same things for years and have never made anyone sick. Heard it. Lots of times. Pretty hard to say when inspectors report a bunch of risk factors (hand washing, working while ill) three days before a 30+ illnesses are linked to the business.

Flour power: Live Science edition

US Secretary of State for Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the defense department in 2002, ‘There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.’

Sorta like E. coli O121 and flour, I guess.

Stephanie Pappas of Live Science and I chatted last week about what’s up with FDA’s recommendation that folks don’t eat raw dough and why don’t they make the same warning about produce – after Slate posted something about the recommendation being oppressive.Kraft-designs-production-method-for-shelf-stable-whole-grain-flour

Friend and colleague Jenny Scott answered it better than I did.

“We just want to provide consumers with the best information to take steps to reduce their risk,” said Jenny Scott, a senior adviser in the office of food safety at the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “The same thing happens when we have a produce outbreak.”

But the ways that people traditionally use flour did influence both the timing and the content of the recommendation. Typically, Scott told Live Science, people don’t eat raw flour in large quantities.

“Because people donꞌt think of raw flour as being a concern, that’s one of the reasons we’re making the effort to get the information out,” she said. The risk of illness from raw flour is low, she said, but then, so is the risk from raw produce.

The current flour-related outbreak is the second of two such outbreaks in the past seven years. The earlier one was a 2009 outbreak of another strain of E. coli caused by Nestlé Toll House prepackaged cookie dough, which — surprise, surprise — people were eating raw. Exhibiting a clear-eyed realism about human nature, Nestlé opted to start heat-treating all of the flour in its raw cookie dough.

Known unknowns

Food safety experts are now aware of the flour risk, but are only beginning to understand it. Outbreaks related to produce have been studied intensively for two decades, starting with a massive outbreak of infection with the parasite Cyclospora in 1996 (it eventually was traced to raspberries imported from Guatemala). By comparison, there isn’t much data on the prevalence of pathogens in flour, said Ben Chapman, a professor of food safety at North Carolina State University.

“Over 20 years, we have a pretty good understanding, or a better understanding, of fresh produce consumption, but when it comes to flour, we don’t know,” Chapman told Live Science. “It’s hard to make risk-management decisions based on unknowns.”

No one really knows how General Mills’ flour became contaminated, or if contamination is a widespread problem among other brands. E. coli can spread through animal feces, so wildlife pooping in and around fields might be the culprit. But untreated irrigation water could spread the bacteria, too, Chapman said, or there could be some sort of cross-contamination during the milling process. No one knows how long E. coli or other pathogens persist in dry foods like flour, he said (literature points to it being a long time though if Salmonella is a model; thanks Larry Beuchat, Linda Harris and others -ben).

“It’s still relatively new for us to be looking at this as a community,” he said (there is this great 2007 JFP paper by Bill Sperber that has some info on flour -ben).

As for produce, which is currently responsible for far more outbreaks than raw flour, the FDA is making strides on safety. The agency recently released a new Produce Safety rule under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act that requires specific water quality guidelines and testing for irrigation water, rules for manure and compost use, and standards related to worker hygiene and equipment and tools. Raw sprouts, the culprit in 42 outbreaks between 1996 and 2014, get special attention under the new rule.

But with huge grain-consuming companies like Nestlé and General Mills linked to outbreaks, producers will be examining their supply chains and processing practices, Chapman said.

“It’s bad business, being linked to outbreaks,” he said.

Food Safety Talk 104: Shorter Stacks!

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.1468025747361

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.

Episode 104 can be found here and on iTunes.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

 

Carbón Live Mexican Grill to skip Taste of Chicago following outbreak

Taste of Chicago, an outdoor festival featuring signature dishes from over 60 restaurants happens this weekend. In 2007, over 800 salmonellosis cases were linked to hummus from Pars Cove, one of the participating vendors.

After that outbreak, organizers stepped up their food safety game:Unknown-1

While any Chicago-based restaurant can apply to sell food at Taste of Chicago, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Illinois Restaurant Association consider restaurant applicants’ inspection history for the previous three years before allowing them to participate in Taste. No applicants with unresolved critical or serious violations at their business are accepted or allowed to serve food at Taste of Chicago.

Additionally, all menu items are carefully reviewed and approved by the Chicago Department of Public Health with the festival’s outside environment and temperature in mind.

Carbón Live Mexican Grill, has been linked to at least 25 pathogenic E. coli illnesses including 5 hospitalizations and will not participate in Taste of Chicago, according to Chicago Eater.

CBS Chicago spoke to a one of the hospitalized patients who told the station the she ate steak tacos.

The restaurant has a second location in West Town, which ABC Chicago reported has also been closed as a safety precaution.

2-year-old with E.coli returns to Ohio for treatment

There aren’t many experiences worse than caring for an ill child. In my seven years of fatherhood I’ve only dealt with my kids suffering through a handful norovirus infections, a lacerated gum and a cut requiring 14 stitches.

We’ve been lucky.

I get emotional when I read about others dealing with illnesses that are much scarier.Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 11.11.12 PM

According to WHIO, Collette Dodson contracted pathogenic E. coli in Ivory Coast where her parents are missionaries.

The 2-year-old’s kidneys stopped functioning and she was unable to urinate for 10 days. Her kidneys are functioning at 50 percent now.

The child was first evacuated to a Paris hotel, but the family returned to the U.S. due Jenna Dodson also being pregnant.

“Coming to Dayton Children’s after spending time in hospitals in Africa and the hospital in Paris was like walking into Disney World,” father Justin Dodson said in a release. “The amenities here go above and beyond, and the staff was willing to drop everything to help our family.”

Surveys are never enough: U.K. Freezer habits edition

Ten years ago, as a bunch of University of Guelph students were barfing in their residence bathrooms with noro, Brae Surgeoner, Doug and I hatched plot to observe hand hygiene practices in situ. We wanted test whether students in the midst of an outbreak would report they were really good at washing their hands or using sanitizer. We guessed that what they said, and what we would see, would be drastically different.IMG_5317

In a self-reported survey, 83 of 100 students said they always followed proper hand hygiene but estimated that less than half of their peers did the same. When we watched them, we saw students following recommended hand hygiene procedures just 17 percent of the time.

Asking people what they know or do is a start. But it’s never enough. People lie, forget or don’t care.

Employing other methods to confirm what they say they do is necessary to confirm actions.

Like using a freezer, according to BBC.

Misconceptions about frozen food are contributing to the seven million tonnes of waste thrown out by UK households every year, the Food Standards Agency says.

Of the 1,500 people it surveyed, 43% wrongly thought food could only be frozen on the day it was bought, suggesting confusion over food safety.

According to the FSA’s research, 38% of people mistakenly thought it was dangerous to refreeze meat after it had been cooked.

Almost a quarter, 23%, said they would never freeze meat that was cooked after defrosting, with 73% of those citing worries about food poisoning.
More than two thirds, 68%, had thrown food away in the past month, mainly bread (36%), fruit (31%), vegetables (31%) and leftover meals (22%).

Households in the UK waste the equivalent of about six meals a week on average, the FSA said.

Food Safety Talk 103: Like Wolverine

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.3090032-1971380319-Wolve

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.

Episode 103 can be found here and on iTunes.

Show notes so you can follow along at home: