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.

Listeria zero tolerance prompts produce recall

Listeria is a pretty common bacteria in the soil and environment. Before Jensen Farms lots of food safety folks would not have been surprised to find some Listeria spp on the outside of a cantaloupe (it’s grown in soil, packed on lines that aren’t easy to clean and sanitize).

But handling practices, water and sanitation tragically magnified a few cells of Listeria monocytogenes into over thirty deathsBHGjA.AuSt.8

Having hundreds of thousands of Lm cells (and reaching the median infectious dose) is a public health risk. Consuming a few cells may not be.

Three years later, the result  has been that many food service and retail buyers require a regimen of sampling for fresh produce including, for Listeria species, on various products. If it’s found on the product, there’s going to be a recall. And while it might not be a risk-based reaction, no one (especially the buyers) are taking chances.

Wawona Packing Co of California recalled conventional and organic varieties of yellow peaches and nectarines, white peaches and nectarines, plums and pluots yesterday. Wawona has Trader Joe’s and Costco and BJ listed as buyers. Wegman’s has followed by recalling baked products (cakes pies, etc.) they made with the tree fruit.

And as Schaffner tweeted this morning:

Culture change isn’t about training, education and environment

Over the past decade lots of folks have been throwing around the term food safety culture to describe how a business operates. Education, training, equipment, tools, the environment, investment and support from higher-ups all influence how well an organization addresses risk, there’s something else that binds it together.

The culture, or value system, can be difference between having an outbreak or not. The values dictate decisions from the front-line staff to the CEO.

Maybe it’s the hippie in me but it’s sort of like the vibe of the organization that can be gauged by asking does anyone really care?


And if they do, do they know what they should be caring about?

The health care world struggles with the same issues, with similar consequences. According to Yahoo News the Vanderbilt University Hospital dealt with a culture change around infection control. And it’s taken six years to turn things around.

Dr. Gerald Hickson had two primary concerns after his wife’s double-knee replacement operation at Vanderbilt University Hospital in July 2008: making sure she received appropriate pain control and getting her moving as quickly as possible to avoid blood clots. But as he sat with her during her recovery, Hickson made a disturbing discovery. Most of the nurses, doctors and other hospital workers filing in and out of the room to care for his wife, who was at risk of contracting an infection after surgery, were not washing their hands.

A compulsive person by nature, Hickson started counting. He found 92 instances when staff members should have soaped up or used antiseptic foam. The total number of times they actually did? 32. Hickson did not want to humiliate anyone, but he was also fiercely committed to protecting his wife. With polite Southern collegiality, he calmly pointed out the 60 opportunities when staffers could have provided safer care but didn’t. Some staffers were immediately embarrassed. Several wondered if he was kidding, got defensive and offered explanations for their lapses. 

Hickson reported his findings to Dr. Tom Talbot, VUMC’s chief epidemiologist, and Talbot ran with it, spearheading an ambitious clean hands initiative that was launched in July 2009. Since then, hand-washing rates at Vanderbilt have jumped from 58 percent to 97 percent; at the same time, the number of several stubborn infections has dropped, one of them by as much as 80 percent. “We get into bad habits, all of us do, and sometimes we need somebody to remind us to get back on the right pathway,” says Hickson. “That’s the key to transforming health care.”

Talbot orchestrated a number of practical changes right away, including installing additional hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrance and exit of every patient’s room or bay and within easy reach inside. Staffers were instructed to clean their hands before and after every encounter with patients, even if all they planned to do was have a conversation. Even the smallest details were addressed. Clinicians who complained that their skin had become irritated by excess antiseptic gel were told to cut back to a dime-size portion, and moisturizing lotion dispensers were added throughout the hospital.

That was the easy part. Talbot knew that it would take an all-out culture shift to see dramatic improvement. A prior hand-washing program, which focused largely on education and random surveillance, had done little to boost rates. This time, Talbot drilled down on what he believed would be the keys to success: training, communication and shared accountability up and down the staff hierarchy.

Because the hospital’s top leadership would be the ultimate enforcers, Hickson and Talbot knew they needed buy-in before the program was officially launched. The old days of giving high-performing doctors a pass on unprofessional conduct — “Oh, that’s just Dr. So and So, that’s how he is” — would be over. Every hospital worker, no matter his or her rank, would be held to the same high standards. “We had to have support from leadership, so if we had pushback, we would elevate that up and they wouldn’t blink,” says Talbot. “Instead, they would say, ‘That’s not the kind of behavior we expect here.’”

Competition is a big motivator at Vanderbilt, too. Hand-washing scores for individual units and departments are tallied up from highest to lowest, and results are posted every month in break rooms and other staff areas so that everyone can see how his or her team compares with the one down the hall. “You want to look better than other services when that scorecard comes out,” says Johnson. “You don’t want to be at the bottom. That’s just human nature.”

Today, after more than 200,000 hand-washing observations, Vanderbilt’s overall hand-washing compliance rate has almost doubled. At the same time, three major types of infections linked to the insertion of tubes and catheters have been reduced considerably, according to Talbot. Urinary tract infections related to catheters in intensive care units have dropped by 33 percent; pneumonia linked to ventilators by 61 percent; and bloodstream infections associated with central lines — the tubing that delivers fluids and medications to patients — by 80 percent in ICUs.

Culture change is not about mission statements and core values written on a poster. It’s about fostering feelings within the organization from top-to-bottom that this stuff matters.

Norovirus outbreak at Commonwealth Games linked to restrooms that were ‘not as they should be’

The staff restrooms at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow have a norovirus problem. According to, almost 50 games staff members have now come down with gastrointestinal illness and a makeshift restroom is being fingered as the source.

First Minister Alex Salmond said officials were “confident” they had identified the probable cause of the outbreak, which sparked a health scare just days before Glasgow 2014 gets 

No athletes or team officials have been affected by the suspected norovirus outbreak and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said the toilet block had been closed to prevent the bug – which leads to sickness and diarrhoea – spreading further.

Speaking after the final meeting of the Glasgow 2014 strategic group yesterday, Mr Salmond said: “We’re confident we’ve identified the cause of the outbreak, a temporary facility which was not as it should be.”

‘Should be’ translates to soap, running water, paper towels and some sort of cleaning and sanitation program.

Sandwich artist says Subway manager made her work while ill

Norovirus is the perfect human pathogen. With its low median infectious dose and stability, norovirus is built to be transferred. Beyond its durability, billions of particles can be shed in every gram of feces and vomit from an infected individual and can be transferred well via fomites, food and water.

Sort of a nightmare for a restaurant if one of their kitchen staff shows up to work ill.

And a worse situation is when a manager says to an ill food handler that she can’t go home until after the lunch rush.images

Which is apparently what happened at a Freeport, Texas Subway. According to Emily Thomas at the Huffington Post, former sandwich artist Elizabeth Taff was eventually fired for wanting to go home because she had vomited.

A Subway worker in Freeport, Texas, claims she was forced to continue working her shift while suffering from a stomach bug, then was fired the same day.

Elizabeth Taff, 24, says she was so sick she could barely stand up straight and vomited several times during her shift on July 11, but her manager refused to let her leave unless she found someone to cover her shift.

“About 40 minutes into my shift I felt nauseous. My mouth started watering, and I knew I was about to vomit. I ran into the restroom and vomited repeatedly,” Taff told The Huffington Post. “I went and let my manager know, [but] she told me to find my own replacement after lunch rush.”

Taff says she then summoned enough strength to get through the lunch rush, hoping to track down another employee to fill in for her. But no one else was available, she said.

She noticed vomit on her work clothes and, rather than take a pay cut for a new work shirt, phoned home for someone to bring her a clean outfit, she said. She also maintains she didn’t leave work for fear of getting fired and losing her paycheck.

Speaking to local news outlet KPRC, Taff expressed concern for the impact her sickness could have had on customers.

“I was touching everybody’s sandwiches,” she said. “I’m like, ‘This ain’t right.’ I had gloves on but that doesn’t matter.”

Ultimately, though, she was fired that day. Subway asserts the decision was due to her “poor performance and insubordination,” reports KPRC.

“I was on my knees [on the grass outside the restaurant], while [the manager] berated me with remarks such as ‘you’re so stupid, if you cant handle working while feeling ill you don’t need to work here, all you had to do was switch shirts and finish your shift,’” Taff told HuffPost. “She told me I was fired since I was unable to talk, due to vomiting all over the place.”

A cluster of E. coli O111 illnesses in MN investigated by health officials

Ricky Bobby’s favorite restaurant chain, Applebee’s, is connected to multiple E. coli O111 illnesses but according to health officials, the restaurant is not the sole source of the outbreak. The Minnesota Department of Health sent out a press release detailing an investigation into 13 cases of E. coli O111 which looks like a vendor-linked outbreak. applebbes.ricky_.bobby_

While seven of the people with E. coli O111 infections reported eating at Applebee’s restaurants in Minnesota between June 24 and 27, there are multiple cases with no apparent connection to the restaurant. Applebee’s is cooperating fully with the investigation, and as a precaution volunteered to remove the Oriental Chicken salad from menus at all its Minnesota restaurants while the investigation continues. The restaurant is also removing specific ingredients of its Oriental Chicken salad from other items on its menu out of an abundance of caution. Health officials are still working with Applebee’s, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and other regulatory partners to determine the cause of the outbreak.

Health officials say anyone who visited a Minnesota Applebee’s since June 20 and has symptoms of E. coli O111 infection (particularly bloody diarrhea) should contact their health care provider immediately and inform them of their possible involvement in this outbreak. MDH also asks that they contact the department’s foodborne illness hotline at 1-877-FOOD-ILL (1-877-366-3455) to report the potential connection.

Four of the 13 people who became ill were hospitalized, and all have recovered or are recovering.

Food Safety Talk 63: The Great One

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 iTunes.1405348895819

Don and Ben have Skype issues but this time it was actually Don. Don announced that there will be help for people like Ben who aren’t so good at managing their time and attention at IAFP 2014, with Merlin Mann presenting on Wednesday in a special lunch session. The guys estimate about 0.1% of IAFP annual meeting attendees will be excited to see him – including Ben and Don, and probably Batz. Ben mentions his excitement that Professor Dr. Donald Schaffner, PhD was name checked on Back to Work Episode 173.

The first mention of The Wire comes at 12 minutes in when the guys give a shout out to Baltimore resident Manan Sharma who says that this is his favorite part of the show.

In follow-up from Episode 61, friend of the show MDD says that there are not rats in Alberta  Ben and Don remark while there may not be any snakes in New Zealand and Ireland (although Ben thinks that Don is thinking of potatoes) there are rats in small pockets in Alberta. While Alberta has had a rat eradication program since the 1950s, a colony of Norwegian rats, of Roanoke Island proportion, was found in Medicine Hat (that’s in Canada) in 2012 and 2014. Ben tells Don that he wears big pockets to avoid rats, and that and on a pilgrimage to Edmonton to see a statue of The Great One, his pockets were not checked.

The guys then talk about a question from IAFP’s Dina (not Dinah). Dina asked the guys to discuss their thoughts on a recent JFP paper about non-intact steak cooking using temperature, flipping/turning and different cooking methods. The practical, take-home message (as dictated using Dragon Dictate) was that that flipping and covering with a lid (which allows cooking to occur both through conduction and convection heat) and using a thermometer for all cuts of meat helps reduce risk.

Ben talked a bit about some future work that his group is doing looking at mechanically tenderized beef messaging, perception and behavior – including cubed steak.  Cube steak is sometimes made by slapping two pieces of meat together and running through a cuber – although not according to Wikipedia, which is never wrong. The discussion moved to steak eating preferences as detailed by FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver’s cadre of numbers nerds who dissect a lot of pop culture and sports questions.

The guys then both talked about message variability projects they have going on. Ben’s group is looking at  cook book recipes (and how the messages and instructions in the culinary world often are not evidence-based). And Don’s group is looking at messaging on handwashing signs, something that his second favorite graduate student Dane, is undertaking.

In outbreak flashback the guys talked about 1854’s Broad St. Pump  cholera outbreak. Using a map and analyzing cases of human disease, John Snow, largely recognized as one of the founders of epidemiology, created a blueprint for the next generation of disease hunters. Removing the handle on the pump is commonly thought to have ended the outbreak except that modern epi-curve analysis suggests that the outbreak was already on the decline. Ben’s favorite part was what one of his undergraduate professors, Anthony Clarke talked about in class 15 years ago: the monks in a local monastery did not get sick because they didn’t drink the water, just home brewed beer.

The guys then ended the show talking about an outbreak linked to food service hamburgers made by Wolverine Packing. Or is that Wolverine Packing with it’s adamantium slicers and grinders? In either case, It’s unclear whether illnesses are linked to undercooked burgers or cross contamination – although anecdotally undercooked burgers have been reported. One of Ben’s graduate student’s Ellen Thomas has been working on a project related directly to this type of product, where secret shoppers have been speaking with servers at burger-serving family style restaurants throughout the U.S. The results of the project will be shared at IAFP in Indianapolis.

In after dark the guys chuckle and guffaw about Ben’s Beatles references, time and attention management, and Tony Robbins who Ben thinks is in prison. But he’s not. He was thinking of James Arthur Ray. Don mentions that the author Kurt Vonnegut (who explains the universal shapes of storytelling) has a memorial library in Indianapolis.

Colorado restaurant to remain closed for weeks following hepatitis A incident, bad inspection

A Fort Collins, Colorado restaurant has chosen to remain closed for at least six weeks to address numerous food safety issues highlighted in a poor inspection coupled with a food handler being diagnosed with hepatitis A.

According to The Coloradoan, owners Louann DeCoursey and Mike Piotraschke are curiously using the window of developing symptoms post hep a exposure as a timeline for reopening their restaurant, Tortilla Marissa’s.Unknown-1

“The Health Department can’t tell me if the person brought it here or if it was here and he contracted it,” Piotraschke said. “The blame game isn’t working. Let’s just follow the procedures and do what we need to do (to reopen).”

Piotraschke was thankful that his employee reported the illness.

“The person is probably feeling a lot of guilt, but should be commended for coming to us,” he said.

He couldn’t force anyone to get the hepatitis A shot, but he thinks all workers did, “to protect the business.” (in contrast to early reports where the owners said they were requiring all staff to get vaccinated before coming back -ben)

“I didn’t even think twice,” Heidi Blackmar, 32, said about eating at the restaurant in mid-June despite an “inadequate” inspection by the Health Department a few weeks earlier.

In Tortilla Marissa’s case, the inadequate inspection in late May meant a lack of accurate thermometers to test food temperatures, improper hot and cold “holding” of the food after it was cooked, insufficient employee handwashing, and blocked access to a sink used for that purpose.

Now that the restaurant is closed, Piotraschke said he is glad to have time to address all of the inspection concerns.

“I think we improved on what the (Health Department) gave us,” Piotraschke said. “As a manager and owner, I’m going to be a pain in the butt (to employees) … but I don’t like to be considered average, I want us to be excellent.”

“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the way we’ve handled this.” Come August, “I would anticipate just being like a brand-new restaurant.”

Based on the risky violations highlighted in the inspection report (temperature abuse, a lack of handwashing compliance and no thermometers) a brand-new approach to food safety was needed to protect the health of patrons and the business.

Chobani disputes Duke researchers’ paper about fungus

Duke (or Dook as it’s known around here) is waging war on multiple fronts this week: with John Wayne’s estate over bourbon, and with the equally powerful yogurt community over nuances of pathogenicity.

Here’s the shortened story: Chobani receives complaints associated with yogurt coming out of one of their plants: packages were bloating and popping. Some customers experienced a gross-out factor that led to barfing (I get that, I gag when I take the garbage out sometimes). A fungal contaminant, Mucor circinelloides, associated with spoilage and generally not considered a foodborne pathogen is found in the plant and product. Duke researchers obtain some of the organism from an opened bloated yogurt container in Texas.  They culture the organism and test it on mice human cells and says that the fungus is more dangerous to rodents and humans than we thought.Screen-Shot-2014-05-19-at-11.47.57-AM-590x291

In unrelated news, Chobani says no science is involved in yogurt-making.

Food Quality News reports that the paper has led to some excitement in the food safety world.

Dr Alejandro Mazzotta – the microbiologist heading up food safety at Chobani – says he is disappointed by the publication of a “highly irresponsible” paper in the peer-reviewed journal mBio alleging that the fungal contaminant found in some of its yogurts last fall was a potentially dangerous food borne pathogen.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA on Tuesday, Chobani’s VP quality, food safety, and regulatory affairs Dr Alejandro Mazzotta said he was surprised that the paper made it through the peer review process owing to what he claimed to be its flawed methodology, poor use of citations, and general “lack of scientific rigor”, and for drawing conclusions that are not supported by the evidence presented.

Randy Worobo, was cited as saying  “While the data indicate that the isolates can cause disease when injected directly into the bloodstream of mice – at a level of 1 million Mucor circinelloides per mouse – this type of experiment, while interesting, obviously does not reflect natural exposure through foods.

Asked to respond to these comments, the mBio study co-authors Dr Soo Chan Lee and Dr Joe Heitman from the Duke University Medical Center were cited as saying “The murine models employed in our study are standard ones used frequently by investigators to study the virulence potential of microbes in an animal model. These studies, and similar ones of related isolates, show that this fungal species is a pathogen in mice capable of causing lethal infection via this route of infection… The inocula used was fully appropriate for this model.

Lee and Heitman state that “Mucor circinelloides f. circinelloides  is the “most virulent M. circinelloides subspecies and is commonly associated with human infections,” and it’s unclear whether this statement is based on the literature (which isn’t referenced) or their findings which were arrived at with just three mice.

Between the lack of negative controls; the use of rodents as a human model (with the high doses of 10^6 organisms); and the lack of detection of the pathogen in feces (just relying on symptoms); there are some flaws in the approach.

Food safety folks in the industry tend to get nervous about messy food safety-related public discussions believing that the public won’t understand the details. Discourse like this is (and the data behind it) is necessary to aid shoppers in making informed choices.

Social media is a tool for food safety folks

The Internet is rife with examples of how to employ social media for food safety purposes. Good and bad. Folks that use Twitter or Facebook as a place to push messages out (like an old-fashioned brochure) haven’t quite figured it out. Others, who have, use new media forms to connect with, engage and pull back the curtain on their aspect of the food world.


For the past couple of years many of my talks have had a social media component to them. Folks want to know what’s going on but aren’t exactly sure how jump in. By going into the literature around social media communications combined with experience following online discussions of food, Doug, MS student Ben Raymond and I pulled together a framework for using social media as a tool for food safety. And published it in a special edition of Perspectives in Public Health.

Our conclusions for why social media is a useful tool for food safety types include:

- Provides access to real people, their discussions and feedback
- Allows communicators to go where people are and contribute
- Creates communities
- Can be used to provide decision-making evidence transparently
The abstract is below and the full paper can be found here.
Potential of social media as a tool to combat foodborne illness
Perspectives in Public Health
vol. 134 no. 4 225-230
Benjamin Chapman, Benjamin Raymond, Douglas Powell
The use of social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, has been increasing substantially in recent years and has affected the way that people access information online. Social media rely on high levels of interaction and user-generated context shared through established and evolving social networks. Health information providers must know how to successfully participate through social media in order to meet the needs of these online audiences. This article reviews the current research on the use of social media for public health communication and suggests potential frameworks for developing social media strategies. The extension to food safety risk communication is explored, considering the potential of social media as a tool to combat foodborne illness.


Washington pet shop owner goes on month-long pet food diet

We’re dog sitting for a neighbor this week which has added excitement to our house. Between poop scooping, counter surfing and face licking we’re also trying to teach the kids about the trade-offs of a pet.

Dogs are great companions but are a lot of work. baby_eats_dog_food

Sam and Jack have been taking responsibility for feeding Bentley (with guidance from us like, “if you don’t feed the dog he’ll eventually die”) and I’ve been reinforcing handwashing after handling the potentially contaminated food. Because there have been a lot of Salmonella-driven outbreaks and recalls linked to pet food and treats.

A Washington State pet shop owner doesn’t share my assessment of risks and is living on a strict pet food diet for a month. According to Fox News, Dorothy Hunter is turning pet-food-a-tarien to demonstrate the quality and nutrition of her products.

“You would be surprised how tasty dog and cat food can be when it’s made right,” she told the Tri-City Herald last week. “You really are what you eat and it’s the same for your pets. I decided to eat this food for a month just to prove how good it tastes, as well as showcase its nutrition.”

She stocks her shelves with dog and cat food that is comes from as far away as Italy. She told the newspaper that everything she carries is carefully selected for its nutritional value.

“You won find empty food in this store,” she told the Herald. “There are not fillers, or animal (byproducts) or preservatives. We also do our best to make sure we do not carry any edible foods from China or products whose ingredients come from China.

“I know people think this is crazy, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to read labels and see what’s in the food you eat — whether it’s pet food or human food.”

Yeah, and whether it’s at increased risk for Salmonella.