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.

Fake turkey story goes viral before U.S. Thanksgiving

Satire can sometimes be confusing. The good stuff sounds so plausible that a reader or viewer has to pay attention. That’s what makes the Onion so great.

Headlines are often flashier (and click- and retweet-worthy) than the actual article; something that can lead to headaches for the food industry.P1040537-001

According to International Business Times, a satirical story on a recall due to avian influenza-in-turkey from National Report has gone, uh, viral as they say.

The story was posted on National Report, a satirical website well known for publishing fake stories with sensational headlines.

The bogus report read: “The CDC has confirmed that millions of turkeys have been recalled due to safety concerns over an avian virus that the birds may be harboring. The virus is related to human influenza virus but was thought to lack the ability to infect humans. However, it appears that the virus has recently developed the ability to move from bird hosts to humans. The results could be disastrous.

The article also carried a made up quote from Bob Marcer, a CDC epidemiologist, as saying: “We are in a very hazardous situation here. From our sampling efforts, we know that millions of turkeys that have been sold in the last weeks are harboring this virus. The handling, preparation, and eating of these turkeys could infect millions of people during the Thanksgiving holiday. Follow that with the large crowds of Black Friday shopping and the Christmas shopping season in general, and millions more could be infected through casual contact. We are looking at a holiday season epidemic.”

Although it’s likely seen by many in the food industry as a waste of time, stuff like this exemplifies why it’s important to have folks monitoring social media and engaging with folks. Using the viral-ness of a fake story is not a bad introduction to tell folks about how the turkey industry really manages zoonoses and human pathogens.

Proper cleaning and sanitizing matters; so does correcting infractions

Restaurants I want to eat at have some common attributes: tasty food, decent value and a good food safety culture. Food safety culture isn’t about having a training program – it’s about identifying hazards, understanding how to manage them and when deficiencies are pointed out, reacting by addressing problems.

I avoid places that have trouble responding to the help that local public health regulatory folks provide. Everyone can have a bad day, but having two or three consecutive inspections and not correcting the issues is a trend that says more about what an operator values.JS51071999

According to, Woodys Take Out received a formal caution by local regulators after not heeding inspectors’ warnings to address their food safety activities.

The offences, noted during visits on October 23 and November 3, included a lack of effective cleaning and disinfection of the premises and equipment such as chopping boards, handles and taps.

Food handlers were also found to not have been suitably trained in food hygiene procedures and demonstrated a poor understanding of effective cleaning.

There was also a failure to implement required food safety management systems.

The director of the company – which has branches in Farnborough, Aldershot, Blackwater and Yiewsley – accepted the cautions, admitting the offences on behalf of the company.

As part of this action, the takeaway voluntarily closed for one day to ensure that the premises were brought up to the minimum standard required by law.

Good cleaning and sanitizing takes having the right equipment, staff that know how to do it and an organizational value system that ensures it gets carried out. Dirty utensils and cutting boards in the prep area can lead to cross-contamination risks.

An oral history of the poop emoji (this is barfblog)

I’m not cool or hip at all and emojis have not been part of my personal communication toolbox.

I only see them when I get texts from Schaffner. img-thing

But this is barfblog and we like all things puke, vomit and poop, so here you go:  Lauren Schwartzberg’s, The oral history of the poop emoji (or, how Google brought poop to America).

My favorite excerpt:

“How many millions of occasions are there when [the poop] is the perfect response to whatever anybody says? In a world where you can only like, star, or plus-one something, don’t you just wish that you could put a pile of poop on things? Sometimes it feels so right.”

Just don’t eat it. At least the uncooked kind.


Good food safety interventions are evidence-based and evaluated

Food safety and public health folks are pretty good at writing proposals, getting funds to do research, and, because of a funder’s requirement, sometimes add on an outreach throwaway activity to make something in the name of education.

Usually it is a brochure, or posters, or a website where the outputs are shared.

And they often suck.

I’m becoming more cynical as I get older and increasingly frustrated with how slow things progress. At one of my first IAFP meetings a decade ago I sat through a 3-hour session on cleaning and sanitation in processing environments and each speaker ended their talk with the same type of message – things would be better if we could just educate the staff, ritely stating it like it would be simple to in a 1-hr training session.

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

Unfortunately food safety professionals who are good at microbiology don’t usually consult it.

Young and colleagues from Canada recently published a paper in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease which provides an output of summarized packages of systematic reviews into one-and three page formats (abstract below).

The application of systematic reviews is increasing in the agri-food public health sector to investigate the efficacy of policy-relevant interventions. In order to enhance the uptake and utility of these reviews for decision-making, there is a need to develop summary formats that are written in plain language and incorporate supporting contextual information. The objectives of this study were (1) to develop a guideline for summarizing systematic reviews in one- and three-page formats, and (2) to apply the guideline on two published systematic reviews that investigated the efficacy of vaccination and targeted feed and water additives to reduce Salmonella colonization in broiler chickens. Both summary formats highlight the key systematic review results and im- plications in plain language. Three-page summaries also incorporated four categories of contextual information (cost, availability, practicality, and other stakeholder considerations) to complement the systematic review findings. We collected contextual information through structured rapid reviews of the peer-reviewed and gray literature and by conducting interviews with 12 topic specialists. The overall utility of the literature searches and interviews depended on the specific intervention topic and contextual category. In general, interviews with topic specialists were the most useful and efficient method of gathering contextual information. Preliminary evaluation with five end-users indicated positive feedback on the summary formats. We estimate that one-page summaries could be developed by trained science-to-policy professionals in 3–5 days, while three-page summaries would require additional resources and time (e.g., 2–4 weeks). Therefore, one-page summaries are more suited for routine development, while three-page summaries could be developed for a more limited number of high-priority reviews. The summary guideline offers a structured and transparent approach to support the utilization of systematic reviews in decision-making in this sector. Future research is necessary to evaluate the utility of these summary formats for a variety of end-users in different contexts.

While there’s a whole lot of information on how these summaries were designed – and that eight end-users were asked to participate in the development, there’s no mention of behavioral or education theory, why message and design choices were made or what they hoped the end users would do with them. And no evaluation at all.

Here’s how we’ve evaluated our food safety infosheets for a different user group, food handlers:

Assessment of Food Safety Practices of Food Service Food Handlers: Testing a Communication Intervention
June 2010, Journal of Food Protection

Abstract: Globally, foodborne illness affects an estimated 30% of individuals annually. Meals prepared outside of the home are a risk factor for acquiring foodborne illness and have been implicated in up to 70% of traced outbreaks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called on food safety communicators to design new methods and messages aimed at increasing food safety risk-reduction practices from farm to fork. Food safety infosheets, a novel communication tool designed to appeal to food handlers and compel behavior change, were evaluated. Food safety infosheets were provided weekly to food handlers in working foodservice operations for 7 weeks. It was hypothesized that through the posting of food safety infosheets in highly visible locations, such as kitchen work areas and hand washing stations, that safe food handling behaviors of foodservice staff could be positively influenced. Using video observation, food handlers (n ~ 47) in eight foodservice operations were observed for a total of 348 h (pre- and postintervention combined). After the food safety infosheets were introduced, food handlers demonstrated a significant increase (6.7%, P , 0.05, 95% confidence interval) in mean hand washing attempts, and a significant reduction in indirect cross-contamination events (19.6%, P , 0.05, 95% confidence interval). Results of the research demonstrate that posting food safety infosheets is an effective intervention tool that positively influences the food safety behaviors of food handlers. 

Norovirus linked to over 80 illnesses at Emory University

Brae Surgeoner, Doug and I had a paper published in the September 2009 Journal of Environmental Health about some research we conducted in the Winter of 2006. The study came about because a whole bunch of kids in the University of Guelph’s residence system started puking from an apparent norovirus outbreak. There were lots of handwashing signs up and we wanted to know whether they changed hygiene behavior (especially if kids were using the tools available when entering the cafeteria). Turns out that students weren’t doing as good of a job at hand hygiene as they reported to us.

Norovirus awareness, including the limitations of alcohol-only-based hand sanitizers have come along way, but outbreaks at universities are still pretty commonplace. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Emory University has been experiencing an increase of noro-linked illnesses over the past week.norovirus-2-3

As of Friday, 89 students sought care for gastroenteritis at either the student health center or University hospital, according to Beverly Clark, University spokeswoman. Other students have been ill and treated themselves, Clark said.

Patient samples from last Wednesday, the first day of the outbreak, tested positive for the Norovirus, Clark said. The State of Georgia Lab and Emory Medical Lab each tested the samples, confirming the virus Friday night.

In a letter sent to the campus community Saturday, an Emory doctor said the exact cause of the outbreak has not been identified. But some campus dining food samples are being tested. Emory Dining Services sanitized with chlorine-based cleaners Saturday morning, according to Michael J. Huey, assistant vice president and executive director for the Emory University Student Health and Counseling Services.

“While most of us are not fond of the smell of chlorine, when you smell it on the Emory campus over the next few days, it is a good thing,” Huey wrote.

The meat beat

Ashley Chaifetz, a PhD student studying public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill writes:

Feeding a raw diet to your pet? And through a dog food co-op? This might sound like an awesome idea, but it is not the safest plan.

Sheila Pell at Modern Farmer writes,

Offer a dog a piece of kibble in one hand and a morsel of meat in the other. It’s that obvious choice that moves many pet parents to join a dog food co-op, and share the task of procuring fresh meats, fruits and vegetables to be shared among their pet’s food bowls. Not everyone can find one nearby, but more are cropping up all the time.IMG_5238-225x300

While feeding raw food might be preferable to the dog, taste-wise, a pet doesn’t know which foods might be contaminated with SalmonellaE. coli or other pathogens.  Domesticated animals rely on humans to make the best choices possible for their meals.

Yet, that might not always happen.

Proponents also argue that dogs evolved to eat primarily raw foods, mainly meat and bones, not starchy overcooked grains. The benefits of approximating that diet, many say, include healthier skin and coats, cleaner teeth, more energy and less poop.

Pell notes that there are dissidents,

Many veterinarians, and the FDA, discourage raw feeding due to threats from bacteria. Studies in veterinary journals have documented the risks. Some long-time raw feeders point out that bacteria (salmonella, for one) is also a problem in commercial pet food. Other risks are feeding an unbalanced diet and the potential for whole bones to cause choking, break teeth or puncture an organ.

My dog would regularly eat poop for dinner if it were up to her. Commercial dry food has had contamination issues the risk is increased when the meal is raw. Veterinarians have suggested that raw chicken can have too much phosphorous or calcium—and consuming bones, among other items, can easily get stuck in an animal’s esophagus and lead to other health issues (Thompson et al., 2012). But it’s safety that got the pet owners interested in this diet in the first place.

But pet food recalls and the local/organic food trend got pet owners interested in providing their dogs with a higher quality feed. By shortening the farm-to-bowl chain, many owners feel they can rule out many of the toxic traces of industrial food production.

Just shortening the supply chain is not the mythical answer to lessening a supposed toxic industrial food system. A nearby processor of raw food can be just as risky as a far-away processor of conventional kibble. And while dog food co-ops might use best practices, it is not a guarantee that every purveyor does as such.

I look up product contents, company histories, and prevalence of recalls, as well as how any recall was handled, before feeding my dog a new brand of food. Before joining a cooperative, I would research its processing practices, transport procedures, and operating procedures –for the health of my dog and me, since I can get sick from contaminated dog food: dry, wet, or raw.

Food Safety Talk 70: A Quick Overnight Servicing

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.1415905212112

Episode 70 begins with Ben and Don talking about the fall weather and Ben’s podcasting from home (possibly sans pants). The discussion turns to travel and its potential impact on Don’s jury duty. Ben has never served on a jury, but has seen many movies about trials.  Don shares that he has seen some movies about trials, notably Capote and To Kill a Mockingbird.  Both guys are fans of the movie My Cousin Vinny, which is not a book.  The pop culture talk turns to television, and Ben mentions The Americans (spelled with a c, not k, but the c does look like a hammer and sickle in the show logo). Don has been watching Intruders, but he has barely been able to discern what the show is actually about.  Last Tango in Halifax is also good TV; with season two now available on Netflix. Ben wraps up the pop culture part of the show with a mention of a Farm Aid concert he attended with some other foodie-people and mentioned that Neil Young shared about his personal views on some farming issues at the concert.

The conversation moved to politics and cable news.  As a board member of the New Jersey Association for Food Protection, Don was part of a recent conference call regarding the organizing of a GMO foods discussion/debate with invited speakers, potentially including Robyn O’Brien. When Ben got his start in food safety, GMO foods were in the news and he mentioned a recent barfblog post on labeling of GMO foods and their unintended impacts on consumer choice. Ben talked about the summer reading program at NC State, and this years book Tomorrows Table, written by an organic farmer and a food biotechnologist.

Ben recently participated in an IFT sponsored twitter chat on the safety of packed lunches.  Ben noted the difficulty in answering complicated questions in only 140 characters over twitter and the stress of having answered so many questions in a short period of time. The discussion turned to an article about the temperatures of school lunches, and the importance of considering both time and temperature.  Don mentioned a good FightBac webinar that covered cross contamination, and plugged his recent appearance on Academic Minute that covered some of Don’s hand washing experiments.

Ben recently received a risk-type question during an interview, and he was keen to know what Don would answer (PhD students take note: Ben plans to ask this question at every qualifying exam he goes to!).  The question was: What is the riskiest food-related thing that you do? Don provides two answers: 1) he sometimes doesn’t wash his hands for 20 s with soap; 2) sometimes he doesn’t take the temperature of meat on the grill and just believes it is ‘probably good enough’. Ben’s answer included eating fresh restaurant salsa with lots of cilantro and eating a lot of berries.

Ben, Don and regular podcast guest Mike Batz are all trying to eat less and exercise more, and using technology to do it. Mike and Don are using Lose It; Ben is using My Net Diary and Runtastic.

Don announced that he has podcast cheated on Ben by participating on another podcast, Better Know a Jackal, and the discussion moves to podcasting workflows in general.  Don is now using an app to send webpage PDFs to Dropbox.

The conversation then transitioned to some humorous turns-of-phrase that Doug and Ben like to drop into barfblog articles. Ben was disappointed no one commented on a witty double entendre he included in a posting about finding vomit on an airplane. Ben has to repeat the line to Don a few times before laughter ensues.

Infant botulism risks exist with all honey, pasteurized or not

Tragic stories around infant botulism have popped up over the past couple of years and, as a dad, reading them is like a gut-punch.

In 2011, infant Amanda Zakrzewski was diagnosed with infant botulism and had to undergo 9 days of antitoxin treatment in hospital. Amanda wouldn’t eat, her eyes glassed over and she wasn’t able to suckle due to the paralysis the botulinum outgrowth caused. The result was months of rehab.Unknown-18

Also in 2011, 16-week-old Logan Douglas was temporarily blinded and paralyzed from infant botulism. He fully recovered after six months, but at one point the illness was so severe that doctors had discussed turning off life support systems as the toxin was attacking his body.

Related to infant botulism, ABC Research Laboratories blog has an interview with Chief Scientific Officer Gillian Dagan about food safety choices she makes as a food scientist. While I agree with most of what she says, she loses me at honey:

We all have fond memories of our grandparents when we were younger. Dr. Dagan remembers when her grandfather kept bees. She was fascinated by the bee hives and loved it when he would lift one of the trays and break off a piece of fresh honeycomb for her to enjoy on the spot. Now she knows better. As much as she loved that as a kid, she probably wouldn’t do that for her daughter. When she was younger she didn’t know that raw honey is a food at risk for botulism and should be pasteurized much like milk. Pasteurized honey is safe honey.

Sort of.

Clostridium botulinum spores, the stuff I’m guessing she’s worried about are tough to address in honey because they are heat-stable. Once the spores get into the digestive system of an infant, which hasn’t fully developed and has a gastric pH higher than 4.6, they can germinate and outgrow. The result is a cell that multiplies and secretes a toxin as a byproduct. The rub, for the honey industry is that consumption is a factor in almost all infant botulism cases. There is also some evidence that infant botulism may be a risk factor for SIDS.

And pasteurized vs. unpasteurized honey is no different when it comes to Clostridium botulinum spores.

According to the National Honey Board, recommended pasteurization treatments include flash pasteurization (170 °F for a few seconds) or heating at 145°F for 30 minutes.

Neither will do much to inactivate the spores. There’s really nice risk profile that the former NZ Food Safety Authority put together in 2006. The authors explicitly say: “Normal cooking temperatures would destroy vegetative cells, although these would not be expected to be present in honey in the first instance (because of the low water activity -ben). Commercially available honey may be pasteurised but this process is not sufficient to destroy the spores.”

I’m not sure if Dr. Dagan was worried about Salmonella that the industry standard wouldn’t do much for the stressed vegetative cells either (there’s a pretty good literature around low water activity and heat resistance , especially with a dry heat).

Honey is pasteurized for other reasons, but it really doesn’t do anything to reduce the risk of infant botulism. That’s why the industry and health authorities suggest that infants not be fed any honey, pasteurized or not, until after their first birthday.

Publicizing outbreak info matters; even stuff about falsified poop samples

There’s a troubling trend popping up in our food safety-related Google Alerts: public health folks looking less-than-transparent by blocking the releases of outbreak and illness information. Releasing the details on an investigation or exposure can reduce immediate public health impacts and lead to better informed decision-making by consumers.

I don’t want to eat at places that falsify employee stool samples (below, exactly as shown).stool.sample.ben_.nov_.09-285x300

Last week A health alert was issued by Maine officials stating that people may have been exposed to the hep a after a food handler tested positive somewhere in Cumberland County. Bizarrely, that’s all they said (except for check your poop and urine). Patrons eating at any restaurants in the county might have been exposed to hepatitis A. Or maybe not.

The Portland Press-Herald highlighted issues with the state’s Center for Disease Control funding as a root cause, arguing that practice of protecting the business shouldn’t outweigh the public health impacts:

[T]he state has refused to name the restaurant, saying that to do so would “risk identifying” the employee, thus violating patient privacy laws. This is a puzzling departure from previous practice; last year, the Maine CDC identified the site of a church supper where about 100 people were potentially exposed to the virus. And in 2008, a state alert about a cluster of hepatitis A cases noted that several of those affected were students at the same school, which the state named.

The state has also emphasized that it didn’t learn of the potential Cumberland County exposure until after a 14-day window for restaurant patrons to receive a preventive vaccine. But naming the site is still a valid protective measure. Because the symptoms of hepatitis A can mimic the signs of flu or chronic fatigue, people who know they may have been exposed to the virus are more likely than others to raise the possibility with their doctor and receive the right diagnosis and treatment.

In somewhat related news, NBC Connecticut reports that following a couple of cases of salmonellosis linked to a pizza place, health officials aren’t super forthcoming with information.

“It was one of the worst experiences I have ever dealt with in my life,” said Kamran Niazi, recalling the effects of three slices of chicken pizza from Oregano Joe’s on Boston Post Road in Orange. “I had 104-degree fever, diarrhea – extreme diarrhea – extreme vomiting.

Niazi said doctors told him he had a bad case of salmonella, and he wasn’t alone.

“One of the doctors actually told me there was one other person in the hospital who ate at the same place, Oregano Joe’s, and he was in very bad condition as well,” Niazi said.

But when he was released from the hospital, Niazi couldn’t get any information on his case from the Orange Health Department, even though inspectors had called him with questions while he was hospitalized.

Now Niazi and his attorney, Jose Rojas, are suing Oregano Joe’s for $15,000 to cover Niazi’s hospital bills.

The Orange Health Department and the state DPH cite several statutes that they said forbid them from speaking with the Troubleshooters about any information in a food-borne illness case.

The Orange Health Department told the Troubleshooters it has ordered Oregano Joe’s to close down twice, once for a day on May 30 and then again on June 20 for a span of five weeks. But the department won’t say why.

Some information is available on the Oregano Joe’s closings, but not from the health department. When the restaurant owner needed to get inside during one of the closures, police had to let him in.

An officer wrote in his report that the owner said the health department was “shutting down his business… due to multiple confirmed cases of salmonella poisoning.”

Court papers from Niazi’s case against the health department indicate Oregano Joe’s was served with a violation for “falsified employee stool samples” during one of its investigations this year.

What I really want to know about is the falsified employee stool samples (and the conversation that went along with acquiring them).