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 found in homemade Macedonian sausage

I’m all over home preserving jams, pickles and salsa but I’ve not been able to get into home fermenting sausages. Not just the root word for botulism, European fermented sausages have been linked to Listeria issues in the past. According to FOCUS News Agency, an outbreak of Listeria in Macedonia may or may not be linked to homemade sausages (something might be lost in translation).

Listeria bacteria were found in two kinds of homemade sausages, a check of the Food and Veterinary Agency shows, the Macedonian online news edition NOVA reported.

Some 300 samples are expected to be additionally tested.

According to the Agency, the contaminated products cannot be linked to the people infected with Listeria.

The edition says there have so far been eight people suffering from listeriosis in Macedonia, four of whom have died.

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From the Wawona stone fruit files: tossed nectarines passed out in South Dakota

As the nationwide recall of Wawona stone fruit, that met the non-zero tolerance Listera requirements for Australia, continues to capture the attention of the U.S. media, the fallout continues. According to KDLT  a Huron South Dakota man is now wanted by police for passing out nectarines that were disposed by a grocery store.BHGjA.AuSt.8

Police in Huron are looking for an individual who took 46 cases of potentially contaminated peaches from a grocery store dumpster and has been passing them out around town.

Fair City Foods in Huron recently announced they’re recalling their peaches as part of a nationwide recall of peaches distributed by a California-based company. Peaches the company packed between June 1 and July 12 tested positive listeria.

So far police say they know of 28 cases that have been distributed by the individual.

Officials say anyone who has received one of the cases should bring them to the Huron Police Department.

Costco calls customers to let them know of recalled fruit

While it might make data conspiracy folks antsy Costco continues to put purchase tracking to good use (sorta, as this Listeria/stone fruit situation may not be that much of a public health risk). According to bustle.com  Costco has been directly calling members who purchased recalled Wawona Packing Co. fruit based on a real-time database of purchases.Unknown-2

Craig Wilson, vice president of quality assurance and food safety at Costco, told HuffPo that the company keeps a log of every single item customers purchase.

We know every item that everybody purchases every day. If there’s an issue with an item — be it ground beef, peaches, socks or tires — we can contact the members that purchased the item, because we have a record of that purchase.

So, seems all that creepy data collecting can be put to good use once in a while. In fact, this isn’t the first time Costco has used its consumer data to help in cases related to foodborne illness: The company teamed up with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and local investigators to help track the source of a salmonella outbreak in 2010.

According to Wilson, Costco even mailed follow-up letters to consumers after the initial phone calls. If only our roommates could be this thorough when warning us the milk has gone bad.

Identifying and connecting with customers that have purchased recalled items is a good strategy. That’s the kind of action that demonstrates the food safety culture of a business. Telling customers how this incident changes Costco’s supplier specifications/verification (at all) and how internal decisions are made are a next step in pulling back the curtain on food safety for the public.

Visiting College Station for the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety Annual Meeting

Gary Acuff, Director, Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, is one of the coolest dudes to hang out with at meetings. He’s got great insights about food safety, productivity, Apple products and family stuff and is an all around fun guy. I’m heading out to College Station on August 12 to hang out with Gary for a day and give a talk.

Details are below:
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Join us for the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety 2014 Annual Meeting on Tuesday, August 12 at 11:00 AM at our Earl Rudder Freeway lab.

The annual meeting will begin with a special seminar presented by Dr. Ben Chapman entitled: “Food safety communication around beef isn’t well done (no pun intended),” followed directly by the Annual Meeting. Lunch will be provided.

Please RSVP to gacuff@tamu.edu if you plan to attend so we can get a headcount for lunch.

If you would like to invite a guest who might be interested in joining the Center, just let us know and we will add them to the headcount.

Download the flyer here.

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?

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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 scotsman.com, 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 
underway.job_site_restrooms

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.