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.

Ciguatera intoxication happens; not cigar-related

When I teach food service folks a certified food protection manager class I often stumble over the pronunciation of ciguatera poisoning (the New York Times says it’s sig-WAH-terra – I’ll go with that). The toxin is produced by a dinoflagellates (usually Gambierdiscus toxicus which lives on algae or dead coral) and is eaten up by sporting fish like barracuda, amber jack and some types of grouper and snapper.

The fish eat the small organisms and overtime bioaccumulate the toxin in their tissue.images

Then folks who like fish, eat it and get sick. Even if it’s cooked.

The toxin is pretty heat stable (FAO says that even 20 min of cooking at 158°F/70°C for 20 min was insufficient to fully denature the toxin protein). Ciguatera was responsible for an outbreak aboard a cargo ship earlier this year, leading to a code orange at a Saint John, New Brunswick (that’s in Canada) hospital. Thirteen crew members fell ill within hours of eating toxin-ridden fish.

Elizabeth Radke and colleagues at Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute published research earlier this week estimating that ciguatera is a much larger issue than the reported illness disease trackers believe. Public health data show that barracuda, grouper and amberjack caught from subtropical waters in the Bahamas and the Florida Keys are key risk factors.

From the paper:

Our finding that only 7% of diagnosed cases were reported to the FDOH may at first glance be surprising. However, for many notifiable diseases, physicians rely on laboratory reporting of cases, which is not available for ciguatera because of the lack of a diagnostic laboratory test. In addition, because ciguatera is not a communicable disease, physicians may be unaware that it is a notifiable condition in the State of Florida. One survey in Miami-Dade County found that only 47% of physicians knew that ciguatera was notifiable and this is likely to be lower in less endemic parts of the state.

We also found that Hispanics experience the highest rate of ciguatera illness in Florida, possibly due to more frequent consumption of barracuda than non-Hispanics. This may represent an opportunity for targeted, culturally relevant educational messaging after more narrowly identifying high-risk cultural groups.

Know your target audiences, their practices and communicate to them directly.

Ask questions at the farmers market; the grower is (usually) right there

Where I grew up (Port Hope, Ontario – that’s in Canada), there was a small tailgate farmers market Saturday mornings in the parking lot adjacent to Valu-Mart. My mom and I shopped there sometimes and I never really wondered whether the stuff was safe. I didn’t think a whole lot about food safety and regulation until years later. I figured that if someone could sell it, they must know what they are doing, and I didn’t have to worry about it.

Food safety is all about trust, and I had lots of it.

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As a more mature food safety-focused shopper, I don’t care what size the farm is, where they are located geographically or what their production style is – I only want to know whether the person making what I’m eating can manage food safety risks or not. And whether they do it all the time.

When our group started working with farmers markets a few years ago we created a strong partnership with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Together, with funding from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund, we developed best practices and engaged with market managers and vendors through workshops and on-site visits. The focus was to help market folks manage food safety risks – and engage with the interested public around what they do to keep food safe.

The growing trend of farmers’ market shopping allows for direct engagement between producer and eater and when Kim Painter of USA Today asked me about questions I ask when I walk through vendor stalls I told her I go full food safety nerd and ask about handwashing (and other stuff).

Markets are subject to state and local food safety rules, but some practices – including the provision of hand-washing facilities for vendors – should be followed everywhere, says Benjamin Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University. Chapman also asks whether workers have had food safety training and how equipment is kept clean. Finally, he asks about farming practices, including how farm water is tested for safety and how farms that raise animals keep animals and their waste out of fruit and vegetable fields. Illness outbreaks have been linked to foods sold at both grocery stores and farmers markets, he says. “I think there’s a perception that the products you would get at a farmers market are safer. But we don’t have that data.”

Click here to check out the asking questions at farmers’ markets infosheet we put together last year.


Food Safety Talk 77: Sous vide is French for under vacuum

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.large_89552732661

Ben and Don start by catching up about technology. Ben is quite excited about Google fiber coming to Raleigh, NC, Don, already subscribed to Verizon fios says that the fiber is great. Ben then leads a discussion about his new obsession, the Wake Forest Community discussion board on Facebook. The page is a forum for pretty much anything from tooth abscesses, to snakes, to local business ratings. The guys delve into the community forum concept and explore the intersection with food safety (sale of goods, transportation from out of state). Don mentions that he has been volunteering with the innovation committee in Freehold borough who also is looking at a community forum.  Ben introduces the concept of lip dubbing and Don provides his favorite, a NFL video about reading of lips incorrectly.

The real food safety portion of the podcast starts by Don talking about Better Process Control School. Don talked about some feedback he was giving to a couple of small companies about aseptic processing, challenge studies and jacketed kettles, and expressed some frustration with FDA because sometimes their interpretation of science isn’t clear.

The discussion goes into regulatory hurdles, retail food safety, variances and HACCP plans. Ben talked about an individual that is interested in food sustainability who is looking to divert food waste from restaurants to pantries, using reduced oxygen packaging for storage and transport. The guys talk about regulating food even that is given away (but not it all states) and the variance process.

NC Senator Thom Tillis garnered headlines for suggesting that restaurants be allowed to opt out of handwashing regulations as long as they post a disclosure or advisory – or  replacing one regulation with another. The podcast ends with a discussion of a possible norovirus outbreak at NC State.

Staph toxin in French Roquefort cheeses leads to recall in Canada 

I like Roquefort cheese, probably too much. My favorite weekend lunch combination is Roquefort on crackers with honey, proscuitto and a Malbec. I prefer my cheese without staph toxin though.

According to a press release, Saputo Inc is recalling a couple of French Roqueforts under the Papillon brand.

There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products. 

The affected products have been distributed across Canada. This voluntary recall represents approximately 900 kg of Papillon brand Roquefort cheese products in 100 g and approximately 1.375 kg random weight half wheels.

The Brand, Product Name, Product Size, UPC, and Codes that appear on packages of the affected products can assist consumers in identifying the recalled products

NC State researchers show copper affects norovirus capsid

Matt Shipman, public information officer at NC State University and curator of The Abstract writes, norovirus affects an estimated 20 million Americans every year, and the hardy virus can linger on exposed surfaces for weeks – making it difficult to stop the spread of the disease. But a new finding from NC State researchers shows that an age-old commodity may be a new tool in combating norovirus: copper.pennies-435cs051012-1

The researchers found that viral shells (being used as a stand-in for norovirus) that were in contact with copper alloys for at least ten minutes became effectively neutralized. In other words, the finding means that virus particles that land on a copper doorknob or counter-top would no longer be capable of causing a norovirus infection.

The work holds promise for helping to limit the spread of norovirus infection via “environmental contamination” in places like hospitals or doctor’s offices.

A paper on the finding, “Destruction of the Capsid and Genome of GII.4 Human Norovirus Occurs During Exposure to Metal Alloys Containing Copper,” is published online in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The paper was authored by NC State researchers Chip Manuel, Matt Moore, and Lee-Ann Jaykus, who are part of the NoroCORE research collaborative. NoroCORE stands for the Norovirus Collaborative for Outreach, Research, and Education, and involves more than 30 research teams from 18 institutions. It is funded through a $25 million grant awarded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

More information on the work is also available on the site of the American Society for Microbiology.

A different kind of mile-high club: 12 ill on a flight to LAX

Illnesses happen on planes, and it’s miserable.

The Los Angeles Times reports that 12 passengers on a flight from Fiji to LAX fell ill with vomiting and nausea. Each of the affected flyers reported staying in the same hotel prior to the flight.

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.F97B1678-9288-4E1F-A6DC-5C807461E2CA

Members of [the] tour group experienced diarrhea and vomiting throughout an airplane flight from Boston, Massachusetts, to Los Angeles, California, resulting in an emergency diversion 3 h after takeoff.

The problematic flight departed Boston on Oct 8, 2008, heading for Los Angeles and carrying among its passengers 35 members of a leaf-peeping tour group. (Four more members of the group had planned other routes home, while two had been hospitalized in the previous 2 days.)

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.”

Norovirus sucks; The Cowfish reopens after 50 illnesses and a deep clean

Last week I talked to a bunch of retail food safety folks at FMI Foundation’s Retail Food Safety Forum about norovirus (and other stuff). Part of my message was that once the perfect human pathogen is in a restaurant, grocery store, or cruise ship, it’s tough to get it out without some illnesses.

Part of the problem with noro (beyond the low mean infectious dose; environmental stability; and, 10^9 virus particles per gram of vomit/poop) is a vomit event can lead to particles floating through the air. And maybe moving 30 feet from the barf splatter. Check out Grace Thompson’s vomit modeling apparatus (below, exactly as shown) for more.

According to WCNC, The Cowfish, a popular sushi and burger joint in Charlotte, is about to reopen following a noro outbreak affecting over 50 staff and patrons. Mecklenburg County Medical Director Dr. Stephen Keener says the working theory, according to is that a patron or food handler had the virus, brought it into the system, and spread it.

The Cowfish voluntarily closed its doors after norovirus is believed to have made about 50 people sick last week.

They original closed the doors to the restaurant as a precaution. The second time they closed, they brought in professionals to clean. Something they didn’t do the first time.

NBC Charlotte pulled up the most recent health inspection report. The restaurant was cited for hands not being clean and properly washed.

The health department still hasn’t found the cause of the illness and released this statement: ‘Cowfish management has been proactive and in constant contact with the Health Department.”

The owner of the restaurant calls this a regrettable situation and says, ‘We also will continue to work with health officials to be sure we are doing everything possible to protect the health and safety of our guests and employees.’

Bringing in some professionals who have compounds that are effective against noro (CDC advises 1000-5000ppm of chlorine for contaminated surfaces).


Food pantry policy and food safety

Dr. Ashley Chaifetz. a research assistant at N.C. State University writes via UVM’s Food Feed,

Every year, an estimated 48 million Americans contract a foodborne illness. Those illnesses have come from pretty much every place where there’s food: grocery stores, hospitals, church dinners, county fairs, schools, restaurants, prisons, private homes, and even emergency food providers. I wish I could say that foodborne illness prevention was simple, that everyone knew how to reduce risk, that access to institution-specific food safety materials is readily-available, or that our food is always safe and we didn’t need to worry. Unfortunately, that’s not the case; although some food distributors are more closely regulated than others, it’s incredibly difficult to trace an illness to its source.Food Pantry 1

Foods distributed through shelters, food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, backpack programs, and other institution-specific programs are referred to as emergency food. In North Carolina, there are seven food banks and at least 2,500 emergency food providers associated with Feeding America (the country’s largest hunger-relief charity), plus hundreds more independent organizations.

To examine and analyze the standard operating procedures and supply chain of the food pantry system, I conducted interviews at 105 food pantries in 12 counties across North Carolina. While committed to social welfare, the food pantries are self-governed, and the issues of hunger and nutrition can supersede other concerns for the vulnerable populations served. Increasingly, food pantries create rules and regulations in the absence of those created by any level of government. Each food pantry operates with its own set of rules, some of which are formalized and some that are informal.

While their mission is similar, food pantries are diverse. More than 80% of the pantries distribute fruits and vegetables, as well as frozen meat (pork, beef, and chicken), in addition to canned and packaged items. On average, the managers get food from 3.73 sources, including food banks, grocery stores, food distributors, school gardens, farms, hunting trips, federal commodity programs (TEFAP and SNAP), restaurants, individuals, and food drives. Some pantries distribute the same amount of food to each person, while other managers base the number of bags individuals receive on family size. Many food pantries now use a client-choice model, which means the food pantry is set up like a grocery store, allowing the clients to “shop.” Some pantries are open six days per week, while others are open only once per month. Their capacity and ability to store items varies, and few pantry managers receive food safety training of any kind.

As a result of this data analysis, I identified the gaps in their food safety prevention measures and, with Dr. Ben Chapman at NC State University and North Carolina Cooperative Extension, put together a series of online videos to better inform pantry mangers and volunteers of the best food handling and storage practices at food pantries. At that time, best practices for food pantries were nowhere to be found; these are publicly available to all, without a password or special program.

  • Given the importance of the topic, the first video is centered on general food safety information, details on foodborne illnesses, riskier foods, wild game, and past-date foods (which also encompass the entire fourth video).
  • Risk prevention is key, and there are low-cost ways to prevent contamination when storing and handling food. Based on the 2009 Food Code (as used in North Carolina), the second video concentrates on three focus areas: time-temperature abuse, cross-contamination, and hand-washing.
  • So that new and veteran volunteers have the same information on how the pantry is designed to operate (and be kept safe), the third video provides detail on writing standard operating procedures and how to get information on recalled foods (including links from the FDA). Though less related to food safety, there’s a fourth video on how long items can be consumed past the date on the package.
  • Six additional documents have been provided to assist in implementing new protocols, from checklists and templates for writing the standard operating procedures, to signage, including a flowchart on how to tell if canned foods are ok to eat.

Food pantry managers and volunteers might be confused about food handling—and what we do at home is not always the best practice. Regardless of income level, consumers should have access to food that is safe, requiring all supply chain actors to do their respective parts. Unlike other food systems institutions, food pantries are private (predominately faith-based) organizations that provide a public good; that designation does not mean they should be treated as outliers in terms of food safety and handling information.

Ashley Chaifetz will be a speaker at the UVM Food Systems Summit on June 16-17 at the UVM Davis Center.  For more information or to register, visit

California restaurant closes for noro clean up

Norovirus persistence is a problem for the food industry. The virus is hardy and can stick around on surfaces for six weeks or more. Once it’s there, the virus is tough to get out of a kitchen, dining room, restroom or storage area.

Oh, and with a low mean infectious dose, some difficult choices have to be made when there’s an outbreak. In 2014, Mohonk Mountain House in New York State closed for a week while a cleaning and sanitizing crew tried to get rid of the virus after hundreds of guests got sick over a 10-day period.10849902_719581291471357_3442145704847569295_n1-300x300-300x300

According to the Press Telegram, the Sky Room in Long Beach, California shut for three days for a noro clean up last week.

The Sky Room, a Long Beach restaurant known as one of the Southland’s more romantic spots, shut down this week following a report that 18 patrons and three employees fell ill earlier this month.

After a three-day closure in which the restaurant was sanitized top to bottom several times over, inspectors report, the Long Beach Bureau of Environmental Health gave the Sky Room the green light Tuesday to re-open. 

 The first reports of a problem came when six people who dined May 1 at two different tables reported falling ill, according to “epidemiological documentation” in a city inspection report.

On May 13, more patrons reported distress after eating at the Sky Room days before, the report says. The restaurant closed Friday, May 22 and re-opened Tuesday.

“Our reputation is everything,” said owner Bernard Rosenson, adding that not only did he hire a consultant to train the staff, but the consultant will return monthly to make sure best sanitation practices are continued.

Two more children with E.col O55-linked HUS in Dorset, UK

Pathogens can move through a family quickly. Once a foodborne bug gets into a home (and its toilets) others are at increased risk of illness. My Campylobacter saga ended with a secondary case in our household – Jack (who was 14 months old) got sick about 10 days after I did. Fortunately neither of us had any long-term effects.

There’s a bunch of E. coli O55 in Dorset (UK); at least ten were ill last year with the rare STEC and no source was identified.ecoli-1184px

BBC reports that a Dorset family is dealing with two children who have been diagnosed with HUS, also linked to E. coli O55.

Public Health England (PHE) said they were from the same family as two children being treated in hospital for serious kidney problems following E. coli 055.

PHE has informed schools and workplaces linked to the household. Results on another possible case are awaited.

The two children are currently in hospital with haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) – a complication of E coli infection.

Ten people in the Blandford area of Dorset were diagnosed with E. coli 055 between July and November 2014.

A further two cases were identified in Portland, four in Bournemouth and Poole as well as three cases outside the county which had links to people from Dorset.

Nursery children were among those infected with the bacterial illness, which can lead to kidney problems in some cases.