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.

From the E. coli O121 in low-moisture foods file: flour power edition

It’s all so confusing. There’s a cluster of E. coli O121 in Canada. Sort of a big one. 24 people ill in four provinces (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador) going back to November 2016.

These illness came on the tail end of another E. coli O121 outbreak in the U.S. linked to Gold Medal brand all purpose flour.

Today, CFIA (that’s the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for those following along at home) announces a recall of Robin Hood brand all purpose flour distributed in four provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan) due to E. coli O121 contamination – linked to one illness.

In the new world of whole genome sequencing it would seem easy to say whether these clusters are linked – or totally different. And is the single illness CFIA reports part of the E. coli O121 cluster? Is it different?

My head hurts.

Earlier this year Natalie Seymour and I organized a workshop on STEC in flour. Karen Neil of CDC, Tim Jackson from Nestle and Scott Hood from General Mills spoke about challenges in flour food safety. The workshop focused on stuff like, there’s no kill step in the milling process, there’s literally tons of commingling and although it’s not intended to be eaten raw – sometimes it is (in cookie dough, cake mix).

And a risk factor in the 2016 Gold Medal-linked outbreak was kids handling raw tortilla and pizza dough in restaurants.

There’s some other stuff known about flour – generic E. coli species have been found in flour in NZ.

A survey conducted on wheat and flour milling in Australia showed no detectable Salmonella, 3.0 MPN/g of generic E. coli and 0.3 MPN/g of B. cereus recovered on average from 650 samples (from two mills).

And a US study found generic E. coli in 12.8% of commercial wheat flour samples examined.

So, yeah, flour.

Cookbooks Give Readers (Mostly) Bad Advice On Food Safety

Cookbooks could be a much better source of food safety information than they are. So could online recipes (like those from Epicurious, Allrecipes.com and foodnetwork.com.

Katrina reminded me today that those are next.

The NC State University press release on our cookbook paper came out today.

For Immediate Release

March 27, 2017

A recent study finds that bestselling cookbooks offer readers little useful advice about reducing food-safety risks, and that much of the advice they do provide is inaccurate and not based on sound science.

“Cookbooks aren’t widely viewed as a primary source of food-safety information, but cookbook sales are strong and they’re intended to be instructional,” says Ben Chapman, senior author of a paper on the work and an associate professor of agricultural and human sciences at North Carolina State University.

“Cookbooks tell people how to cook, so we wanted to see if cookbooks were providing any food-safety information related to cooking meat, poultry, seafood or eggs, and whether they were telling people to cook in a way that could affect the risk of contracting foodborne illness,” Chapman says.

To that end, the researchers evaluated a total 1,497 recipes from 29 cookbooks that appeared on the New York Times best sellers list for food and diet books. All of the recipes included handling raw animal ingredients: meat, poultry, seafood or eggs.

Specifically, the researchers looked at three things:

Does the recipe tell readers to cook the dish to a specific internal temperature?
If it does include a temperature, is that temperature one that has been shown to be “safe”? For example, cooking chicken to 165°F.

Does the recipe perpetuate food-safety myths – such as saying to cook poultry until the juices “run clear” – that have been proven unreliable as ways of determining if the dish has reached a safe temperature?

The researchers found that only 123 recipes – 8 percent of those reviewed – mentioned cooking the dish to a specific temperature. And not all of the temperatures listed were high enough to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

“In other words, very few recipes provided relevant food-safety information, and 34 of those 123 recipes gave readers information that wasn’t safe,” Chapman says. “Put another way, only 89 out of 1,497 recipes gave readers reliable information that they could use to reduce their risk of foodborne illness.”

In addition, 99.7 percent of recipes gave readers “subjective indicators” to determine when a dish was done cooking. And none of those indicators were reliable ways to tell if a dish was cooked to a safe temperature.

“The most common indicator was cooking time, which appeared in 44 percent of the recipes,” says Katrina Levine, lead author of the paper and an extension associate in NC State’s Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences. “And cooking time is particularly unreliable, because so many factors can affect how long it takes to cook something: the size of the dish being cooked, how cold it was before going into the oven, differences in cooking equipment, and so on.”

Other common indicators used in the cookbooks included references to the color or texture of the meat, as well as vague language such as “cook until done.”

“This is important because cooking meat, poultry, seafood and eggs to a safe internal temperature kills off pathogens that cause foodborne illness,” Levine says. “These temperatures were established based on extensive research, targeting the most likely pathogens found in each food.”

A list of safe cooking temperatures can be found here.

“Ideally, cookbooks can help us make food tasty and reduce our risk of getting sick, so we’d like to see recipes include good endpoint cooking temperatures,” Chapman says. “A similar study was done 25 years ago and found similar results – so nothing has changed in the past quarter century. But by talking about these new results, we’re hoping to encourage that change.”

The paper, “Evaluating food safety risk messages in popular cookbooks,” is published in British Food Journal. The paper was coauthored by Ashley Chaifetz, a former Ph.D. student in Chapman’s group at NC State who now works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. The work was supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture under grant number 2012-68003-30155.

Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Evaluating food safety risk messages in popular cookbooks”

Authors: Katrina Levine and Benjamin Chapman, North Carolina State University; Ashley Chaifetz, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Published: March 17, British Food Journal

DOI: 10.1108/BFJ-02-2017-0066

Abstract:

Purpose: Medeiros et al. (2001) estimate 3.5 million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. annually are associated with inadequate cooking of animal foods or cross-contamination from these foods. Past research shows home food handling practices can be risk factors for foodborne illness. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the communication of food safety guidance, specifically safe endpoint temperatures and cross-contamination risk reduction practices, in popular cookbook recipes.

Design/methodology/approach: Recipes containing raw animal ingredients in 29 popular cookbooks were evaluated through content analysis for messages related to safe endpoint temperature recommendations and reducing cross-contamination risks.

Findings: Of 1,749 recipes meeting study criteria of cooking raw animal ingredients, 1,497 contained a raw animal that could effectively be measured with a digital thermometer. Only 123 (8.2%) of these recipes included an endpoint temperature, of which 89 (72.3%) gave a correct temperature. Neutral and positive food safety behavior messages were provided in just 7.2% (n=126) and 5.1% (n=90) of recipes, respectively. When endpoint temperatures were not included, authors often provided subjective and risky recommendations.

Research limitations/implications: Further research is needed on the effect of these results on consumer behavior and to develop interventions for writing recipes with better food safety guidance.

Practical implications: Including correct food safety guidance in cookbooks may increase the potential of reducing the risk of foodborne illness.

Originality/value: Popular cookbooks are an underutilized avenue for communicating safe food handling practices and currently cookbook authors are risk amplifiers.

Food Safety Talk 122: Isn’t that Ampersand?

This episode opens with an interesting discovery about the messages app then quickly veers into popular culture, and almost as quickly back to food safety.  Food safety talk on rice and Bacillus cereus is followed by a discussion of the Salmonella in truffle oil outbreak at Fig & Olive restaurants.  The discussion then turns to recalls and when to go public. A recent Listeria recall linked to cheese made from pasteurized milk leads to talk about raw milk, followed by a brief segue into North Carolina life, and then on to a recent Lysol ad, and the five second rule. The show wraps up with a discussion of recipe safety, followed by what Ben thinks might be the best after dark ever.

Episode 122 can be found here and on iTunes.

Leftover rice risks from Lifehacker

One of my former roommates was a straight edge punk-loving vegan for a while. Now he eats meat and drinks beer, but for a while he survived on rice and sriracha. Sometimes he left his steamed rice out overnight – making some egg-free fried rice the next day. This was before either of us knew much about Bacillus cereus and rice.

Earlier this week Claire Lower from Lifehacker emailed a couple of questions about leftover rice safety. The Lifehacker folks often ask really good questions about the science and why behind food safety recommendations – Claire included. Claire wanted to know why some guidelines say not to leave rice out on the stove over night.

I sent Claire a couple of papers including this one which is an oldie (1974), but a goodie from Gilbert and colleagues which included this awesome B. cereus spore/vegetative cell growth figure (right, exactly as shown) highlighting anincrease of a log or more within 4 hours once in vegetative state.

We looped Don into our discussion and he pointed out the somewhat common practice of boiled and then fried rice in some Asian cooking techniques.

According to Benjamin Chapman, Food Safety Specialist from North Carolina State University, cooking rice doesn’t necessarily kill all the pathogens that may be lurking about. “The issue with rice,” he explained to me over email, “is that one pathogen, Bacillus cereus, is quite prevalent in dried rice (some sources say ubiquitous), likely as spores. The spores may survive cooking. If cooked rice is subsequently held at room temperature, the spores can come out of their protective form, germinate, and vegetative forms multiply. The cooked rice environment provides a lot of water and nutrients for growth. As a by-product of growth, they create a couple of toxins, including a heat-stable one.”

Beyond refrigerating any home-cooked rice, a sense of vigilance is helpful when dining out. According to food scientist Donald Schaffner of Rutgers University, some restaurants “cook up a large batch of rice, hold it at room temperature all day,” and then take portions from the batch as needed. “Because Bacillus makes a heat stable toxin,” he explained “this is not a best practice, and has led to outbreaks in the past.” “Heat stable” means that the toxin can survive boiling and, once the rice is cooled into the “danger zone” of 59-122°F, the bacteria can multiply, making even more of the toxin. Sushi rice, he noted, shouldn’t be a problem as vinegar is added to lower the pH, allowing it to be held safely at room temperature.

Cookbooks aren’t the greatest source of food safety info

Every year for Christmas Dani and I buy a couple of cookbooks for each other. Maybe it’s from a chef at a restaurant we’ve been to. Or someone we’ve seen on Top Chef. Yeah, thousands of recipes are available on the Internets but the books become something we keep going back to.

According to the LA Times, we’re not alone.

Ten Speed will have published at least 30 books in the food and spirits category by the end of 2016; Phaidon will have released 20 titles. Culinary dynamo Ina Garten’s latest “Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook” is currently holding the No. 8 spot in all categories on Amazon.

Print isn’t totally dead.

Since folks still go to these books for ideas, instructions and information on what and how to cook, extension associate Katrina Levine and I (with the stats help of Ashley Chaifetz) decided to go look at the type of food safety info is in the books. Katrina looked at the New York Times best seller lists for food and diet from Sept 2013-Jan 2014 and evaluated the food safety messages in over 1700 recipes. Some of the stuff she found was that although there are a lot of recipes that could benefit from instructions about safe endpoint temperatures only about 8 percent mentioned a specific temperature. And just under three quarters of those recipes even had the science-based temperature.

Lots of other insights, the paper was published as an early cite late last week and will be in an upcoming special issue of the British Food Journal. The abstract is below:

Evaluating food safety risk messages in popular cookbooks

British Food Journal, Volume 119, Issue 5 2017

Katrina Levine , Ashley Chaifetz , Benjamin Chapman

Abstract

Purpose

Medeiros et al. (2001) estimate 3.5 million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. annually are associated with inadequate cooking of animal foods or cross-contamination from these foods. Past research shows home food handling practices can be risk factors for foodborne illness. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the communication of food safety guidance, specifically safe endpoint temperatures and cross-contamination risk reduction practices, in popular cookbook recipes.

Design/methodology/approach

Recipes containing raw animal ingredients in 29 popular cookbooks were evaluated through content analysis for messages related to safe endpoint temperature recommendations and reducing cross-contamination risks.

Findings

Of 1,749 recipes meeting study criteria of cooking raw animal ingredients, 1,497 contained a raw animal that could effectively be measured with a digital thermometer. Only 123 (8.2%) of these recipes included an endpoint temperature, of which 89 (72.3%) gave a correct temperature. Neutral and positive food safety behavior messages were provided in just 7.2% (n=126) and 5.1% (n=90) of recipes, respectively. When endpoint temperatures were not included, authors often provided subjective and risky recommendations.

Research limitations/implications

Further research is needed on the effect of these results on consumer behavior and to develop interventions for writing recipes with better food safety guidance.

Practical implications

Including correct food safety guidance in cookbooks may increase the potential of reducing the risk of foodborne illness.

Originality/value

Popular cookbooks are an underutilized avenue for communicating safe food handling practices and currently cookbook authors are risk amplifiers.

E. coli O121 outbreak in Canada

A bunch of hosers are sick with E. coli O121, according the the Public Health Agency of Canada

There have been 24 cases of E. coli O121 with a matching genetic fingerprint reported in four provinces: British Columbia (12), Saskatchewan (4), Alberta (3) and Newfoundland and Labrador (5). The illness onset dates range from November 2016 to February 2017. Six individuals have been hospitalized. These individuals have recovered or are recovering. The investigation into the source of the outbreak is ongoing.


Going public: Why FDA doesn’t share retail outlet information (but should) edition

Earlier this month Doug and I had a paper published in the Journal of Environmental Health about the need for public health folks (especially at the local and state levels) who are dealing with an outbreak to have a plan on when to go public. The plan should include what info the release; how they release it; and, what triggers release.

There are a bunch of great folks in these agencies who are often understaffed, overworked and dealing with political pressures – but often don’t look to the risk communication world for tips on this stuff.

Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post wrote about why FDA doesn’t practice sharing outlets/retailers where recalled products are sold, even those linked to illnesses.

The FDA does not specify, however, which stores, centers or schools — because that would violate its interpretation of an obscure trade secret rule.

This interpretation differs from that of other agencies in the federal food safety system, an overlapping and often illogical network of regulatory fiefdoms. The system, which is responsible for keeping food free of bacteria and other pathogens, frequently has to weigh the very real interests of private food companies against potential risks to the public. In the case of releasing retailer lists during major outbreaks, the FDA has historically sided with business, ruling that such lists constitute “confidential commercial information” and thus should not be available for public consumption.

Critics say that the agency’s unwillingness to share this information poses a clear danger to public health, particularly in cases like the current E. coli outbreak, where parents may not know if their child consumed the recalled product. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 of the 16 people who have fallen ill were children.

It could also prove relevant in incidents like last year’s multistate hepatitis A outbreak, which was traced to frozen strawberries imported from Egypt and sold at several Tropical Smoothie Cafes. The FDA did not specifically reveal which locations, however — a measure that some experts say would have gotten the news to ill consumers faster. That’s important in the case of an illness like hepatitis A, which can be treated with a vaccine for a limited period after exposure.

Doug and I argue that public health agencies (like FDA) should be in the business of sharing the info they have, the info they don’t have and all the uncertainties. This includes distribution data. There are lots of ways that folks get food safety and recall information. Sometimes it’s directly from their retailer of choice; or maybe it comes from a local media source. Or someone shared something on Facebook.

Bill Hallman and colleagues at Rutgers conducted a survey of consumers and their self-reported behaviors following 2008’s Salmonella saintpaul in tomatoes, er, peppers outbreak and found that lots of people (81%) say they they share recall info when they see it. 38% believe that the food they purchase is less likely to be recalled than their neighbors. And less than 60% report checking their fridges and pantries for the food.

Releasing retailer/distribution information might increase the chance individuals will say to themselves ‘I’ve bought some soynut butter recently, and I got it at that grocery store’ and they go check.

But I could just be optimistic.

A food safety Facebook friend posted a couple of days ago about a Listeria monocytogenes-linked recall. It was so important to him that he posted the info twice once on Feb 17 and again March 11, ‘I want to again stress that you should check any production codes immediately and if you have any of these products, either throw them away or return them to your grocery store. I just checked my cheese stash and had the pepperjack slices that are included.’

But, like Hallman and colleagues found, while he shared the info, he wasn’t motivated to actually go to his fridge to look for it the first time he posted. Maybe the distribution information would have triggered a behavioral response.

Food Safety Talk 121: Seesaws and slides

Don and Ben talk I.M. Healthy’s soy nut butter-linked E. coli O157 outbreak; social responsibility and food safety; and produce washing. The guys also discuss the particulars of goalie screening and Salmonella sticking around in the environment for months. Bonus: urinals.

Episode 121 can be found here and on iTunes.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Going public: have a plan

‘Food safety recalls are always either too early or too late. If you’re right, it’s always too late. If you’re wrong, it’s always too early.’
That’s what Paul Mead was quoted as saying in response to when to go public with outbreak information over a decade ago. 
During foodborne illness outbreaks and incidents information is evolving – what people know, and when the share it can impact public health, and buyer decisions. Go public too late and stuff remains on the market. Go public too early risks making a wrong decision
Doug, Sol Erdozian and I wrote a paper a while back that finally got published this week in the Journal of Environmental Health where we look at the going public situation. There’s no magic answer; just have a plan and a set of criteria to look at when making the decision of what to share when. Talk about uncertainty. And don’t make it up on the fly.
Here’s NC State’s press release about our paper:

There’s an ongoing debate among public health officials about how quickly they should notify the public about foodborne illness outbreaks, and how much information should be shared. Is it better to tell people as early as possible, or could that create panic that is counterproductive?

Food safety researchers are now calling on public health agencies to develop clear guidelines on when to inform the public about foodborne illness outbreaks – something which is often handled on an ad hoc basis at the local, state and federal levels.

To learn more about how health agencies are currently addressing these questions, researchers evaluated 11 case studies of large outbreaks, dating back to 1996.

Not only is there no clear consensus on how to respond, they discovered, but there is no system in place to help officials decide when to tell the public about a foodborne illness outbreak.

“We found that pressure from social media, or from companies, has sometimes influenced when health officials release information, which is problematic,” says Ben Chapman, lead author of a paper on the work and an associate professor of agricultural and human sciences at North Carolina State University.

“Officials need to have clearly defined processes for determining when information should be made public, and those processes don’t appear to exist right now,” Chapman says.

Instead, researchers found that public health agencies – from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to state and local agencies – make decisions about sharing information on a case-by-case basis.

“There are advantages and risks to both sharing and withholding information,” Chapman says.

Sharing information early in an outbreak can allow consumers to make informed decisions about their food choices that limit risk. But there can also be a lot of uncertainty about that information.

“For example, officials may be investigating a particular restaurant or type of food, but the investigation could ultimately find that the culprit was actually a different source altogether,” Chapman says.

By the same token, withholding information until there is less uncertainty may increase public health risks because the source of the illness may remain accessible to unwitting consumers.

“The best case is to share what you know, and what you don’t know, in an open and transparent way,” Chapman says. “Talking about uncertainty may be uncomfortable for officials, but they need to have a plan for how to do so.”

The paper, “Going Public: Early Disclosure of Food Risks for the Benefit of Public Health,” is published in the Journal of Environmental Health. The paper was co-authored by Maria Sol Erdozaim, a former undergraduate at Kansas State University, and Douglas Powell of Powell Food Safety.

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Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Going Public: Early Disclosure of Food Risks for the Benefit of Public Health”

Authors: Benjamin Chapman, North Carolina State University; Maria Sol Erdozaim, Kansas State University; Douglas Powell, Powell Food Safety

Published: March 2017, Journal of Environmental Health

Abstract: Often during an outbreak of foodborne illness, there are health officials who have data indicating that there is a risk prior to notifying the public. During the lag period between the first public health signal and some release of public information, there are decision makers who are weighing evidence with the impacts of going public. Multiple agencies and analysts have lamented that there is not a common playbook or decision tree for how public health agencies determine what information to release and when. Regularly, health authorities suggest that how and when public information is released is evaluated on a case-by-case basis without sharing the steps and criteria used to make decisions. Information provision on its own is not enough. Risk communication, to be effective and grounded in behavior theory, should provide control measure options for risk management decisions. There is no indication in the literature that consumers benefit from paternalistic protection decisions to guard against information overload. A review of the risk communication literature related to outbreaks, as well as case studies of actual incidents, are explored and a blueprint for health authorities to follow is provided.

Food Safety Talk 120: It’s ‘Sody Pops’

Continuing the purple themed image run, Don and Ben talk lifehacks, what to call fizzy beverages, other junk food, good TV, junk science, challenges that small food processors encounter and food fraud (with a bonus of press release before publication). 

Episode 120 can be found here and on iTunes.

Here are some links so you can follow along at home.