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.

Going public: Missoula edition

The Missoula City-County Health Department is following the mantra of share what you know, what you don’t know and be available for questions following a possible hepatitis A exposure in Missoula, Montana.

According to KPAX, A food handler at a local retailer, the Good Food Store, was confirmed to be ill with the virus and may have exposed thousands of shoppers over the past month.saladbar

Missoula City-County Health Department officer Ellen Leahy says while the food service employee was excluded from work during most of the time that they had symptoms, there is a potential for customer exposure because Hepatitis A can be spread before a person has symptoms – before they know they are infectious or ill.

To address this possibility, the health department is issuing this public notice in conjunction with the Good Food Store, where the employee’s job included preparing foods for the self-serve salad bar. Ready-to-eat-foods such as those found on a salad bar won’t be cooked or washed by the consumer prior to eating and can be a vehicle for contamination.

Leahy says the Good Food Store followed proper sick employee exclusion rules and has excellent policies, practices, and facilities for food handling and hand washing.

The Missoula City-County Health Department recommends the following courses of action:

• If you ate food from the self-serve salad bar at the Good Food Store between August 15 and September 13, please be alert for symptoms of Hepatitis A.

• If you ate food from the self-serve salad bar at the Good Food Store within the past two weeks and have not been previously immunized for Hepatitis A, an immunization given within two weeks of exposure may protect you from getting the disease. Please come to the health department or contact your health care provider as soon as possible to discuss immunization options.

• If you did not eat food from the self-serve salad bar at the Good Food Store, no action is recommended at this time.

Contact the Missoula City-County Health Department at (406) 258-3500 if you have questions or concerns about Hepatitis A. | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

It’s hard to get Hep A off of frozen berries

Berries are a staple of my diet; I go through about 2 lbs a week of raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. When fresh berries are too expensive (or don’t look great) I substitute with frozen ones – and often cook them before eating to control for viruses.
Last year, following a hep-A-in-berries outbreak in Australia, we made a food safety infosheet and included the following risk management steps:foodsafetyinfosheet-2-27-15-2
•Consider getting vaccinated. There is a vaccine for hepatitis A that can provide protection from the pathogen from frozen berries and other potential sources.
•Cook frozen berries. They have likely not been heat treated. The science is complicated but the best guess is, boiling berries can inactivate hepatitis A.
•Clean and sanitize. Cooking doesn’t address cross-contamination risks – thawed berries release juice that could contain the virus.
•Know your suppliers and ask questions. Find out how they address risks with the products they buy; ask about how good agricultural practices (GAPs) including employee hygiene safe water sources are implemented and assessed
•Wash your hands. Good handwashing, especially in food service, can protect patrons if you or another food handler is shedding the virus.
Sorta the same stuff I told Sara G. Miller of Live Science when she called to chat about the virus and berries.
Nearly 90 people in seven states have become sick in an outbreak of hepatitis A linked to frozen strawberries imported from Egypt, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But how does the hepatitis A virus get into strawberries?
Berries of all types are actually a common conduit for viruses, said Benjamin Chapman, a food-safety specialist and an associate professor at North Carolina State University. 
One of the reasons for this is that berries are very delicate, and so unlike other, hardier fruits and vegetables, berries need to be harvested by hand, Chapman told Live Science.
Because hepatitis A is spread through the “fecal-to-oral route,” if workers picking berries were infected with hepatitis A and had not properly washed their hands, they could transfer the virus from their hands to the berry, Chapman said. In parts of the world where hepatitis A is more common, this is definitely a risk, he added.
It’s more likely, however, that the water used to irrigate the strawberries was the source of the virus in this outbreak, Chapman said (I based this guess on the size of the outbreak, but who knows -ben). And, yes, because of that fecal-to-oral route, that means sewage-contaminated water.
And once a berry is contaminated, it’s unlikely that the virus will be washed off, Chapman said. Because berries are more delicate than other fruits, they’re not washed as often, he said.
The next step, freezing the berries, only further preserves the virus, Chapman said. And because frozen berries are sold as “ready to eat,” people are unlikely to heat them before eating, he said. This is especially likely if the berries are being used to make a smoothie, as occurred in the current outbreak, he added.
Chapman said that he actually microwaves all of his berries before eating them or refreezing them, though he added that his method of heating them to above 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees C) might be overkill.
Still, there’s not enough data to suggest that just rinsing the berries would sufficiently remove a virus, he said.

Fermented seal flipper may be causing botulism in Nunavut

Last week a friend told me about about her introduction to pruno – the legit kind, not the the stuff used to impress your Orange is the New Black fan friends. My friend’s sister, who is in prison for meth fabrication just had time added to her sentence for fermenting jailhouse hooch.superthumb

To make pruno, a sugar source (like fruit acquired from a prison lunch) is put into in a bottle or bag, the naturally occurring yeast should convert the carbs into alcohol – creating some low-cost wine. If the sugar source is acidic fruit, the low pH will suppress the germination of C. bot spores. If a potato is added by the amateur microbiologist it can raise the pH enough to allow toxin formation.

The same sorta thing happens with seal flipper the traditional method of making the northern delicacy usually includes burying the appendages. It used to be directly in the ground but plastic containers are generally used now – which can turn the fermentation into an aerobic type. If the pH drop is incomplete, coupled with no oxygen, there’s a botulism risk.

According to CBC News some folks in Nunavut (that’s in Northern Canada) might have been exposed to the deadly toxin through fermented (or semi fermented) seal

bc2ac88a60fce1c8d95363f4a9d4dbdaNunavut’s health department is warning people in Sanikiluaq not to eat fermented seal, after it received reports of people becoming sick with botulism after consuming the meat.

In a news release, the department says it’s investigating the reports.

Anyone with symptoms should contact the health centre in Sanikiluaq.

The Department is also asking anyone with leftover fermented seal that could be used for testing to call their regional environmental health officer.

A systematic look at the five-second rule: Miranda and Schaffner edition

When I meet someone who asks what I do the conversation usually turns to restaurant grades, foods I avoid and the famed 5-second rule. Most have an opinion that confirms their actions (where benefit may outweigh risk depending on what was dropped).

Paul Dawson and colleagues looked at the five-second rule in 2007 showing greater transfer with longer drying times with an 8 hour drying period of the floor contaminant. In 2014 a group of students at Aston University in Birmingham, U.K conducted some science-fair type experiments and reported the non peer-reviewed research on their university website. It got picked up all over the place and for 15 minutes the question was answered; everyone could go back to dropping their food on the floor and setting the critical limit at <5 seconds.giphy

Rutgers graduate student Robyn Miranda and friend of barfblog (and podcast co-host extraordinaire) Don Schaffner tackled the 5-second rule in a more systematic way and put out a press release today after the paper went through peer-review and was published (cuz that’s how Schaffner rolls). The quick answer to whether the oft-cited risk prevention step is a myth? ‘The five-second rule is a significant oversimplification of what actually happens when bacteria transfer from a surface to food. Bacteria can contaminate instantaneously.’

Turns out bacteria may transfer to candy that has fallen on the floor no matter how fast you pick it up.

Rutgers researchers have disproven the widely accepted notion that it’s OK to scoop up food and eat it within a “safe” five-second window. Donald Schaffner, professor and extension specialist in food science, found that moisture, type of surface and contact time all contribute to cross-contamination. In some instances, the transfer begins in less than one second. Their findings appear online in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal, Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

“The popular notion of the ‘five-second rule’ is that food dropped on the floor, but picked up quickly, is safe to eat because bacteria need time to transfer,” Schaffner said, adding that while the pop culture “rule” has been featured by at least two TV programs, research in peer-reviewed journals is limited.

“We decided to look into this because the practice is so widespread. The topic might appear ‘light’ but we wanted our results backed by solid science,” said Schaffner, who conducted research with Robyn Miranda, a graduate student in his laboratory at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

The researchers tested four surfaces – stainless steel, ceramic tile, wood and carpet – and four different foods (watermelon, bread, bread and butter, and gummy candy). They also looked at four different contact times – less than one second, five, 30 and 300 seconds. They used two media – tryptic soy broth or peptone buffer – to grow Enterobacter aerogenes, a nonpathogenic “cousin” of Salmonella naturally occurring in the human digestive system.

Transfer scenarios were evaluated for each surface type, food type, contact time and bacterial prep; surfaces were inoculated with bacteria and allowed to completely dry before food samples were dropped and left to remain for specified periods. All totaled 128 scenarios were replicated 20 times each, yielding 2,560 measurements. Post-transfer surface and food samples were analyzed for contamination.

Not surprisingly, watermelon had the most contamination, gummy candy the least. “Transfer of bacteria from surfaces to food appears to be affected most by moisture,” Schaffner said. “Bacteria don’t have legs, they move with the moisture, and the wetter the food, the higher the risk of transfer. Also, longer food contact times usually result in the transfer of more bacteria from each surface to food.”

Perhaps unexpectedly, carpet has very low transfer rates compared with those of tile and stainless steel, whereas transfer from wood is more variable. “The topography of the surface and food seem to play an important role in bacterial transfer,” Schaffner said.

So while the researchers demonstrate that the five-second rule is “real” in the sense that longer contact time results in more bacterial transfer, it also shows other factors, including the nature of the food and the surface it falls on, are of equal or greater importance.

“The five-second rule is a significant oversimplification of what actually happens when bacteria transfer from a surface to food,” Schaffner said. “Bacteria can contaminate instantaneously.”

The paper can be downloaded here, abstract below.


WORLD: Longer contact times increase cross-contamination of Enterobacter aerogenes from surfaces to food
Appl. Environ. Microbiol. DOI: 10.1128/AEM.01838-16
Robyn C. Miranda and Donald W. Schaffner
Bacterial cross-contamination from surfaces to food can contribute to foodborne disease. The cross-contamination rate of Enterobacter aerogenes was evaluated on household surfaces using scenarios that differed by surface type, food type, contact time (<1, 5, 30 and 300 s), and inoculum matrix (tryptic soy broth or peptone buffer). The surfaces used were stainless steel, tile, wood and carpet. The food types were watermelon, bread, bread with butter and gummy candy. Surfaces (25 cm2) were spot inoculated with 1 ml of inoculum and allowed to dry for 5 h, yielding an approximate concentration of 107 CFU/surface. Foods (with 16 cm2 contact area) were dropped on the surfaces from a height of 12.5 cm and left to rest as appropriate. Post transfer surfaces and foods were placed in sterile filter bags and homogenized or massaged, diluted and plated on tryptic soy agar. The transfer rate was quantified as the log % transfer from the surface to the food. Contact time, food and surface type all had a highly significant effect (P<0.000001) on log % transfer of bacteria. The inoculum matrix (TSB or peptone buffer) also had a significant effect on transfer (P = 0.013), and most interaction terms were significant. More bacteria transferred to watermelon (~0.2-97%) relative to other foods, while fewer bacteria transferred to gummy candy (~0.1-62%). Transfer of bacteria to bread (~0.02-94%) and bread with butter (~0.02-82%) were similar, and transfer rates under a given set of condition were more variable compared with watermelon and gummy candy.


Foraging turns into the wild west

Foraged food is growing in popularity. And safety is a concern.

A couple of months ago, Marcus Plescia, director of the Mecklenburg County Health Department told Kathleen Purvis of the Charlotte Observer, ‘We want restaurants to be creative and experimental. We also want them to be safe. There’s got to be somebody who can make sure the restaurants that want to do foraging are doing so in a safe way.”morelmushroomwildfoodism

Stuff like wild-grown mushrooms, ramps and game carry different risks because they aren’t in a managed system or environment. Misidentify a mushroom and a customer can die.

Hunting morels are big business and many of the foraged fungi end up in restaurants sold on somewhat of a black market. According to NPR some national forests, a favorite spot for foragers after controlled burnings, are not happy about the amateur food harvesters.

Usually, the U.S. Forest Service offers a special license to pick morels for commercial use in burn zones. But this year, managers in Montana decided not to issue any commercial licenses. In fact, it’s illegal to pick in burn zones in any of Montana’s National Forests. The ban is sending pickers like Zaitz underground.

The problem isn’t over-picking, says Deb Mucklow, a district ranger for the Flathead National Forest, it’s the hordes of people who show up to pick. She says the last time the Flathead forest had big fires in 2007, hundreds of people came the next summer to pick morels. They left behind a huge mess.

“We had issues with litter, with the latrines,” says Mucklow.

Pickers came from all over the country, including crews of migrant pickers from Cambodia, Laos and Mexico. There were even rumors that some of the pickers were trying to pay off gambling debts with mushroom money. Things got dangerously territorial in the backcountry.

“People were using firearms or side arms to say ‘this is my area, nobody can go into it,’ ” says Mucklow.

So this season, the Forest Service decided to only issue personal-use permits, which limit a picker to 60 gallons for the entire season. It also requires pickers to cut their mushrooms in half so they can’t sell them.

For some local pickers, the ban has been a huge financial hit.

“It really put us in a difficult position,” says Renee, who lives in Kalispell, Mont. NPR agreed not to use her last name because she is breaking the law by continuing to sell her mushrooms.

Every year Renee and her husband supplement their income by selling morels. They both have regular day jobs — she’s a house cleaner, he’s a handyman. They hoped selling morels would bring in enough income for the first and last month’s rent on a new apartment.

In the past, Renee sold her morels to chefs at restaurants or from the back of her truck for $20 a pound. This year, she’s hesitant to sell so openly and she’s only making half of what she normally does.

“We don’t want to get in any trouble, we certainly don’t want to get our buyers into any trouble,” she says. “We try to sell them under the radar, but it’s been very difficult.”

Renee sells on Facebook in what’s become something like a mushroom black market. She feels the Forest Service is making her into a criminal for something she’s done legally for years.

More hepatitis A: smoothie edition

Berries are a staple of my diet; I go through about 2 lbs a week of raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. When the fresh berries are too expensive (or don’t look good) I substitute with frozen ones.

Frozen food is sometimes ready-to-eat. Sometimes not. Frozen berries likely haven’t been heat treated before the get to me and were almost certainly harvested by hand.

So I cook them before eating after the multiple noro and hep A outbreaks in the past few years. Even ones that go into smoothies.

According CBS6, hepatitis A cases linked to Egyptian strawberries served at Tropical Smoothie Cafes in Virginia have climbed to over 20.

There have been 23 confirmed cases of hepatitis A linked to frozen strawberries used at Tropical Smoothie Cafes across Virginia.

This includes four cases in Central Virginia.

There are seven is Northern Virginia, four in Northwest Virginia, and eight in the eastern region on the state.

The CEO of Tropical Smoothie Café said the strawberries in question were voluntarily removed from all stores when they learned of a possible link.

The VDH said they want anyone who consumed a smoothie with frozen strawberries at a restaurant within the last 50 days to watch out for symptoms of hepatitis A.

Hawaii Hepatitis A seen and heard: secondary infection potential edition

If I ran a kitchen, hepatitis A would scare me the most. I could have hired a superstar employee, the world’s best handwasher, and still end up with lines outside my operation as folks get post-exposure shots.

I’d try to figure out a way to get everyone who worked for me vaccinated. And according to Murphy et al at CDC, vaccines really matter. Following an increase in vaccination recommendations and offerings in the U.S. rates of the illness declined ‘96.6% from 1996 to 2011 (from 11.7 to 0.4 cases per 100,000 population), and the number of reported cases decreased from 31,032 to 1,398, respectively.’original

In the ongoing saga of hep A in Hawaii, where over 206 are ill following the consumption of contaminated raw scallops, the potential for secondary cases is emerging as food handlers in different settings are part of the case group. According to KRON4, a food handler in a school cafeteria has the virus.

The Hawaii Department of Health is investigating a case of hepatitis A involving a school cafeteria worker.

The patient worked at Kipapa Elementary School in Mililani and was in the cafeteria kitchen between Aug. 3-16.

The Department of Education says it’s complying with the investigation and the school will be preparing its meals off-site for the time being.

The principal sent home a letter to notify parents.

DOH officials say all students should have received a hepatitis A vaccine as part of routinely recommended childhood vaccinations.

Children who have not been previously vaccinated — a few dozen students — should be seen by their pediatrician.

Also on the list of secondary infection sources is a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant who, according to the Hawaii Tribune Herald, is also part of the outbreak cluster.

The state Department of Health on Tuesday afternoon issued a precaution to passengers who were on the following Hawaiian Airlines flights:

• July 31 — Flight HA22 from Honolulu to Seattle.

• Aug. 1 — Flight HA21 from Seattle to Honolulu.

• Aug. 10 — Flight HA18 from Honolulu to Las Vegas.

• Aug. 12 — Flight HA17 from Las Vegas to Honolulu.

The flight attendant served in-flight food and beverages during each of the flights.

The DOH noted in a press release that risk of transmission from the Hawaiian Airlines flights is “extremely low.”

Letterkenny, not that one, hosts food safety workshop

In the never-ending quest for excellent television, earlier this year I found Letterkenny, a six-episode show about a fictional Southern Ontario town with hockey players, hicks and skids.

It sort of reminds me of growing up in Port Hope.

The other Letterkenny, in County Donegal, Ireland, is hosting a workshop for food businesses to avoid recalls (and making customers sick).

The half-day workshop will feature experts from food safety, allergy and food hygiene and will provide practical advice on good food safety practices to help food businesses avoid a product recall.

Dr Gary Kearney, Director of Food Science, safefood, commented “Promoting food safety requires a multi-disciplinary approach backed by consumer research, professional partnerships, knowledge networks and information exchange. This half-day workshop is all about sharing experience and knowledge to help food businesses meet new challenges as they arise and maintain consumers’ confidence in the food they eat. I would encourage all interested food business owners to attend as we’ll have plenty of practical advice for them on topics ranging from the economic implications of a product recall to controlling bacterial contamination and how to manage food allergens.”

That’s a lot of stuff to pack into three hours.

Food Safety Talk 107: Univalve Mallets

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.1472063437005

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.

Episode 107 can be found here and on iTunes.

Show note links to follow along at home:

NZ growers provide absolutes and soundbites in campy outbreak

Water is often a concern in fresh produce.

Irrigation water standards associated with FSMA (are the indictors correct? are there geographical differences? Is the measure protective?) are being discussed in food safety meetings all over the place.

In the absence of good science and a whole bunch of variability I figure that folks will eventually just treat water (with something) instead of trying to test their way to safety.Water_Irrigation

Wash water can be trouble too.

I guess we could all move to New Zealand where, according to Newshub, campy has been spread through a municipal water system and local growers, who may or may not have been using the water, say ‘there are no risks because of the food safety systems.’

Growers are desperate to reassure the public it’s safe to eat fruit and vegetables from Hawke’s Bay, despite the region’s contaminated water supply.

“You need to have a fruit cut open… and for contaminated water to touch the cut-open bit of fruit for there to be a problem,” says chief executive Mike Chapman (no relation -ben).
“It’s a long, long, long stretch for anything to be of concern to the public.”

However, many growers in the region are holding off on picking their crops as a precaution.

“Even if [they were], there are no risks because of the food safety systems we have,” says Mr Chapman.

There’s always a risk. Pathogens can internalize. Show me the data.