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.

Food Safety Talk 64: The One With Doug

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

In a special episode recorded back before Ben went on summer hiatus, the guys invite Doug Powell on for a chat.  According to Wikipedia (which is never wrong), Dr. Douglas Powell was raised in Brantford, Ontario (that’s in Canada). Doug describes himself as a former professor of food safety and the publisher of He is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey.

These days Doug is been thinking a lot about soul, and given the Venn diagram of their intersecting musical tastes this leads to a discussion of Mr. Soul and a place where even Richard Nixon has got soul. Any discussion of music and soul leads to a mention of the classic Soul Man, which Don knows from the Blues Brothers movie, and Doug knows from the original version by Sam and Dave. Doug is thinking about soul because of his monthly writing gig for the Texas A&M Center for food safety. The piece he was ruminating on during the call led to a post called “It’s Gotta Have Soul” where his central thesis is that most people talking about food safety lack relevance; they lack soul, and fail to resonate.

After the guys bid Doug good night, the discussion turns to managing graduate students, task tracking software like OmniFocus, distracting diversions like Flappy Bird, managing references using Sente or Mendeley and a brief look forward to this special events which are coming, or rather were coming, at the IAFP annual meeting.

Austin, TX Whataburger food handler diagnosed with hepatitis A

If I were a food business owner I’d be worried about hepatitis A. Individuals can shed the virus without showing symptoms and even a Hep A positive handwashing superstar will result in lineups outside the business or at the health department while patrons get their post-exposure shots.images-7
Authors of a 2000 Journal of Food Protection  paper on the cost effectiveness of vaccinating food handlers arrived at the conclusion that the public health benefit of vaccinating for hep A doesn’t equal the costs – but doesn’t factor in all the bad publicity, hassle and incident management costs.
According to KXAN, an Austin outlet of Whataburger the famed Texas fast food chain is going through the crisis stuff right now – and it will cost them business even without patrons getting sick.
Health officials are wanting to alert the public about possible hepatitis A exposure at a Whataburger in Central Austin. A restaurant employee there at the 2800 Guadalupe St. location has been diagnosed with the hepatitis A virus.
While health officials say transmission of the infection to customers is not likely, the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department is recommending people contact their doctor if they ate at that specific Whataburger between Aug. 7 and Tuesday and fit the following criteria:
  • are 75 years old or older
  • are immune-compromised
  • have chronic liver disease or have had a liver transplant
  • have clotting-factor disorders
  • are experiencing hepatitis A symptoms
A bit out of the norm; the usual public health response is to administer protective post-exposure IgG shots to all.

Improperly processed low-acid foods sold at Virginia farmers market; health alert issued

In 2011, a 29-year-old man was hospitalized after five days of progressive dizziness, blurred vision, dysphagia, and difficulty breathing. The patient required mechanical ventilation and botulism antitoxin. He remained in the hospital for 57 days and then spent some time in a rehabilitation facility. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he had tasted some potato soup that included botulinum toxin.

In 1977, 59 patrons of a Detroit Mexican restaurant became ill with botulism after consuming improperly canned peppers. As a result of rumors of a pending shortage of fresh peppers, the restaurant staff decided to stick lightly-cooked peppers and some water in jars and seal them.

Putting low acid foods in a jar and sealing them without either acidifying (with vinegar/fermentation) or processing using pressure is a bad idea.

According to WTVR, Corfino Foods of Richmond VA has been selling soups and sauces that were improperly processed resulting in a health alert from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.corfino-foods

These products were improperly processed, making them susceptible to contamination with Clostridium botulinum.

Corfinio Foods has already suspended production of all of its canned soups and sauces and the firm is currently working with VDACS to come into compliance with state requirements.

Although there have been no reported cases of illness associated with these products, VDACS is issuing this consumer warning so that people who have previously purchased the products do not consume them.

The soups and sauces are packaged in glass, mason style jars with metal, screw on lids and have been sold at the Brandermill Green Market. The jars are marked with the Corfinio Foods label.

The firm was made aware of the dangers associated with selling improperly processed foods of this type and is working with VDACS and the market to notify consumers of the product recall.

Consumers who have any of these products or any foods made with these products should discard them immediately. They should double bag the jars in plastic bags and place in a trash receptacle for non-recyclable trash. Those who don’t wear gloves when handling these products should wash their hands with soap and running water after handling.


Alberta Health Services investigates E. coli O157:H7 outbreak: over 120 ill

There’s something big going on in Alberta (that’s in Canada). Alberta Health Services is investigating over 120 cases of E. coli illnesses with no known source. Canadian Press reports that there have been 59 confirmed cases in Calgary, 48 cases in Edmonton as well as other cases across the province. It appears to be unrelated to an outbreak earlier this month linked to sprouts.e.coli-ed01

According to Global News,

Andrea Rohachuk says she fell victim to the illness after eating out at a southeast Calgary restaurant.

“It came on pretty quick,” she remembers. “I was in the hospital for about 10 hours before they sent me home, but definitely it was the sickest I’ve ever been in my whole life. 

“I’ve maybe had a little bit of food poisoning, it kind of just goes through you, but [E. coli] was a thousand times worse than that.”

So far, a single cause behind the outbreak hasn’t been identified.

“It is too early. We’re in the middle of the investigation, and we hope we’ll be able to identify a common source if possible,” says Dr. Richard Musto, AHS Medical Officer of Health for the Calgary Zone. “We’ve got this increased number, so we’re trying to see are there any patterns, anything that would link one case to another.”

From the Salmonella in low moisture foods file: Trader Joe’s almond butter edition

At the 2007 IAFP annual meeting in Florida, CDC foodborne illness outbreak guru Robert Tauxe told symposium audience that the next big thing for food safety was low-moisture ingredients. Salmonella is hardy, especially when stressed through drying, so it sticks around for a while. It might not grow much without available water, many low-moisture foods are also high-fat which protects the pathogen in the gut and leads to a lower mean infectious dose. Tauxe’s comments were post- Salmonella Tennessee in Peter Pan peanut butter and pre- Salmonella Wandsworth in Veggie Booty (and other outbreaks) and he talked about dried spices and flavorings and peanut butter-type products like hummus and tahini. And almond butter.91989-Raw-Crunchy-Unsalted-Almond-Butter

According to a message on the Trader Joe’s website, the retailer is recalling specific lots of two types of of almond butter.

We have been alerted by our supplier of Trader Joe’s Raw Almond Butters that there is a possibility that product with the specified date codes may be contaminated with Salmonella:

Raw Crunchy Unsalted Almond Butter

SKU 91989

USE BY 28DEC14 thru 18JUN15

Raw Creamy Unsalted Almond Butter

SKU 56995

USE BY 27DEC14 thru 18JUL15

 In accordance with our stringent health and safety standards, and as an extreme precaution, all of the potentially affected product has been removed from sale and destroyed.

Customers who have purchased any of these items with the specified code dates are urged to not eat them and to dispose of them or return them to any Trader Joe’s for a full refund.

No other Trader Joe’s products are included in this recall.

One dead and two others ill from botulism-linked fermented fish in Alaska

Fermented fish isn’t for me. It’s not just a quality/taste thing, I also worry about the safety of the fermentation process – especially if it was carried out at home.

Deviating from the prescribed steps can create the perfect environment for Clostridium botulinum spore outgrowth, germination and toxin production. Of the 20-30 cases of botulism in the U.S. every year, the majority are linked to improper home canning. Last year, a Washington man gave himself botulism after eating elk that he canned using an old family recipe. He used a pressure cooker instead of a pressure canner and sped up the cooling time. A couple of years ago in Oregon, three folks became ill after eating under-processed beets. Botulism happens, and when it does, it’s nasty.

According to the Alaska Dispatch News, a death and two other botulism illnesses have been linked to a meal of fermented fish heads in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Of four people who ate together last week, one died and two others fell ill, said Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist in the Alaska Division of Public Health.Fremented_fish_B3

Alaska State Troopers on Sunday evening identified the man who died as Allen Nook, 59, of Lower Kalskag, a village of about 300 people on the Kuskokwim River 350 miles west of Anchorage. He ate the fish Wednesday and complained of seeing double and feeling ill, according to the troopers report.

Nook was found dead in his home Friday. His body was flown to Anchorage for an autopsy by the state medical examiner.

Keeping lunch safe: back to school edition

With Jack starting kindergarten a couple of weeks ago (we have year-round school in Raleigh), our luxurious summer schedule came to an end. No biggie for me as I’m in the habit of a 5:30 am wake up (it’s quiet and it gives me an excuse for going to bed at 9pm) but it does mean packing a lunch everyday that will stand-up to no refrigeration.

With traditional schools firing up their year in North Carolina this week and only a couple of weeks away from Labor Day the requisite back to school food safety coverage is firing up.Unknown-5

According to WJHG 7 in Tampa Bay, there are some things to think about when packing a lunch.

Food safety is vitally important. Freeze juice boxes (100% juice), small water bottles or small gel packs and place in the bag. The juice and water will keep other foods cool and will thaw by lunchtime. Use an insulated thermos for hot (140 or higher) or cold (40 or cooler) food. For best results rinse out a thermos with very hot water to heat it before adding hot items or rinse it out with ice water to chill the thermos before adding cold items.

Keeping food cold or hot slows bacterial growth and is essential for food safety.
o Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the ‘Danger Zone” – the temperature between 40 – 140F. 

Keep perishable foods refrigerated until time to leave home.

Use an insulated bag, if possible, rather than a paper bags. It is so much better for keeping food cold. 

Fortunately for us Jack’s love of individually packed shelf-stable hummus and apple sauce supplemented with peanut butter sandwiches, temperature isn’t much of a factor.

5 Things Everyone Should Know About Washing Food (via Quest)

My friend, Matt Shipman, a science writer and public information officer at North Carolina State University writes in the below Quest North Carolina post about washing food (reprinted with permission):

464.thumbnailEverybody eats, and no one wants to eat something that could make you sick.  But there’s a lot of misinformation out there about how and whether you should wash your food.

Food safety is an important issue.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year one in six people in the United States will get sick because of food-borne illness.  And risks can be increased or decreased at every point between the farm and your fork.  Yes, you want to make sure to cook your food to the appropriate temperature, but here are some other tips to help you make good decisions in the kitchen.IMG_8159-sink-16x9-640x360

1. Don’t Wash Meat

Some people think that you’re supposed to wash chicken, turkey, or other meats before cooking.  Those people are wrong.  “Research shows that washing meat can spread dangerous bacteria around your kitchen or food preparation area,” said Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at North Carolina State University.  “And washing poultry under running water can spray surface contamination up to three feet away.  We cook meat to make it safer; washing meat can only make a meal riskier.”

2. Washing Fruits and Veggies Only Removes up to 99 Percent of Pathogens

“That seems good, but it’s not great,” Chapman said.  By comparison, cooking food can cut the number of bacteria or other microbial pathogens by 99.9999 percent.  And that 0.9999 percent difference can be important.  If a food is contaminated by thousands of microbes, washing off 99 percent means that dozens will be left behind — and that’s enough to make you sick.  That is why people who are immunocompromised, such as some chemotherapy patients, are often discouraged from eating raw fruits and vegetables.

3. Don’t Use Soap

“Although washing has its limitations, vigorously rinsing produce under running water is the most effective way to remove the microbes that cause foodborne illnesses,” Chapman said.  You don’t need to use soap or special cleaning solutions.  In fact, using soap can actually introduce additional risk, because soaps may contain chemicals that aren’t intended for human consumption.

4. You Can’t Get All the Pesticides Off Your Food (but Don’t Panic)

Some minute traces of pesticide will probably be on — or in — your fruits or vegetables when you eat them.  “But being able to detect a pesticide doesn’t mean that it’s a public health problem,” said Chris Gunter, a researcher at NC State who studies vegetable agriculture.  That’s because, after using a pesticide, farmers are required to wait for a specific period of time before harvesting (it’s called a “pre-harvest interval”).  During that time, the pesticide breaks down or washes off, meaning any residual pesticide meets EPA’s human health requirements.

5. Even Organic Food Can Use a Rinse

Just because produce is labeled “organic” doesn’t mean that it’s somehow immune to microbial contamination. Organic farmers usually grow their fruits and vegetables in open fields, just like conventional farmers, and are subject to some of the same risks, such as fecal contamination from wildlife (that is, poop can still get on the food).

“Any time you’re going to eat fresh produce you should rinse it off, if for no other reason than to rinse off dirt,” said Don Schaffner, a food safety researcher at Rutgers.  “And rinsing off produce may offer some risk reduction in terms of microbial pathogens.”

Bonus: Don’t Wash Pre-Washed Veggies

If you’ve bought salad mix that is labeled as “pre-washed,” you really don’t need to wash it again, Schaffner said. In fact, you probably shouldn’t wash it again.  “An expert panel reported in 2007 that consumers who wash these salads again won’t reduce the risk,” Schaffner said, “and may actually create a risk of cross-contamination” where pathogens from other foods get onto the salad.  In this case, being lazy is a virtue. 

Maine food boat shut down, and reopened due to food safety issues

One of the more compelling subplots on the was-AMC-now-Netflix series, The Killing, is one of the character’s broken relationship with her former case worker and parent figure – who lives on a house boat in Seattle.

That’s how much the show has devolved after a promising first couple of seasons.

Maybe I’m just bitter after investing 20+ hours of background watching.glba36861

Food safety in from mobile vendors has been much maligned, and propped up, but food boats are a new thing to me. In Portland (Maine) There’s at least one example of a food business operating on the open seas – from a small boat that delivers and sells food to boaters. According to, Reilly Harvey, of Mainstay (the boat) had been shut down due to operating outside of food hygiene laws. But then given a reprieve with conditions.

The Portland (Maine) Press Herald had a fun slice-of-life feature on their hands. They found a woman, Reilly Harvey, who takes a small boat out into the state’s waters full of delicious homemade pies and entire lobster dinners to sell to boaters. 

The desserts were just the beginning. Harvey’s boat, Mainstay, is rigged with a three-burner propane stove set in the stern, and three pots sat waiting for lobster, clams and butter, all of which Harvey had aboard. There were tubs of cauliflower-curry tofu salads with yogurt-lime-cilantro dressing and homemade biscuits that had come out of the oven less than an hour ago.

The day after the story appeared in the newspaper it was over. The state shut her down. There are rules, man! Where are her sinks? She has to have running water! From the Press Herald’s follow-up coverage:

“It makes me feel sick to my stomach and sad,” said Reilly Harvey, who runs Mainstay Provisions out of an old boat she keeps on Andrews Island. Harvey said she was contacted by a state health inspector and told she must pass health inspection standards for mobile vendors – think food trucks – and get her vintage 22-foot wooden launch, the Mainstay, fitted with sinks and hot and cold running water if she is going to continue to serve hot food.

There are only 3½ weeks left in her season. Unless she is able to comply with the regulations, it is unlikely she’ll be able to operate Mainstay Provisions as usual in 2014.

UPDATE: Ira Stoll has alerted me that Harvey has been granted a reprieve, requiring her to have a wash basin, five gallons of water, a food thermometer and a bucket to drain hot water. The permission-based society is so kind!



Learning from the past: Toronto Public Health steps up CNE vendor focus after 2013 outbreak

At the 2013 version of the Truth North’s state fair, the Canadian National Exhibition, over 200 people fell ill with Staph aureus poisoning linked to cronut burgers. Epic Burgers and Waffles, the vendor, purchased maple bacon jam from Le Dolci Cupcakes and Cakes; which neither business refrigerated. Too bad since the water activity was .97 and the jam had a pH of 5.8 – decent conditions for the bacteria to grow and create the toxin.

As a result of the outbreak, according to CTV, the good folks at Toronto Public Health are working with food vendors to assess risks by going through product and ingredient lists. Toronto food safety Superman and barfblog friend Sylvanus Thompson will be leading the charge.Unknown-4

This year, vendors will be required to provide the CNE a full list of all the foods they will be preparing and selling. Food inspectors will also be paying closer attention to the temperature items are being stored at.

Another measure the CNE will be introducing is off-site inspections for food items that will be served up on the fair grounds.

“If it’s in Toronto, we’ll be inspecting those premises prior to the food being taken to the CNE,” Sylvanus Thompson, a Toronto Public Health spokesperson, told CTV Toronto. “We’ll be looking at all the foods that will be transported to the CNE to ensure there is no … cross-contamination.”

The CNE’s general manager David Bednar says food safety at the fair “has always been and will always be a top priority.” He says he believes most people who will be attending the fair this year will not be worried about becoming ill when they bite into something sweet or savoury.

“I’m absolutely confident people have the confidence they need to come to the CNE and enjoy a meal and not worry about being sick,” Bednar told CTV Toronto.

This year, 20 food inspectors will be on site at the CNE’s food building on the fair’s opening day to conduct a full inspection. They will return a week later to conduct another full inspection. There will also be small group of food inspectors working at the CNE daily.