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.

Golf ball parts in McCain’s frozen potatoes

When I was a kid my family used to spend a couple of weeks on Canada’s east coast every summer. My aunt, uncle and cousins lived in Halifax, we lived in Toronto and a few times we met for a week of cold water beaches, mussels, Anne of Green Gables, and golf on Prince Edward Island.

We rented an old farm house set back from the road a couple of hundred yards. I know the rough distance because I spent a lot of time driving golf balls from in front of the porch towards the road.

Over a field. I don’t think it was potatoes. Maybe it is now. Maybe that’s what lots of people in PEI do over potato fields.

Today, McCain foods recalled some frozen potato products because there might be golf ball parts in them.

McCain Foods USA, Inc. announced today it is voluntarily recalling retail, frozen hash brown products that may be contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials, that despite our stringent supply standards may have been inadvertently harvested with potatoes used to make this product.

 

 

This is a new one.

Food Safety Talk 124: Talking about Mike Scorpion

This episode starts with a chat about the need for butter refrigeration, bats and scorpions in leafy greens (oh my).  The guys briefly celebrate Ben’s birthday before talking about risk attribution, and yet another hot take on the 5 second rule, eating insects on purpose, and “food safety” tips from the internet. They make two book recommendations before talking about rat lungworm and other disgusting things.  The show wraps with an example of doing food safety right, and breaking news about doing food safety wrong before a brief dip into pop culture.

Bats in salad is yuck factor stuff; actual illnesses end up lost

I don’t know exactly when the barfblog risk factor vs. yuck factor thing was coined, but it’s been a running theme for over a decade. The concept is that stuff that grosses some people out (like this 3-year old’s poop party) garners more attention than the stuff that actually makes people sick.

There’s literature out that that shows that individuals are likely to perceive a situation or product as unsafe if it appears dirty, gross, or yucky, regardless of whether or not there is an actual food safety risk.

Many food safety regulatory systems, at national and local levels, employ a risk-based standard and inspection process grounded in both epidemiological and scientific evidence for monitoring and addressing food safety from farm-to-fork.

Risk and yuck get confusing.

Like bats and scorpions in bagged salad are a bigger deal for the mere mortals like the hockey parents I hang out with than actual outbreaks (like this one). Finding something that’s gross, and isn’t expected, garners a stronger media reaction than seven cases of E. coli O157.

Lots of folks I’ve talked to over the past couple of days want to know why there are suddenly more of these weird animals-in-food events (there aren’t) and how it happens.

We’ve seen stuff like this before:

Frog found in bag of Aussie salad

‘Why have I a soggy fishcake on my plate?’ Tesco customers’ horror as they find dead bird in salad during meal

And rats.

It’s possible that the mechanical harvesting could pick something like this up and it makes it through the quality control steps (see this video of what a salad mix mechanical harvester looks like beginning at 1:17)
.

The washing, sorting line is a place for quality control to happen (and here’s another video about that process), but it doesn’t surprise me that small animals make it through (and these events seem really rare)

As for risk, animals can carry human pathogens. As with any fresh produce item, there’s not a cook step (usually), so the potential for these extra critters (and their feces or body parts) to carry something like Salmonella is there. But the exposure chance is pretty low. Once discovered, I don’t know if many folks will eat around the animals once discovered.

Folks might benefit from targeted information about yuck versus epidemiologically-driven food safety risks. Not just the home chefs, but the industry and government risk managers that have to explain where their food safety priorities lie – and how stuff – like bats – slip through the cracks.

Behavioral theory stuff, like food safety, isn’t simple

Food safety and public health folks are pretty good at writing proposals and getting funds to do research and usually because of a funder’s requirement to take something to the people, add on some component outreach throwaway activity to make something. Usually it is a brochure, or posters, or a website where the outputs of research are shared.

And they often suck. Because folks who are good at one type of research may forget that there are other disciplines where data gets generated on what works and why.

At one of my first IAFP meetings over a decade ago I sat through a 3-hour session of cleaning and sanitation in processing environments and each speaker ended their talk with the same type of message we all need to edumacate better. And no one mentioned evaluation.

There’s about 10,000 papers in the adult education, behavioral science and preventive health world that set the stage on how to actually make communication and education interventions that might work – many are based on behavioral theory – the kind of thing that comes from, experiments, data, critique, disagreement, repetition and replication.

The literature has some common tenants: know thy audience; have an objective; base your message on some sort of evidence; ground the approach in theory and evaluate.

A particular favorite of mine is the Integrated Behavioral Model. It takes the Theory of Planned Behavior, adds some bells and whistles and gives something for folks to base their materials on. It’s not simple.

The good stuff rarely is.

Today we picked up something in our feeds coming from a public health group in the UK, that says making good intervention are easy. They even have a fun name for it, the EAST framework (which stands for Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely).

The first principle of the EAST framework is to make the desired behaviour easy. Small food businesses can help make healthier eating easier by:

Harnessing defaults
We have a tendency to stick with the status quo or the pre-set option. For this reason ensuring the healthiest option is the default option is a powerful tool for changing consumption behaviour. The healthier default, for example, could be offering a food item like a default side-salad instead of chips, or it could be a default portion size, like a small coffee as the default rather than a large size.

Decreasing the ‘hassle factor’
We can be deterred from a behaviour by seemingly small barriers. Decreasing the hassle factor by, for example, placing healthier drinks at the front of the fridge and sugar sweetened beverages at the back may prompt people to select the healthier option.

Utilising substitution
It is easier for us to substitute a similar behaviour than to eliminate an entrenched one. For this reason, reformulation of products (such as cooking food in rapeseed oil, making fatter chips or using low-fat spread) allows customers to engage in similar behaviours (still buying chips) but for the behaviour to be healthier.

Sounds easy. Lets see it in practice. And evaluate it.

True life: Someone cares about our research (even the tabloids)

Katrina Levine, extension associate and lead author of Evaluating Food Safety Risk Messages in Popular Cookbooks writes,

If you have been following the discourse epic battle between Ben Chapman and Gwenyth Paltrow, you may be wondering why a celebrity wants anything to do with us.  Me too.

It all started a few years ago with a conversation about recipes and cooking, and just how little was said in recipes about handling food safely. I mean, “cook until done”? What does that even mean?

So with Chapman’s support, I set off on a mission – to look through recipes in cookbooks (29 books and over 1700 recipes) for evidence of safe food handling guidance – giving a safe internal temperatures and ways to avoid cross-contamination.

It took about a year to collect the data (remember, 1700+ recipes…), and another couple to finish the article, Evaluating Food Safety Risk Messages in Popular Cookbooks, just published in the British Food Journal.

Then the press release went out, and something notable happened. Someone, somewhere, decided it was worth sharing. So it got shared – and talked about – a lot.

And there was an opportunity here: Talking with the media and posting about our study has never been about bashing celebrities, but about a chance to get our messages out there while we are being listened to.

I’ve done a few interviews and while the journalists may want to talk about Gwyneth, and who was the worst, I get to interject stuff into the pop culture conversation like, use a thermometer; follow safe endpoint temperatures; and, keep your hands and food surfaces clean and sanitized.

This is a researcher’s dream – to have your work noticed, discussed, and sometimes understood – by lots of people.

Putting in the work was worth it because what we did got noticed. And people are talking about it. Maybe they’ll be changing what they do because of it.

I am living the dream.

Show me the data: butter at room temperature edition

I like butter on my bagels. So does Jan Polanik. According to the New York Times, he filed a pair of class-action lawsuits after paying a quarter for butter every time he ordered bagels over a four year period, but was given margarine without being told.

Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owners settled the suits, but not until after using food safety as a defense.

In 2013, a Dunkin’ Donuts spokeswoman, Lindsay Harrington, offered an explanation for why a vegetable spread might be used.

“For food safety reasons, we do not allow butter to be stored at room temperature, which is the temperature necessary for butter to be easily spread onto a bagel or pastry,” she told The Boston Globe. The recommended procedure in the store, she said, was for individual whipped butter packets to be served on the side of a bagel or pastry, but not applied. “The vegetable spread is generally used if the employee applies the topping,” she said.

I’m not sure what the food safety reasons are since the salted version (over 1.5%) of oil-in-water emulsion doesn’t support the growth of foodborne pathogens or staph toxin formation -and remains safe at room temperature when the power goes out.  Stuff will persist, including Listeria, but temperature control isn’t a factor. It’s a quality thing.

Food Safety Talk 123: My mom was pissed

In this episode, Don and Ben talk about life hacks and things that might not be life hacks; Gwyneth Paltrow, cookbooks and Ben’s recent media experiences (and the perils of emailing while sitting on the toilet). Also in this episode the guys breakdown STEC in soy nut butter and Dixie Dew’s FDA 483 form plus a bonus on ROP cheeses.

Episode 122 can be found here and on iTunes.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Our battle with Gwyneth: cookbook edition

The coverage of extension associate Katrina Levine’s research on cookbook food safety messages took an unexpected turn yesterday. Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘people’ weighed in.

By ‘people’ I think it’s the folks who published her cookbooks.

It started with a string of emails from some folks in the UK who saw the NC State press release about the research. After analyzing 1700+ recipes from cookbooks on the New York Times best seller list we found that safe endpoint temperatures only appeared in just over 8% of the instructions.

Not great.

A few journalists want to know who are the biggest offenders are (quick answer: it’s pretty well everyone we looked at – but not all the time).

One of the books included in our study was Paltrow’s It’s All Good. In a flurry of questions, and without being able to find all the recipes online, I sent one of the enquiring minds a recipe from another book, My Father’s Daughter as an example of what we were looking at, with this note:

“Here’s one from chef Paltrow that does not have a safe endpoint temperature included (165F or 74C).

Heat oven to 400°. Mix butter, garlic salt, paprika, pepper and salt in a bowl. Rinse chicken inside and out; pat dry. Insert fingers between skin and breast to separate the two. Rub seasoned butter over chicken and under skin. Tuck wings underneath bird and tie together with a piece of twine. Tie legs together with another piece of twine. Place chicken on its side in a heavy roasting pan and roast 25 minutes. Turn onto its other side and sprinkle with several tbsp water; roast 25 minutes more. Turn chicken on its back; roast 10 minutes more. Turn on its breast; roast until skin is crispy and chicken is golden brown, 10 minutes more. Remove from pan and let rest, breast side down, 15 minutes, before carving (remove skin).”

The Paltrow folks responded, through the journalist with this:

“The recipe for “Roast Chicken, Rotisserie Style” was published in MY FATHER’S DAUGHTER in April 2011. While it did not have an endpoint temperature included, the directions called for the chicken to be roasted at 400F for 70 minutes, which is ample time to cook a 3-4 pound chicken.

IT’S ALL GOOD, which was published in April 2013, does include endpoint temperatures. “Super-Crispy Roast Chicken” in IT’S ALL GOOD is baked for 1-1/2 hours at 425 degrees and the recipe advises “The chicken thigh should register 165 degrees F on a digital thermometer at the very least (I usually let it get to 180 Degrees F just to be completely sure it’s cooked all the way through the bone).”

So we went back to the data – and yep, we noted that the Super-Crispy Roast Chicken had a safe end point temperature. What they omitted was that the first instruction in the recipe was to wash the chicken; one of the steps that can increase the risk of foodborne illnesses.

There were these other recipes from It’s All Good that don’t have the safe endpoint temperatures (and tell the reader to do non science-based things like touch it, look for clear juices or color to ensure doneness):

The row (I think that’s the correct colloquial British term) made the front page of the Daily Mail (above, exactly as shown).

As for this comment, ‘the directions called for the chicken to be roasted at 400F for 70 minutes, which is ample time to cook a 3-4 pound chicken.’

Maybe, show me the data. Lots of variables that can impact the final temperature – starting temperature of the chicken, thickness, oven heat calibration.

Isn’t it just easier to tell folks what the safe temperature is and tell them to stick it in?

Food and Wine points out exactly what we found. It’s not just Gwyneth.

But for once, let’s cut Paltrow some slack. Out of the whopping 29 best-selling cookbooks these experts analyzed, only nine percent of them included specific temperature information. She’s in good company. Meanwhile, only 89 — 89! — of the 1,497 recipes included in the study were deemed instructionally safe.

Honestly, none of this seems too egregious, and we almost wish Paltrow didn’t have to deal with the PR headache.

Oh well.

From the E. coli O121 in low-moisture foods file: flour power edition

It’s all so confusing. There’s a cluster of E. coli O121 in Canada. Sort of a big one. 24 people ill in four provinces (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador) going back to November 2016.

These illness came on the tail end of another E. coli O121 outbreak in the U.S. linked to Gold Medal brand all purpose flour.

Today, CFIA (that’s the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for those following along at home) announces a recall of Robin Hood brand all purpose flour distributed in four provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan) due to E. coli O121 contamination – linked to one illness.

In the new world of whole genome sequencing it would seem easy to say whether these clusters are linked – or totally different. And is the single illness CFIA reports part of the E. coli O121 cluster? Is it different?

My head hurts.

Earlier this year Natalie Seymour and I organized a workshop on STEC in flour. Karen Neil of CDC, Tim Jackson from Nestle and Scott Hood from General Mills spoke about challenges in flour food safety. The workshop focused on stuff like, there’s no kill step in the milling process, there’s literally tons of commingling and although it’s not intended to be eaten raw – sometimes it is (in cookie dough, cake mix).

And a risk factor in the 2016 Gold Medal-linked outbreak was kids handling raw tortilla and pizza dough in restaurants.

There’s some other stuff known about flour – generic E. coli species have been found in flour in NZ.

A survey conducted on wheat and flour milling in Australia showed no detectable Salmonella, 3.0 MPN/g of generic E. coli and 0.3 MPN/g of B. cereus recovered on average from 650 samples (from two mills).

And a US study found generic E. coli in 12.8% of commercial wheat flour samples examined.

So, yeah, flour.