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.

Nacho cheese botulism was likely linked to retail practices

Lots of folks must like to eat gas station food; even the nacho cheese and nacho combos. I figure they are good sellers since so much retail space is dedicated to the snack. Earlier this year, according to a memo from the California Department of Public Health, ten people became ill with botulism after eating nacho cheese from Valley Oak Food and Fuel gas station in Walnut Grove, CA.

The memo highlights three notable things that came out of the investigation:

  • The 5 pound bag of nacho cheese collected at the retail location on May 5, 2017 was being used past the “Best By” date.
  • Records were not being maintained by the gas station employees indicating when the bag of nacho cheese was originally added to the warming unit.
  • The plastic tool designed to open the bags of cheese (provided with the nacho cheese warming and dispensing unit) was not being used by employees.

So the cheese was in the dispenser for a while, no one knows how long, and folks were using some other means to open the bag. Maybe some utensil with some soil ended up inserting bot spores deep into the anaerobic cheese bag.


Chicken sashimi is risky; and gross

A year ago I was in Japan for a few days and my hosts took me for sashimi every night. I think they thought it was funny taking a food safety nerd for a bunch of raw seafood. I did my best to be polite and steered towards more cooked foods. And lots of rice.

Earlier today Sara Miller at Live Science and I exchanged emails about chicken sashimi, a food that has been popular on twitter over the past couple of days. The same food that was linked to 800+ illnesses in the spring of 2016. Even Japanese public health folks were urging against eating it.

It’s not uncommon to find raw foods on a restaurant menu — think sushi or steak tartare — but if you see uncooked poultry as an option the next time you’re dining out, you may want to opt for something else.

Several restaurants in the United States are serving up a raw chicken dish that’s referred to as either chicken sashimi or chicken tartare, according to Food & Wine Magazine. Though the “specialty” hasn’t caught on much in the U.S., it’s more widely available in Japan.

Eating chicken sashimi puts a person at a “pretty high risk” of getting an infection caused by Campylobacter or Salmonella, two types of bacteria that cause food poisoning, said Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist and an associate professor at North Carolina State University.

Chapman noted that eating raw chicken is different from eating raw fish, which can be found in sushi dishes. With raw fish, the germs that are most likely to make a person sick are parasites, and these parasites can be killed by freezing the fish, he said. Salmonella, on the other hand, “isn’t going to be affected by freezing.”

Chicken sashimi is sometimes prepared by boiling or searing the chicken for no more than 10 seconds, according to Food & Wine Magazine.

But these preparations probably only kill off the germs on the surface of the chicken, Chapman said. “But even that I’m not sure about,” he added. In addition, when a chicken is deboned, other germs can get into the inside of the chicken, he said.

Food safety broken telephone; or is someone really testing food for hepatitis A?

‘You can’t test your way to safe food.’ This saying has been attributed to many folks, including Doug. Not sure who said it first (and it really doesn’t matter). What the phrase means is that to have certainly of the safety of food, you’d have to test it all; for all the pathogens.

Not practical.

So folks correctly resort to some sort of sampling program that includes the environment and the food. And they look for indicators.

I’ve never heard of anyone screening foods, like pineapple cups, for the hepatitis A virus.

Maybe someone is. Or at least that’s what this headline from the aptly named and go-to-source for all things food safety, Big Country XX, says, ‘Hepatitis A virus found in product that was sold in Grande Prairie.’

Was it really found in it? How did the virus get there? How did someone decide to look for it? What assay was used.

BC CDC, who appears to be the original source of the info, doesn’t say much about why they think Hep a is in the fruit.

So many unanswered questions.

Mugabe says his family ice cream business didn’t make his VP sick

Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, has a past filled with genocide and tyranny. He’s a generally terrible person, described in a 2002 New Yorker profile as presiding ‘over the country as a tyrant in the classical sense of the word: an autocrat who rules exclusively for his own gratification, with contempt for the common good.’

In a country that has been mismanaged by an egomaniac, the unemployment rate is as high as 95%. Just don’t tell Mugabe that his family’s business made his vice president ill.

According to IOL, Mugabe is denying that his family’s ice cream made Emmerson Mnangagwa sick.

President Robert Mugabe on Friday, said his deputy, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s sickness three weeks ago was not a result of “food” poisoning.

Mugabe told close to 30 000 Zanu-PF supporters in Gweru on Friday afternoon, that they had conducted all tests on possible “food” poisoning, but the results showed that Mnangagwa’s sickness was not because of anything he had ingested.

“There was no food poisoning. It is not food poisoning, no!” the 93-year-old Zimbabwean leader thundered, without ruling out the “poisoning” aspect.

Mugabe said allegations that Mnangagwa fell sick because he had eaten ice cream from Alpha and Omega Dairies – a company owned by the Mugabes – was disturbing.

Three weeks ago, Mnangagwa had to be airlifted to Gweru for immediate attention, before being flown to South Africa for further treatment, where doctors said they had detected traces of palladium poison, which had partly damaged part of his liver.


It’s podcasts all the way down: I talk food safety stuff with Food Safety Magazine

Don and I started podcasting because it was kind of fun to chat with each other about nerd stuff every couple of weeks. It all started as part of IAFP’s 100 anniversary meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where we recorded a 40 min conversation with each other for NPR’s StoryCorps (which we now refer to as Episode Zero). 133 episodes later, Food Safety Talk is still going strong with about 3000 subscribers.

Early on in our podcasting we appeared as guests on lots of other shows, including a bunch from Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 network. Others have joined us in the food safety podcasting world including the good folks at Food Safety Magazine who started Food Safety Matters a while back.

A couple of weeks ago I recorded a fun episode with Barbara VanRenterghem and we talked about how I got into food safety; some of the research we’re doing; and, evaluating safe food handling messages.

Check it out here.

Food Safety Talk 133: You had me at Murder She Wrote

Don and Ben talk Hurricane Harvey and food safety during power outages, British TV, podcast prepping, some food safety in the mainstream media American Greed.

The guys then talked about the science behind ice cream, frozen yogurt went went to cutting melons, selling eggs stored at room temperature and tomato jam.

Episode 131 can be found here and on iTunes.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Lots of Texas is under water; flooding is devastating

Today is our first full day of Fall, when it comes to scheduling, with both kids back in school.

I’m at home, just finished recording a podcast and have CNN on in the background. I’m watching the Hurricane Harvey coverage, in awe of the devastation of inches and inches of rain.

Last Fall, some of our close by communities in North Carolina experienced flooding following Hurricane Matthew.

I had never seen anything like it.

A couple of months later I traveled to the Greenville, North Carolina area with a few other extension folks and we shot a few videos about returning to a home after a flood. Stuff like cleaning dishes, pots and pans in Part 1; other kitchen items, including appliances, flatware and plastic, in Part 2; food for people and pets in Part 3; and refrigerators in Part 4. Amongst others.

We also have a few factsheets on disaster recovery here (including what to do with foods in refrigerators and freezers after the power has been out for a while)

Thoughts are with the people of Texas.

Raspberry mousse cakes recalled due to norovirus; are those berries frozen?

Doug and I share recipes sometimes; we’ve talked about roasting chicken, turkey stock and earlier this summer we shared ideas on good veggies to grill. Today we chatted about something neither of us have made: raspberry mousse. We weren’t sure if the raspberries were heated at all – all of this to reason out how norovirus got into raspberry mousse cakes and other baked goods that are making people sick in Canada. Not sure how many, or where. Because, you know, going public is tough.

From CFIA,

Industry is recalling various raspberry mousse cakes from the marketplace due to norovirus. Consumers should not consume and retailers, hotels, restaurants and institutions should not sell, or serve the recalled products described below.

Retailers, hotels, restaurants and institutions are advised to check the labels of raspberry mousse cakes or check with their supplier to determine if they have the affected product.

These products may also have been sold frozen or refrigerated, or clerk-served from bakery-pastry counters with or without a label or coding. Consumers who are unsure if they have purchased the affected product are advised to contact their retailer.

This recall was triggered by findings by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) during its investigation into a foodborne illness outbreak.

I figured the raspberry mousse out, most recipes are some variation of blend up a bunch of raspberries (fresh or frozen), strain them, set some gelatin, add the raspberry juice and whip. Not a whole lot of noro control.

Oh, and frozen raspberries have been linked to (as the title of this article suggests) multiple norovirus outbreaks. Including these, that were recalled in June in Quebec.


“They trust me; They don’t think I am going to poison them.”

Someone told me today that tomatoes are in. Lots of people are canning. This morning I had two friends ask me about the safety of recipes and how long they can keep the stuff they canned. During one of the conversations I got this admission ‘oh, yeah, so, I didn’t actually process the salsa, do you think that’s why I’m seeing discoloration?’

I dunno, maybe.

I stick with the evidence-based, data supported recipes that my friend Elizabeth Andress at University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation evaluates. 

Canning isn’t really a fad, but revisiting generations old techniques of food preservation is a thing right now. And it can go wrong if not carried out with safety as a focus.

That’s why regulations and enforcement exist, including making canned goods in a safe environment and having some science behind the recipe and process. Just like what a farm stand owner in NY is encountering, according to the Watertown Daily Times.

Rhonda M. Fletcher has been selling produce from her two-acre garden and canned and baked goods from her kitchen for nearly 10 years in front of her house on County Route 28.

This week an agent from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets stopped by Fletcher’s Garden Goods and told Ms. Fletcher her canned goods and baked goods had to be removed from her shelves.

Word of the action caused a bit of a firestorm among Ms. Fletcher’s friends on Facebook. Many of the posts pointed out that most farm stands, including those run by the area’s Amish population, have been selling canned goods for years without consequence.

Representatives of the Agriculture Department in response to emailed questions said there is no crackdown on farm stands.

“During an investigation of Fletcher’s Garden Goods on August 8, 2017, a Food Safety Inspector with the Department of Agriculture and Markets seized several canned foods being sold at the farm stand,” the email stated. “If processed incorrectly, these products pose a serious risk of botulism. They were also being sold without the required documentation and license. The Department provided contact information to the owner of the farm stand to assist them in acquiring the appropriate license and documentation.”

Ms. Fletcher said she was aware that her kitchen was not certified, but that she had been selling canned and baked goods to her customers, many of whom are her friends, for years.

“I understand he is doing his job. That’s his job,” Ms. Fletcher said. “I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. My clientele trust me and look forward to my stand opening every year.”

“They trust me,” she said. “They don’t think I am going to poison them.”

Fletcher’s Garden Goods remains open for business, but has only fresh produce for sale.

Ms. Fletcher said she is considering getting her kitchen certified for jams but thinks the process for getting certified for canned goods is too involved.

Following grandma’s recipe from the 1930s might be okay, or maybe following it creates the right environment for bot toxin formation. I’m wary of the amateur canned goods (because everyone’s an expert). Knowing the hazards and how to reduce risk is  what I look for in a food vendor though – and having regulators around to check protects folks.