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.

Rutgers hit with noro outbreak

Some Rutgers University students had a nasty gastrointestinal illness last week that is likely norovirus, according to the Daily Targum. Don and I talked about this outbreak on the podcast today. Rutgers has a few things working for them: the semester is over (leaving lots of time to clean and sanitize; and less places for the virus to be transmitted), and Schaffner is there providing some technical advice.

At least 35 students are complaining of feeling sick after a suspected virus broke out on campus around Dec. 7.10849902_719581291471357_3442145704847569295_n1-300x3001-300x300-1

Many of these students, who claim to have eaten in the Livingston and Brower Dining Halls, believe they are suffering from food poisoning. But University Sanitarian John Nason said he does not think this is a food-borne illness.

“The virus is people-to-people. We don’t believe it’s food-borne,” he said. “Most people are getting sick 90 minutes to two hours after eating, which doesn’t make sense. Most people who get sick after eating think it’s food poisoning.”

He said the onset time of 90 minutes to two hours does not equivocate to a food-borne virus, considering viruses such as E. coli and salmonella have an onset time of about six to 48 hours.

Managing a norovirus outbreak is a bit tricky, here are a couple of infosheets we’ve used/developed over the years that might be of use.

Norovirus is a problem for campuses and cafeterias

Vomiting and fecal episodes

High school students make semen frosting; serve to cooking teacher

This one is just gross.

According to the Omaha World-Herald three students added a secret ingredient into their turnover project this week.

The boys, ages 14 and 15, each masturbated into containers, then mixed their bodily fluids with frosting, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the case.shakes-desserts-turnover-apple-1024x557

The boys face misdemeanor disturbing the peace charges. Their cases will be handled in juvenile court.

The law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, gave the following account:

The class’ assignment was to make turnovers and frost them.

At some point, the boys excused themselves and went to a bathroom.

They eventually mixed their bodily fluids with frosting and spread them on the turnover.

Doing a quality-control check, the teacher, a female, tasted one of the turnovers and noticed something amiss.

A fellow student eventually approached the teacher and told her that he had overheard the boys talking about their plot.

The high sugar content of the frosting should reduce the chance of foodborne pathogens.

The high sugar content will not make it less gross.

Food Safety Talk 115: Features Chico Marx

It’s the super happy holiday version of Food Safety Talk. Don and Ben chat about Christmas movies, gambling as children and other holiday traditions. Making appearances in the guys’ discussion are Twitter and posting great questions of regulators about poor recall notices; cooling and holding cous cous and regulatory interpretations of time as a public health control; norovirus outbreaks at schools; and, Chipotle’s food safety culture.marx-brothers-harpo-marx-chico-marx-groucho-marx1

Episode 115 can be found here and on iTunes.

Links so you can follow along at home:

A Tale of Three Outbreaks: ConAgra plea deal reached

A couple of weeks ago I left my cozy bubble of Raleigh and travelled to Wayne County NC for an evening talk at the Farm-City Banquet. As I was driving I thought about Doug and Gord Surgeoner’s mentorship – both instilled the importance of engaging with real people around issues and chatting over dinners.

Research and extension activities need grounding in reality.caddyshack_be_the_ball_small

The morning of the event I wasn’t entirely sure what to talk about – so I asked Schaffner for input during a podcast recording. He suggested ‘A Tale of Two Outbreaks’ – comparing Jensen Farms to PCA. Both tragic outbreaks, both resulting in criminal charges. One was due to an egregious disregard for public health. The other seemed to be a couple of folks who meant well but didn’t quite get microbiology.

Be the bug.

For the next talk I’m gonna add in ConAgra’s Peter Pan/Salmonella outbreak as part of the story.

The Associated Press reports that ConAgra pled guilty and has agreed to pay $11.2 million in fines and other fees as a result of an outbreak a decade ago.

ConAgra admitted to a single misdemeanor count of shipping adulterated food. No individuals at the leading food conglomerate faced any charges in the 2006 outbreak, which sickened at least 625 people in 47 states.

Disease detectives traced the salmonella to a plant in rural Sylvester, Georgia, that produced peanut butter for ConAgra under the Peter Pan label and the Great Value brand sold at Wal-Mart. In 2007 the company recalled all the peanut butter it had sold since 2004.

Leo Knowles, president of ConAgra Grocery Products, offered no testimony as he entered the misdemeanor plea Tuesday on behalf of the Chicago-based corporation’s subsidiary.

“It made a lot of people sick,” federal prosecutor Graham Thorpe said Tuesday as he described ConAgra’s decision to continue shipments from the Georgia plant in late 2006, before corrective actions were completed, despite lab tests that had twice detected salmonella in samples.

“The industry has taken notice of this prosecution,” Thorpe added.

Though the Justice Department called $8 million the heftiest criminal fine ever imposed in a U.S. food safety case, it represents just one-tenth of one percent of ConAgra’s current $8 billion market capitalization. The company also will pay $3.2 million in cash forfeitures to the federal government.

ConAgra said it didn’t know peanut butter was contaminated with salmonella before it was shipped. However, the plea agreement documents noted that ConAgra knew peanut butter made in Georgia had twice tested positive for salmonella in 2004. Problems weren’t all fixed by the time of the outbreak.

The judge noted that others had already received cash from ConAgra in civil settlements, which he said totaled $36 million to 6,810 people.

About 2,000 of them were represented by Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney who specializes in food-safety cases. He said the case shows corporations can be prosecuted even when there’s no evidence of intentional criminality. The misdemeanor charge, he said, required only that ConAgra shipped the contaminated food.

“Companies are very concerned, they’re very worried,” Marler said. “They’re very interested in knowing: How can they charge us with a crime even if we don’t mean to do it? People are paying attention to that and hopefully it’s going to drive positive food behavior.”

The folks in the food and agriculture world in Wayne County seemed to pay attention.

Montgomery out, Ells in at Chipotle

A shake-up is happening at the at the top of our ever-favorite, Chipotle. Co-chief executive Montgomery Moran is out while the other co-chief Steve Ells, the perfectionist and touch-for-doneness guru remains.

According to the New York Times, the change is food safety-driven.rs_560x406-150423100706-560-chipotle-burrito-jl-042315

The food safety crises that have battered the once high-flying Chipotle Mexican Grill over the last year are now taking a toll on its executive suite.

Montgomery F. Moran, a co-chief executive who has long presided over the company’s operations, will step down early next year, the company announced Monday morning. It also said it would be changing the board.

“We all agreed that one C.E.O. will serve the company better,” Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder and other co-chief executive, said in a telephone interview. “The board decided that one C.E.O. would be me, and I’m looking forward to a continued friendship with Monty.” The company declined to make Mr. Moran available for comment.

Shares have fallen more than 30 percent in the last year. Late Monday morning, after the executive change was announced, shares were up about 3 percent, to about $380 a share.

Chipotle is also dealing with an activist investor in William A. Ackman, whose Pershing Square Capital Management disclosed in September that it owned a 9.9 percent stake in Chipotle. Chipotle and Pershing Square have described their interactions as “cordial” and productive. Pershing Square declined to comment on Monday.

Mr. Ells said Mr. Moran’s departure was not at Pershing Square’s behest. But other investors have been clamoring for change.

Last week, Chipotle executives said that in part because of an extensive new food safety program the company had instituted over the last year, the amount of time it took customers to get through the assembly line as their meal was made had increased. Spot checks by executives and the company’s auditing team found used napkins left on tables, smudged windows and doors, and messy condiment stations. Some customers using the Chipotle app to order were told their meal would not be ready for 45 minutes to an hour.

Such issues largely fell under Mr. Moran’s supervision, but will now fall to Mr. Ells, a self-described perfectionist who founded the company in 1993 with a loan from his father.

Belts need cleaning too

After visiting a bunch of produce packing plants in the U.S. and Canada over the past decade, I have a keen interest in cleaning and sanitizing conveyor belts. They sure seem like they could be harborage sites for Listeria – especially with all the seams. Traditional conveyor belts are also pretty hard to take apart as part of a daily (or between lot) sanitation step.buckle-western-silver-belt-socalgarrison1550-960x721

A couple of years ago Michelle Danyluk and I wrote a factsheet on establishing a clean sanitation break in a fresh produce packing facility. I still think that while a packer attempts to separate products into lots (by date, farm source, or some other variable) that clean breaks aren’t well done.

My concerns are around how sanitation is carried out (maybe it’s a good compound, maybe not; all sanitation crews are also not built equally) – but equipment really matters too. Sorting machines haven’t been built with Listeria control as a design feature.

According to the Packer, JBT Corp is marketing a better belt.

The SaniClean belt conveyor from JBT Corp. has gained food safety approval and is now commercially available.

“The biggest feature of it is that it is super easy to clean,” Jeff Cook, aftermarket parts and equipment sales manager at JBT, said in a news release. “With most conventional conveyors, you can’t get into them and clean under or around the belt — you need the maintenance department to take them apart to do the cleaning.”

The sanitation precautions include disposable plastic belt supports directly under the conveyor, as well as “food-safe” welds that allow for cleaning of the machine’s hidden and hard-to-reach crevices to stop germs from manifesting.

The marketing sounds good; but who knows what it really means. Food safety approval? By whom? Against what standard? Show me the data (I couldn’t find anything on their website).

Don’t believe the hype without seeing the validation.

Chipotle CEO Ells uses the bare hand touch test for meat doneness

Chipotle, one of our favorite barfblog topics, is in the news again as CEO Steve Ells appeared on the Today Show to talk woes associated with recovery from 2015’s multiple outbreaks. Ells says the slow recovery is because their service sucks now. I dunno.

I like to get my real and fake news on the Internet and consume digital stuff so I checked out the Newsy video of Ells walking through a Chipotle kitchen (below, exactly as shown).screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-12-20-34-pm

At 10 seconds the guy who wrote, “We deployed robust, industry leading new food safety procedures in our restaurants including new handling procedures for produce, citrus and meats as well as comprehensive sanitizing protocols” pokes at a piece of meat on the grill, I’m guessing to check for doneness, with his bare hands.

Steve, a good food safety culture starts at the top. Model safe practices for your staff, mix in a thermometer and some gloves.

 

Don’t Trust Your Waiter for Food Safety Advice

Matt Shipman, Research Communications Lead at NC State News Services and contributor to The Abstract (and all-around great guy) writes,

I went out for lunch recently at an upscale restaurant. Other guests wore suits, there was an extensive wine list, and the server was extremely upbeat. What she didn’t know, and I did, was that my guest for lunch was a food safety expert – and her tableside manner was being judged.

Shortly after being seated, my dining companion pointed to the bottom of the menu.

“Consuming undercooked meats may increase risk of foodborne illness,” said Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at NC State. “It’s right there on the menu. Now let’s see if the server follows through.”hamburger-blog-2016-header-992x558

When the server returned, Chapman ordered a medium-rare hamburger. The server didn’t mention anything, so Chapman asked how the restaurant knew whether the burger would be safe to eat.

The server said that the cooks could tell whether the hamburger was safe by feeling how firm the burger was, and noted that lots of people order medium-rare hamburgers and don’t get sick. Chapman changed his order to well-done anyway, and the server left to get our drinks.

“This,” Chapman said, “is basically everything that can go wrong with how restaurant servers share food safety information with consumers: the menu gives patrons vague, but accurate, information. And the server gave us information that’s inaccurate and not based on the science.”

And Chapman knows what he’s talking about – he just published a paper evaluating how restaurants handle food safety communication, based on the experiences of “secret shoppers” at 265 different restaurants scattered across the United States. You can read more about that paper here.

So what does make a hamburger safer?

  • Cooking hamburgers to 155°F for 15 seconds or 160°F (for an instant kill).
  • Restaurants are required to cook to these temperatures in many jurisdictions unless requested to do otherwise by a customer.
  • Restaurants should have thermometers in the kitchen; if they don’t, you may want to reconsider your dining choice.
  • Don’t trust color (no red or pink) as an indicator of safety.
  • Just because the juices are “running clear” doesn’t mean the burger has reached a safe temperature.
  • The touch, feel or look of the meat are not reliable ways of determining how well cooked the hamburger is.

The study, which was performed by a team of researchers from NC State and RTI International, is published in the Journal of Food Protection.

Study: Restaurants Not Good At Explaining Risks of Undercooked Meat to Customers

When I was eleven my parents took me to Disney World in Florida. I don’t remember much about the trip other than we rode space mountain, went to Epcot, and did the backlot tram tour at what was then called MGM Studios.

And I remember the burger I had one night at a restaurant on International Drive.24235f1049c18d3d50fd3c0017886141

It was the juiciest, tastiest burger I had ever had.

It was really undercooked, I ordered it medium rare.

I don’t think ordering burgers undercooked was an option in Ontario. I had never been offered a choice before.

No one told me or my parents that there was increased risk of illness eating undercooked meat. Maybe there was a consumer advisory on the menu. But probably not, I don’t remember seeing it. This was 1989, before Jack-in-the-Box. After McDonalds in 1982.

While golfing at IAFP in 2005, Doug and I were in line for burgers in-between the front and back nine. The cook asked the group in front of us how they wanted their burgers. One guy responded, “Bloody … with cheese.”

No one said anything about the risks.

Over the next nine holes we talked about servers as risk communicators, figuring out what they knew, what they said and how to get better information to patrons.

Years later, as part of a USDA CAP grant my former PhD student and current Food Safety Scientist at RTI International, Ellen Thomas, would lead the first part of this work and found that servers aren’t great at helping folks makes informed decisions. That paper was publish today.

NC State University’s press release about the paper is below.

Front-line staff, such as servers in restaurants, are often trusted with providing customers with food safety information regarding their meals.  A challenge to the industry is that these positions have high turnover, relatively low wages and servers are focused primarily on providing patrons with a positive experience. And new research shows that this poses a problem.

A recent study finds that restaurants don’t do an effective job of communicating with customers when it comes to addressing risks associated with eating undercooked meat – specifically hamburgers. Inaccurate information provided by servers often contradicts science-based information customers need to make informed food safety decisions.

All 50 states in the U.S. have adopted some version of the Food & Drug Administration’s Model Food Code, which requires restaurants to tell customers about risks associated with undercooked meat and poultry products. Such as hamburgers.

“We wanted to know how well restaurant servers and menus communicated with customers about these risks, specifically in the context of beef hamburgers,” says Ben Chapman, co-author of a study on the work and an associate professor at North Carolina State University whose research program is aimed at improving food safety.

The researchers focused on beef hamburgers because consuming undercooked ground beef has been linked to a lot of foodborne illness outbreaks, including outbreaks related primarily to Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

For this study, the researchers sent trained “secret shoppers” into 265 full-service, sit-down restaurants in seven different regions around the U.S. At each restaurant, the patrons ordered one well-done hamburger and one medium-rare hamburger to go. The shoppers then recorded how, if at all, the restaurant communicated about risk.

This study is the latest in a long line of real-world research that Chapman and his collaborators have conducted.

“We try to actually match what people do versus what they say they do because people will say anything on a survey,” says Chapman “We’ve looked at cooking shows; observed handwashing and cross-contamination in commercial kitchens; hand hygiene during a norovirus outbreaks and others. What people actually do is the difference between an enjoyable meal and a foodborne illness.

“For example,” Chapman says, “did the server mention risks associated with undercooked meat when the shopper ordered? If not, the shopper would ask about the risk of getting sick, and then record whether the wait staff responded with clear, accurate information.”

The shoppers also looked to see whether restaurants included clear, accurate risk information on their menus.

The study found that 25 percent of restaurants wouldn’t even sell an undercooked hamburger to secret shoppers. However, at restaurants that would sell a medium-rare hamburger, the majority of servers – 77 percent – gave customers unreliable information about food safety.

“Servers said that meat was safe because it was cooked until ‘until the juices ran clear’ – which is totally unreliable,” says Ellen Thomas, a food safety scientist at RTI International and lead author of the study who worked on the project while a Ph.D. student at NC State. “Those 77 percent didn’t mention things like cooking meat to the appropriate temperature – either 155°F for 15 seconds, or 160°F for instant kill.

“The indicator of safety most widely-reported by servers was the color of the burger, and that’s also not a reliable indicator at all,” Thomas says “Time and temperature are all that matter. And undercooked, unsafe burger can be brown in the middle, and a safely cooked burger can still be red or pink in the center.”

Meanwhile, almost all of the menus complied with FDA guidance. But what servers told customers often contradicted the information on the menu.

“If a menu says something is risky but a server says that it isn’t, that can downplay the risks for consumers and impact a customer’s decisions,” Chapman says. “It’s confusing, leaving the patron to choose which message to believe”

The researchers also found that chain restaurants fared much better than independent restaurants at having servers offer reliable risk information.

“That’s not surprising,” Chapman says. “Large chains implement standardized training across all outlets for servers in order to protect their brand and reduce the likelihood of being implicated in a foodborne illness outbreak. That’s bad for business.

“This study tells us that servers aren’t good risk communicators,” Chapman says. “We encourage consumers to ask food safety questions, but they should probably ask a manager.

“It also tells us that we need to work on addressing the widespread – and wrong – belief that color is a reliable indicator of food safety in meat,” Chapman says. “Restaurants are in a position to help us share this information with consumers, but many servers are currently sharing incorrect information.”

The paper, “Assessment of Risk Communication about Undercooked Hamburgers by Restaurant Servers,” is published in the Journal of Food Protection. The paper was co-authored by Andrew Binder, Anne McLaughlin, Lee-Ann Jaykus, and Dana Hanson of NC State; and by Doug Powell of barfblog.com. The research was supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2012-68003-30155 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Abstract: According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2013 Model Food Code, it is the duty of a food establishment to disclose and remind consumers of risk when ordering undercooked food such as ground beef. The purpose of this study was to explore actual risk communication activities of food establishment servers. Secret shoppers visited restaurants (n=265) in seven geographic locations across the U.S., ordered medium rare burgers, and collected and coded risk information from chain and independent restaurant menus and from server responses. The majority of servers reported an unreliable method of doneness (77%) or other incorrect information (66%) related to burger doneness and safety. These results indicate major gaps in server knowledge and risk communication, and the current risk communication language in the Model Food Code does not sufficiently fill these gaps. Furthermore, should servers even be acting as risk communicators? There are numerous challenges associated with this practice including high turnover rates, limited education, and the high stress environment based on pleasing a customer. If it is determined that servers should be risk communicators, food establishment staff should be adequately equipped with consumer advisory messages that are accurate, audience-appropriate, and delivered in a professional manner so as to help their customers make more informed food safety decisions.