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.

Two outbreaks? One outbreak? Two different products? Same product? Romaine?

I dunno.

I’m having trouble agreeing with the avoid-romaine-in-the-US statement from Consumer Reports. Maybe it’s the same outbreak; maybe it’s not (and CDC didn’t say a lot about whether Canadian and US cases even have the same pfge match). Could be same pathogen on different product.

Just not sure yet. And public health folks share more about uncertainty; PHAC, share any info you have on distribution of the romaine you think it is.

Go public. Share data with the people.

Salmonella in poultry is naturally occurring. But reducible. Here’s some evidence

My paper of the day is from a group USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service folks who used a massive outbreak as a baseline for a set of interventions.

Good stuff.

The paper, Intensified Sampling in Response to a Salmonella Heidelberg Outbreak Associated with Multiple Establishments Within a Single Poultry Corporation by Green and colleagues, published online today in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease shows that on-farm and processing interventions matter.

They don’t say it’s Foster Farms, but it’s uh, Foster Farms.

Salmonella percent positive declined from 19.7% to 5.3% during this timeframe as a result of regulatory and company efforts. The company noted that a multihurdle approach to reduce Salmonella in products was taken, including on-farm efforts such as environmental testing, depopulation of affected flocks, disinfection of affected houses, vaccination, and use of various interventions within the establishments over the course of several months.

Less Salmonella is not just about cooking and cross-contamination in the home or a restaurant. Reducing how much Salmonella is introduced into kitchens really matters.

Popular doesn’t mean safe

There’s lots of popular food places. They might even make great food. Doesn’t mean that they know how to do food safety.

According to Wales Online, a popular chippy (one of my favorite UK terms) received a zero on their hygiene rating. Zero isn’t good. Unless the scale is -1 to zero. But it isn’t in Wales. Environmental health folks rate businesses on a scale from zero-5. 

The Fryery, in Rumney , was ranked at number nine on hungryhouse’s list after the online food ordering platform unveiled the list as part of its annual Most Loved Takeaway awards in April. 

But an inspection on November 20 handed the shop a zero rating meaning “urgent improvement” is necessary.

The Cardiff takeaway, which is located in Newport Road, is run by Kash Amin.

Mr Amin, who started working at his family’s takeaway at the age of 11 in 1988, has continued working in and running takeaways ever since – including Victor’s in Newport . 

Mr Amin said he was unhappy with the process of food hygiene rating inspections and said he had now paid £150 to appeal the decision.

Here’s the rating, doesn’t say much about the specifics of what was wrong. I wish more jurisdictions, including Wales, posted the entire inspection. The summary leaves a lot to assumptions.

Your frozen ready-to-bake biscuits might have Listeria in/on them

We don’t have a lot of rules on barfblog. In the about us section we’ve got our mantra:

opinions must be evidence-based – with references – reliable and relevant. The barfblog authors edit each other, often viciously.

We also have adopted the Wikipedia test of is it new and notable.

Listeria leading to a recall of frozen, ready-to-bake biscuits is new. And notable.

According to a company announcement, T. Marzetti is recalling a whole bunch of partially cooked. For the folks outside of the nerd world, this means they are raw, intended to be cooked before consumption. But as we’ve told industry and regulator folks repeatedly, people don’t do what you want them to do all the time, Including cooking/heating. 

If you’ve got Listeria in your product, and you’re not sure how people really prepare it, get it out of their hands.

Don and I have talked on Food Safety Talk a bunch about the limitations of Listeria testing, including enumeration vs. presence/absence. Looking for it and finding it tells you where you are regulatory. Because the relatively hight mean infectious dose of Lm in many described outbreaks (see this excellent paper from Régis Pouillot and colleagues discussing the Blue Bell-linked Lm outbreak and dose levels for more) just finding one Lm cell in a bag has a different public health risk from 10^8 cells per biscuit. Presence/absence doesn’t help with that.

As a precautionary measure, T. Marzetti Company is voluntarily recalling all “Best By” dates of the following products that were distributed in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, because they may have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. 

No illnesses have been reported in connection with the recalled items.

This announcement applies only to the specific frozen biscuit dough products listed [here] and does not include any other items produced by T. Marzetti Company or other items under the brands listed below. 

Wait for the blame-the-consumer wording. Wait for it…

Although these products are not ready-to-eat items and have baking instructions which, if followed, will reduce consumer risk, there remains some risk that the mishandling of this product prior to or without adequate baking may cause illness

And there it is.

Sure, baking will help. What about cross-contamination and growth? A recall notice isn’t a great place to get all negative with terms like ‘if followed’ and ‘mishandling.’

Food Safety Talk 142: Silver Balls

The episode opens, as it often does with a discussion of popular culture and hockey. Listener feedback covers suggestions for rapid response training for outbreak investigations. The food safety talk focuses on Listeria and apples, as well as the ongoing Listeria outbreak in South Africa, and it’s relationship to HIV. For dessert, there is a discussion of raw milk and cookies (local New Jersey edition), topped with silver sprinkles.

Episode 142 can be found here and on iTunes.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Bringing mussels to a hospital patient isn’t a good idea

A couple of weeks ago I had a what I thought was the start of a noro nightmare: one of the 9 year-old hockey players I coach told me his stomach wasn’t feeling great. He asked to sit a shift. As I went over to check on him a couple of minutes later, he tilted his head forward and yacked through his mask on the bench. I was in the splash area, forget within the aerosolization zone.

I was lucky. No puking for me.

Norovirus is often linked to events like this, an ill food handler, or a couple of food types: shellfish or berries.

According to the Dunbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter, a couple of these sources got mixed as someone brought mussles into a hospital for a patient and the bivalves led to a bunch of other illnesses.

An outbreak of the winter vomiting bug which forced hospital bosses to ban visitors from wards was caused by someone bringing mussels in for a patient, it has emerged.

Officials have traced its spread to a visitor bringing in mussels for an inpatient at Wansbeck General Hospital in Ashington, Northumberland.

It is thought to have affected at least 180 people.

The trust said it was working hard to allow visitors in to see patients over Christmas.

Bringing in food that can cause illness in a loved one is kinda dumb. That loved one causing 180 people to get sick, is even worse.

Kansans, why are you taking rattlesnake pills

I didn’t know rattlesnake pills were a thing.

They are, and they made someone in Kansas sick with salmonellosis.

According to CDC, rattlesnake pills are often marketed as remedies for various conditions, such as cancer and HIV infection. These pills contain dehydrated rattlesnake meat ground into a powder and put into pill form.

Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicate that one person in Kansas became sick after taking rattlesnake pills purchased in Mexico. The ill person reported taking rattlesnake pills in the week before getting sick. Advanced laboratory testing called whole genome sequencing showed that the Salmonella that made the person sick matched the Salmonellafound in rattlesnake pills from Mexico collected in an earlier, unrelated investigation.

48 million cases of foodborne illness a year; most are not linked to foul play

Foodborne illness happens. It sucks when it does.

It’s pretty much never intentional; not never, but rare.

In 1986, two Rajneeshee commune mem­bers were indicted for conspiring to tamper with consumer products by poi­soning food after over 750 community members in The Dalles, Oregon became ill with salmonellosis in 1982.

It sucks that twelve Alabamans ended up with what looks like foodborne illness after a holiday party this week. It’s weird that the Montgomery Advertiser coverage twice says that the cases probably weren’t as result of intentional contamination.

No foul play is suspected, and it looks like it is a case of accidental food poisoning, said Capt. Jeff Hassell, who commands the Prattville Police Department’s investigations division. Kinedyne Corporation, which operates a plant in the 1100 block of Washington Ferry Road, held its holiday lunch Friday. About an hour after eating, several employees complained of feeling sick, Hassell said.

Three employees were taken by ambulance to Prattville Baptist Hospital’s emergency room, with a fourth employee going by private vehicle, said Ernie Baggett, director of the Autauga County Emergency Management Agency. 

“We are investigating because it is an unusual situation, so many people becoming sick so quickly,” Hassell said. “Right now, we have nothing to point to an intentional act. We are looking at improperly cooked chicken as the most likely source for a food poisoning situation.”

“It was a pot luck dinner,” Baggett said. “No one became seriously ill, but a few employees wanted to go to the hospital just to get checked out.


Wash your bagged lettuce? I don’t. Here’s why.

The coverage of an outbreak usually follows a familiar story arc – people get sick; additional illnesses roll in as the investigation unfolds; media shares what people can do with the product to protect themselves and finally, sometimes a source is fingered.

In Canada’s lettuce-linked E. coli O157 outbreak, we’re in phase three – what can you do?

One challenge in answering that question is the Public Health Agency of Canada hasn’t released (or doesn’t know) exactly what types of romaine lettuce are linked – and whether it’s sold as a head, or chopped (like in a salad kit). The ‘what can you do?’ is influenced by that.

According to Global News, one of the risk management steps a home chef could employ is washing the lettuce. Even if its washed, bagged and ready-to-eat.

Jason Tetro, a visiting scientist at the University of Guelph in Ontario, explained that the bacteria is typically not found in produce such as lettuce. Instead, it’s in the water that’s used to irrigate produce on farms. For example, he said the water from a nearby river could be contaminated with manure from cows on the farm.

But Tetro explained that if lettuce is properly washed, it can minimize the risk of contamination.

“If you are buying lettuce, romaine or otherwise, make sure each leaf is given a good washing under warm to hot water,” he advised.

Using “friction,” or rubbing the leaves with hands, is one way of making sure any bacteria is washed off.

Does pre-washed lettuce need to be rinsed?

The shorter answer, according to Tetro, is yes.

“Let’s put it this way, did you see the person who washed it? No,” he said, explaining that consumers can never be too sure of how the produce was cleaned.

“It’s much better for your own safety that you do something yourself.”

I disagree when it comes to prewashed bagged lettuce from a regulated processor who’s managing food safety, because of what these folks wrote:

Recommendations for Handling Fresh-cut Leafy Green Salads by Consumers and Retail Foodservice Operators
Mary S. Palumbo, James R. Gorny, David E. Gombas, Larry R. Beuchat, Christine M. Bruhn, Barbara Cassens, Pascal Delaquis, Jeffrey M. Farber, Linda J. Harris, Keith Itoto, Michael T. Osterholm, Michelle Smith, Katherine M.J. Swanson
Biblographic citation: Food Protection Trends, vol. 27, no. 11, pp. 892-898, Nov 2007
Volume 27, Issue 11: Pages 892–898

A panel of scientists with expertise in microbial safety of fresh produce was convened to review recent research and re-evaluate guidelines for foodservice and restaurant operators, regulatory agencies with oversight over food facilities, and consumers for handling prewashed bagged salads. The guidelines developed by the panel, together with materials reviewed by the panel to develop the guidelines, are presented. The background materials reviewed include published research and recent recommendations made by other authoritative sources. The panel concluded that leafy green salad in sealed bags labeled “washed” or “ready-to-eat” that are produced in a facility inspected by a regulatory authority and operated under cGMPs, does not need additional washing at the time of use unless specifically directed on the label. The panel also advised that additional washing of ready-to-eat green salads is not likely to enhance safety. The risk of cross contamination from food handlers and food contact surfaces used during washing may outweigh any safety benefit that further washing may confer.


South African grocers urged to test food for Listeria. Not sure that would do much for public health

According to MSN, as a result of the massive, unsourced, outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa, folks have been asking retailers to test their food before selling it.

Following the announcement of an outbreak of listeria in South Africa, there are now calls for supermarkets to test their food for the bacteria before it’s sold to customers.

AfriForum’s Marcus Pawson says restaurants should also take the necessary precautions.

“These big chain stores must do this themselves while we wait for government to come up with a plan to ensure that South Africans are safe.”

Maybe there’s something lost in the scientific translation, but as lots of folks have mentioned in the past, you can’t test your way to safe food. Good epidemiology and a matching active food surveillance program is what’s really needed. Test and hold, not sure what that will really accomplish, public health-wise.