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.

It’s also a hockey blog

The Maple Leafs are the unofficial team of barfblog. With both Doug and I from the Toronto area we’ve followed their play from the hockey hotbeds of Brisbane and Raleigh and email each other (along with Leaf’s fan and friend of the blog Steve Naylor) during a lot of games.
Last night there were a few exchanges.

The best of which was from Doug, ‘You should know by now, once the Leafs show up, they’ll disappoint.’ That’s what happens when the team hasn’t won a cup in 51 years.

It’s fun to watch a game that I’m emotionally invested in.

It’s not as much fun when my team loses.

Oh well. Training camp for next season starts in September. The trip to the Yonge St. parade will have to wait another year.

Handling eggs that have been recalled

When there’s a recall of 200 million eggs there’s a food waste/risk conversation. Telling folks to just cook them isn’t the full story. What about cross-contamination? How about a family with an immunocompromised individual? If there’s something special about the eggs (and by special I mean that they’ve led to over 20 illnesses) I don’t really want to have to make the call to handle it extra special. I like to think that I take lots of precautions with eggs (cooked until set, careful to not cross-contaminate) but what if I make a mistake. 

It’s not worth the risk. Take ’em back. That’s what I told Rachael Rettner from Live Science:

Having that [contaminated] product means I have to make no mistakes” when preparing the food, he told Live Science. In addition to undercooking, there’s a risk that consumers could cross-contaminate parts of their kitchen with Salmonella if they aren’t careful. “I would rather just not have that product … knowing it’s a risk of contamination,” 

Food Safety Talk 150: Rambunctious Ramble in the Jungle

The show opens with Ben recounting of his thoughts on Temple Grandin’s talk in North Carolina, and the Humboldt Broncos tragedy.  Don mentions his shout out on Do By Friday.  Ben starts off by the nominal food safety talk regarding sock microwaving and the Cold Pressure Council seal. Don counters with the NJ Panera outbreak which seems to be part of FDA outgoing multistate outbreak of E. coliO157:H7. Next up are blockchain and Canadian food recalls.  Listener feedback covers restaurant grading, killing lobsters, glitter, flour heating, milk spoilage, farmers market and recipe safety.

Episode 150 is available on iTunes and here.

Falconry as an option for pest control on farms

I’m a fan of the creative approach to using falcons to control wild pests on farms; with the caveat of balancing tradeoffs.

Back when I was doing on farm food safety stuff in greenhouses in Ontario (that’s in Canada) I had many farmers tell me that cats controlled the mice. They often asked what what’s worse – cat poop and feline tracking pathogens on their feet, or rodents everywhere. I never really had a good answer (and suggested traps for the the rodents). Today I saw an article form New Food Economy on using falcons as pest control on ranches and farms, with the click-worthy headline of ‘Could falcons prevent the next salmonella outbreak?’

Not if it’s linked to chicken eggs.

Maybe there’s some merit to the controlling-the-wild-with-the-trained approach, but in the absence of falcon diapers (as Don Schaffner suggested on Twitter) what’s the risk benefit tradeoff related to adding falcon poop into the mix. Maybe vaccination is the key (but I don’t know).

Wildlife biologist Paula Rivadeneira knows feces can be funny. Informally known as Paula the Poop Doctor (@PaulaThePoopDr on Twitter), she’s no stranger to the poop-based pun. Her SCATT lab—that’s Super Cool Agricultural Testing and Teaching lab to you—is a mobile research center inside a bus-sized RV, one she uses in Arizona’s crop fields to makes scat (animal droppings) scat (go away). But she also knows when poop stops being funny: if it gets into the food supply.

A simple, everyday fence can help dispel rodents and ground-based mammals. But how do you keep wild birds away from the open, vast expanse of a crop field? Over the years, farmers have struggled to find workable, cost-effective methods. Netting is too expensive and cumbersome. Chemical repellants can have taste and human health implications. A range of options exist to frighten birds away, from old-fashioned scarecrows and taped distress calls to deafening noise cannons, “exploders,” and sirens, but none are consistently reliable.

Which is where Rivadeneira comes in. As a specialist for the University of Arizona’s cooperative extension, it’s her job to find new ways to keep crop fields safely poop-free. Recently, she’s been at the forefront of a surprising new food safety initiative, one that—somewhat counterintuitively—entails bringing more birds onto agricultural lands. Rather than barricade, poison, or blast interlopers away, she’s helping farmers police their fields with the aid of an unusual ally: trained falcons.

Blame the consumer, cruise edition

‘The simple fact is that if people washed their hands, there would be no norovirus,’ that’s what Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley said in an  interview in Business Insider published this week.

Nope. It’s not that simple. Handwashing is a factor, but so is showing up ill, so is how surfaces are cleaned and sanitized (and with what compound). Norovirus isn’t just a handwashing or cruise patron problem. And if it was, and  was so simple we wouldn’t see 20 million + illness annually in the U.S.

The article has another gem, 

But personal hygiene isn’t always enough, according to Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. In addition to physical contact, the illness can also spread from an infected person’s respiratory system, which means that simply breathing the same air as an infected person can leave you vulnerable.

Huh? The virus can be aerosolized and then deposited on surfaces dozens of feet away from a vomit event – but it’s not a respiratory illness.

Humboldt Broncos tragedy

I often tell people that all I really know is hockey, food safety and family; everything and everyone important to me falls in one of those buckets.

This weekend I travelled to St. Paul, Minnesota to watch the NCAA Frozen Four (the national division 1 championships) with a hockey buddy, and couple of his former teammates. As my friends and I sat at a brewery talking about the games we had seen the night before, I checked Twitter and read short blurbs on the developing story of the Humboldt Broncos’ terrible bus crash.

Reports of fatalities and the individuals lost populated my timeline throughout my weekend.

All I could think of is all the teams I have been part of, back to when I was just a kid until now. Those experiences have meant so much more than competition and sport.

It’s exactly why I got into coaching.

The image to the right, three teammates, with bleached-blonde hair (dyed in team unity for the playoffs), lying in hospital beds, linking hands will always be with me.

This tragedy is overwhelming.

Food Safety Talk 149: Free-range, Grass-fed Raised Unicorns

This episode starts with a discussion on running really long relay races and unplanned home repairs.

Don and Ben then edible cookie dough validation (or lack thereof), sour milk pancakes and backyard chicken eggs. The episode ends on a discussion of moldy, fermented rice used as a meat flavor enhancer, glitter beer and Listeria in frozen corn.

Episode 149 is available on iTunes and here.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Home canned vegetables linked to botulism

A couple of years ago I ran into a barfblog reader who commented to me, ‘You’re really scared of botulism, aren’t you?’ This wasn’t a random question, it was related to a few things I had posted following over 20 illnesses linked to a potluck dinner at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster, Ohio.

Scared isn’t how I would describe it. Rattled and in awe of are probably better terms. The toxin blocks motor nerve terminals at the myoneural junction, causing paralysis. It starts with the mouth, eyes, face and moves down through the body. It often results in paralysis of the chest muscles and diaphragm, making a ventilator necessary. Months of recovery follow an intoxication.

Maybe I am scared.

There isn’t a whole lot of botulism in the U.S. every year, and not all of it is foodborne – (infant botulism is more common); over the past two decades, improperly home preserved foods are the main source.

According to Punch, fourteen people, including four children, were hospitalised after a mass botulism food poisoning outbreak in southern Kyrgyzstan.

An epidemiological investigation has been conducted and all patients have received the anti-botulinum serum.

The first case of food poisoning in the city of Uzgen in the Osh region was reported on March 11.

According to preliminary data, the poisoning occurred due to eating homemade canned vegetable salad.

A month earlier, 17 people in southern Kyrgyzstan were hospitalised for the same reason.

Norovirus is is a foodborne and person-to-person problem

I miss Bill Keene. He used passed away a couple of years ago, but would often email when he agreed or disagreed with stuff I wrote. in 2012, he sent me a message about norovirus making the case for environmental transmission,

‘when norovirus-infected people vomit, they shower their surroundings with an invisible fog of viruses—viruses that can later infect people who have contact with those surroundings and their fomites. In this case these were was a reusable bag and its contents—sealed packages of Oreos, Sun Chips, and grapes— but it could just have easily been a disposable plastic bag, a paper bag, a cardboard box, the flush handle on the toilet, the sink, the floor, or the nearby countertops.’

That was his assessment in investigating an outbreak.

According to Science Daily, a study by Arizona State University applied mathematicians in Royal Society Open Science, tracked the different ways that norovirus spreads, and which one infects the most people. They refined their model by fitting it to data from a real-world outbreak — in this case, the daily number of cases among crew and passengers over the course of two cruises.

“The data from the two groups gave the model the sensitivity it needed to be able to figure out the relative roles of infected surfaces and people in transmitting the illness,” said Sherry Towers, the study’s lead author and professor at the Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center.

“The findings indicate that, although environmental transmission by itself is enough to keep an outbreak going, person-to-person contact is the primary mode of transmission,” Towers said.

Oregon food bank recalls chia seeds due to mouse poop

Almost one in seven American households were food insecure in 2012, experiencing difficulty in providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources. Food pantries assist a food-insecure population through emergency food provision, but there is a paucity of information on the food safety–related operating procedures that pantries use.

That’s what my friend and former student Ashley Chaifetz wrote in 2015.

The same words are true now.

A few years ago an outbreak linked to a Denver homeless shelter made it into the barfblog new and notable category. Forty folks who depended on the emergency food were affected by violent foodborne illness symptoms after eating donated turkey. Fourteen ambulances showed up and took those most affected to area hospitals.

Last year, while speaking at the Rocky Mountain Food Safety Conference I met one of the EHS folks who conducted the investigation and temperature abuse of the turkey after cooking was identified as the likely contributing factor.

The very folks who need food the most were betrayed by the system they trust.

I can’t imagine how hard it is to be homeless or not have enough money to feed my family. Focusing on safe, nutritious food is moot if the money isn’t available to buy groceries. Or if there’s no home to take them too.

It really sucks when food bank food is recalled.

According to KGW8 News, The Oregon Food Bank of Portland is recalling more than 22,000 pounds of chia seeds over fears that they may contain rodent droppings.

The chia seeds were donated to the food bank and distributed in Oregon and Clark County, Washington between November 1, 2017 and March 9, 2018. They were distributed in one-pound plastic bags with twist-type closure or a re-sealable pouch.