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.

Calling Betteridge’s law: Are paper cups necessary for controlling pathogens


Especially not if you’re looking to control the alphabetical triple play of hepatitis A, B and C (two of which are blood borne).

But a pastor in Sudbury, Ontario (that’s in Northern Canada, past Barrie) believes paper cups are more sanitary so he’s making the switch, according to CBC.

The Elgin Street Mission in Sudbury is switching to paper coffee cups to be more hygienic.

Pastor Rene Soulliere said for the past two weeks, they’ve been using biodegradable cups to ensure there is no spread of disease.Unknown-13

“We’re going to stick with those so that we can serve coffee and not worry,” he said.

“If there is hepatitis A, B or C, which is on the street a lot now, that contamination will not be on the cups.”

Soulliere said with the rise of diseases, such as hepatitis, it’s important to help stop the spread.
“You get a cup and you throw it away,” he said. “The other way, we’ve [got to] make sure they are properly washed every time and there is a possibility that … you miss one or two and somebody could get sick from it.”

Or invest in a dishwasher.

I’m not aware of dishware or cups being identified as vehicle for hep A. As the late, great Bill Keene said: stuff that food is put into, whether one-use or reusable, can facilitate norovirus transmission.

Inspection results should be public, but have limitations

My philosophy on disclosing restaurant inspection information hasn’t wavered much in the past 10 years: Make inspection results public and communicate them meaningfully to help patrons make decisions. There’s a patchwork approach to disclosure throughout the world: happy faces, letter grades, number grades or the not-well-used barf-o-meter.

Whatever the system is, it’s necessary to pull back the curtain on what happens when inspectors are around. The transparency not only builds trust in the system, but also allows folks to choose businesses based on their own risk tolerance.barf.o.meter_.dec_.12-216x300

But the inspection grades, alone, don’t tell patrons whether they are likely to get sick eating at the restaurant. To get a better picture the hungry (and interested) have to dive a bit deeper into what’s behind the grade – and if there are historical issues that keep coming up. That’s kind of what I told Lydia Coutré of Star News.

The posted score offers transparency and a point-in-time snapshot of the establishment’s food safety procedures. But because there’s a wide range of issues that could put a restaurant at a 100, a 95 or an 85, that number alone isn’t the full picture, said Ben Chapman, food safety specialist and associate professor at N.C. State University.
It’s just one day and could be a good or bad day for the facility and staff.
“The grading system doesn’t tell you whether you should eat at a restaurant or not,” Chapman said.

Whether a consumer “should” eat somewhere is up to the market.
Restaurants can earn a score as low as 70. Below that, a facility’s permit would be revoked.

Alicia Pickett, New Hanover environmental health supervisor, said as long as the restaurant falls in that 70 to 100 range, “it’s for the public to decide.”

A mid-80s score could come from several issues adding up such as cracked tiles, broken lights and dirty baseboards, Chapman said. Or it could represent an organizational problem where hand washing isn’t valued.

Doing more research into what violations led to the score and looking at trends over time can give consumers a better picture of the food safety procedures at a facility, Chapman said.

If there’s an issue that shows up time and time again and isn’t being fixed, that represents a different problem than a restaurant that was dinged for cracked equipment that they fixed or replaced by the next inspection.

The George on the Riverwalk Executive Chef Larry Fuller knows what it takes to get high marks – and what would leave a restaurant with a lower score.

When he goes out to eat, it’s the first thing he looks at. And he’s not alone, he said.
“We get customers coming in like we came here because of your health grade,” Fuller said of the 100 score the restaurant earned at its most recent inspection. “I mean they say that directly to our waitresses and our waiters, and I think that’s awesome.”

The 100 score is a point of pride for Fuller and his staff, and he wants to maintain that number.

“The health grade is a big part of the restaurant business,” Fuller said. “It’ll make or break your restaurant.”

But the grade may not tell you much about the food handling practices when the inspector isn’t around.

Source of Salmonella paratyphi B still a mystery

I like sushi, but I’m picky about where I eat it.

I avoid places that use ground tuna or back scrape (which I learned about after a 2012 Salmonella outbreak). But a current outbreak is making me evaluate my choice to eat any raw fish dish. According to CDC over 50 cases of a unique Salmonella paratyphi B variant are likely linked to tuna sushi, especially spicy tuna sushi which is usually ground.tuna_roll1

There are lots of pathways for Salmonella to get into sushi tuna. The pathogen could have been introduced on a fishing boat, in a processing plant, during packaging or in transport. Hygiene, cross-contamination or sanitation are all a possibility – and that’s what I told Rachael Ratner of Live Science.

Raw tuna is the suspected source of a new outbreak of Salmonella, but how does tuna become contaminated with the bacteria in the first place?

It’s not typical for fish in a natural environment to harbor Salmonella, the way it is, say, for cows to harbor E. coli in their guts, said Benjamin Chapman, a food safety specialist and associate professor at North Carolina State University.

Although, a 2006 Australian study showed tropical fish aquariums could be a reservoir for Salmonella paratyphi B

Experts say that the Salmonella probably wasn’t living on the fish itself, but rather the tuna became contaminated at some point when the food was being handled.

The Salmonella could come from people who handled the food in a restaurant or a processing facility (processing is likely looking at the illness distribution -ben), and didn’t properly wash their hands, Chapman said.

Because health officials have not identified a specific product tied to the current outbreak, it’s too soon to say how the tuna might have become contaminated.
“The more information that we get about [the product], the easier it would be to look for contamination roots,” Chapman said.

But in general, the risk of foodborne illness is higher with raw or undercooked meats, compared with cooked meats, Chapman said. That’s because the extra step of cooking can kill potential pathogens. With raw meats, “there’s no step in between handing [and eating] to reduce risk,” Chapman said.

Don’t eat poop especially if it falls out of the sky onto birthday cake

I’ve been to some uncomfortable family gatherings where a few too many beer have led to awkward conversations. My experiences seem like a, uh, party next to what AOL reports happened to folks in Pennsylvania during a teenager’s sweet 16 party: the sky rained poop.

According to My Fox Philly, human waste rained down from the sky just after Jacinda blew out the candles on her cake, coating her guests and the rented canopy in feces. Her family believes the waste came from planes that were flying overhead and may have improperly disposed of the aircraft’s bathroom contents.

“Out of nowhere, from the sky, comes a bunch of feces, lands on her,” Jacinda’s dad told Fox.

The only thing more embarrassing than your party being ruined by poop rain is having your dad tell the local news about it afterwards.

Facepalm-inducing chicken cooking messages from FSA

I don’t know exactly how much it costs to produce a video and put on a massive media campaign in the U.K..

That’s really a question for the folks at McCann-Erickson or Holloway Harris.tumblr_mo5rk6sgpd1qf6r9co2_5001

A rudimentary calculation leads me to believe that the UK FSA spent at least a couple of million pounds on production, media buying and message placement for their current chicken hero (not to be confused with chicken gyro) campaign (below, exactly as shown).

Roughly equivalent to the cost of 300,000 digital tip-sensitive thermometers.

The very tool that they must not think that U.K. households have.

Because they never mention temperatures.

And go with the increasingly frustrating – and not science based – steaming hot, no pink meat and clear juices suggestion.

Maybe investing in thermometers instead of commercials is a better approach to the Campy issue.

Communicating food safety is tricky

Nicole Arnold, MS student at N.C. State University writes:

I never knew that I sounded like a twelve year old until I recorded myself for a video competition to take part in IFT’s first inaugural Food Communicator’s Workshop. A few snowflakes in North Carolina had shut things down; I couldn’t use a university studio so I was forced to record myself in my bedroom via YouTube.IMG_5919


Maybe it was because I boasted of being part of the behind the scenes of barfblog (and mentioned 40,000 subscribers) or because nobody else could bear the discomfort of recording themselves, but they chose me.

Sponsored by CanolaInfo, the IFT workshop was created to prepare and encourage students and young professionals to communicate food science information and issues through various channels. As a group, we dissected multiple media platforms, specifically the infamous Food Babe’s attack on canola oil.  The group leaders asked:

How would we respond?

What would we say if we chose to say anything at all?

What type of social media platforms would we use?

During a mock print interview, I grabbed a slip of paper out of a bowl with the words ‘artificial colors’ on it. I know a little bit more about that topic but am less- familiar with GMOs and preservatives (which others received).

With only a minute to look over the content, the interviewer asked me ‘why artificial colors are added to foods when scientific literature links it to cancer?’

I made a rookie mistake and used the oft-used phrase that the dose that makes the poison. The mock reporter’s eyes lit up.

Poison. I had said it.

An actual reporter could take that statement and run with it, indicating that my statement equated colors to poisons.

I should have talked about how safety reviews are conducted on artificial coloring and that while there are no certainties or guarantees in safety, regulators assess risk by calculating exposure and the amounts needed to cause problems. Many studies are based on mouse models – which may or may not be all that transferable to humans.  Based on the current available science, the U.S. FDA and other public health-protecting bodies throughout the world have deemed certain artificial colors as low risk.

It’s tricky, but as food communicators, our messages should be clear, concise and explain the uncertainties of the science. And shouldn’t use clichés.

Nicole Arnold is a MS student in Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, a barfblog news team member, and is a vegetarian studying mechanically tenderized beef safety.

Here’s a video submission from Ohio State’s John Frelka.

Why observation studies matter: Inspector alert

Anecdotally, inspectors and operators alike report that stuff, like behaviors, change as soon as the inspector walks in the door. A particularly common practice is for everyone to grab a broom or start washing their hands.

I just saw the precursor to the change in the wild.51P80ZAH19L

Sometimes I need to get off campus to catch up on writing and other stuff. When I’m behind or stuck, I often hit a cafe, a restaurant or a patio and whip out my computer for a couple of hours. There’s something about being in a busy place with lots of background action that helps me focus.

As I sit here at one of my favorite local spots, I heard the manual Mario-Batali-restaurant-inspector-alarm.

A manager just came up to a couple of waitstaff and a cook and said, ‘Just got a text from next door that the health inspector is in the area; make sure all of our logs are filled out and the out-of-date food is chucked.’

Everyone scurried away to take care of stuff that would lead to a bad score. They are currently watching the entrance to see if the inspector is the next through the door.

Inspection reports provide some decent data. But the Hawthorne Effect-esque issue led us to explore other observation data-collection methods.

UK Naval base hit with norovirus

There are a bunch of things in this story that grabbed my attention. As Stefon says, this one has everything: the Navy, vomit, diarrhea, isolation, quarantine, a ship and Raleigh.

According to BBC, approximately 70 Royal Navy personnel have been hit with norovirus (or winter vomiting sickness as the British call it) leading to intense cleaning and sanitation.

The Navy said people had started falling ill at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint about 10 days ago.

Those affected were placed in quarantine in an attempt to stem the spread of the contagious virus.

A Royal Navy spokesman said control measures included “intense cleaning and isolating those with symptoms”.

He added: “The virus started about 10 days ago. It peaked towards the end of last week at about 70 and numbers fell rapidly after that.”

HMS Raleigh provides training for the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the Royal Navy Reserve.



Food Safety Talk 76: Get ‘em really hot

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.1431643647306

This episode starts with a discussion of Ben’s taste in music, and then quickly moves into documentaries. Ben recently watched Jodorowsky’s Dune, on Don’s recommendation.  This documentary has some ‘artful nudity’ that leads to a discussion of perverts on airplanes and the appropriateness of reading material such as Fifty Shades of Grey while crammed into an airplane seat.  The conversation naturally transitioned into a discussion of microphone stands and coffee. Ben notes that owning a Nespresso machine has changed his life; he ranks it among his top 10 life changing things (including his wife and children). The guys then discuss other pop-culture topics including Deflate-Gate and TV shows The Affair,Portlandia (which had an episode satirizing raw milk), and Garfunkel and Oates. Note that Portlandia is required viewing before attending IAFP 2015 in Portland this summer

Ben leads off the actual food safety talk by mentioning sprouts and the number of outbreaks associated with them.  The guys then discuss experiments to validate sprout cooking processes including charred bean sprouts.  Ben then brings up the idea of baking cookies in a car and a visit from Linda Harris (who now downloads and listens).  From there the talk turns to pathogen reduction validations for baking processes spurred by the Wegmans recall of baked fruit dessertslast summer, presumably because they contained peaches recalled for Listeria.

The FDA’s Reportable Food Registry, along with CDC whole genome sequencing of pathogens, is enabling more illnesses to be linked to products, as seen in Salmonella Braenderup linked to nut butter.  Ben predicts more businesses will have to issue recalls because of validation issues, and the investigations that accompany these recalls will isolate pathogens from within facilities that can be linked to other illnesses which have occurred over months and years prior.

The discussion then turns to the very bad blizzard that New Jersey never had.  Don discusses the similarities between the models for weather forecasting and models in food safety.   Both situations have consequences for over or under reacting; both present risk management and risk communication difficulties.

A tweet from The New Yorker made Don mad: Bill Marler may be all that stands between you and Salmonella.  This resulted in Don tweeting back to The New Yorker.  Ben mentioned it was probably just Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.   Bill Marler is probably not all that stands between you and Salmonella; as there are a few more people trying to do the right thing.  The guys then go on to discuss how Marler and Caroline Smith DeWaal, a lawyer with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have become controversial but generally respected food safety personalities over the years.

Don recently was quoted in an article about the safety of various cuts of meat (and Barfblogged here).   Don and Ben were so happy Don was quoted correctly, they were able to ‘ding’ their podcast bell; a auditory high-five.

Pork has a reputation for being dangerous but decreases in the prevalence of Trichinella and Americans tendency to overcook pork have reduced the actual risk, so Ben wanted to discuss a recent MMWR Trichinellosis report.  Don mentions ‘The Batz Report’ which determined the top 10 pathogen-food combinations with the greatest burden in public health.  This led to a discussion of sample size, detection limits, consumption rates, and risk messaging, leading to the conclusion that cultural practices in food preparation adds complexity to the determination of risk.

Botulism seen and heard: seal flipper, symptoms and bamboo

Adding to my neurosis around botulism there are multiple stories about the devastating foodborne illness this week. I’ve never had fermented seal flippers but 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.

And when the fermentation is done incorrectly the outcomes can be dangerous.

According to KDLG, three Alaskans are ill with suspected botulism after eating seal flipper.delicacy-fermented-flippers

Three people have contracted botulism after eating separate batches of fermented seal flipper in Koyuk.

Alaska’s Division of Public Health says the first case presented signs of the illness on Friday, with two more becoming sick by Monday afternoon. All three have been transported to Anchorage for emergency medical treatment, and officials say an investigation to “identify and monitor” others who may be at risk is currently underway.

Last August a botulism outbreak in Lower Kalskag killed one person and sickened two others. Just before Christmas, an outbreak attributed to a batch of seal oil from Twin Hills hospitalized several people in Quinhagak, Twin Hills, and Dillingham.

In related news via ABC6 while Ohio medical officials were prepared for crisis, managing the tragic Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church botulism outbreak was emotional.

One of the doctors who was on the front lines during the outbreak was Dr. Jared Bruce. “It was pretty stressful, I mean as a hospital, you prepare and drill for times like that, but when it actually happens that is when everybody comes together.”

Bruce said family members were dealing with grief and anger, but they were always supportive. “I can’t count the number of times somebody came up to me that day during all of that and said we are praying for you, and these are family members who are by their loved one who is sick.”

And there’s some commercially preserved bamboo shoots that have been recalled in Thailand – for botulism concerns.