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.

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.

Farmers’ market peas in Green Bay linked to salmonellosis cases

When our group started working with farmers markets a few years ago we created a strong partnership with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Together, with funding from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund, we developed best practices and engage directly with market managers and vendors through workshops and on-site visits. Since 2010 the curriculum we developed has been delivered to over 1000 managers and vendors and we’ve got some data that shows it led to some infrastructure and practice changes. Since then we’ve been working with others at Virginia Tech, University of Georgia, University of Arkansas and the University of Houston to take our vendor stuff national and couple it with other materials on that colleagues have developed.

Both of these projects were a result of wanting to help protect public health – and the farmers’ markets – from outbreaks. There haven’t been many farmers’ market-linked outbreaks reported. But one popped up today.

According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, four cases of salmonellosis have been linked to shelled peas from a vendor at a couple of farmers’ markets.

Authorities believe the cases stem from consumption of peas sold at a July 22 farmers market in Green Bay, said Anna Destree, Brown County’s health officer.

County authorities are reminding people to follow proper procedures for washing and preparing vegetables, but say there is no need to panic.

“There’s no need for people to say, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t buy peas,'” Flynt said. “They just need to follow proper washing and food-handling procedures.”

Officials said any shelled peas purchased from downtown Green Bay farmers markets between July 19 and Aug. 5 should be thrown out.

Flynt did not have any word on the conditions of the county residents who were infected.

I don’t know who Flynt is, but blaming consumers isn’t a good idea. There’s no info as to whether these peas were consumed raw, whether cross-contamination was a factor – and c’mon, can someone show some data that says washing peas would be an effective risk reduction step here?

Here’s an infosheet on asking questions at farmers’ markets. Stuff like how do you keep Salmonella off of my peas.

Meal kits and food safety

I like shopping for groceries. A couple of times a week I take my youngest kid (who also likes to shop) to a variety of stores and pick up a bunch of ingredients for the next few meals. Not everyone is into pushing a cart around and fighting the masses over the best avocado enter the meal kit market. After discussing online meal kit companies on Food Safety Talk with Schaffner a couple of weeks ago, Don shot me a free week invite.

Our first Blue Apron shipment arrived Friday afternoon. I missed out on the temperature check when it arrived, Dani just said it was ‘cold.’

Don was on WRVO pubic radio talking about some of the food safety concerns with meal kits – stuff like transport temperatures, stuff delivered to the wrong address or boxes opening up.

So the meal kit companies need to consider a lot of factors, Schaffner says, in order to ensure the food being shipped remains fresh:

The perishability of the food itself
The kind of box and packing materials they ship it in
The kind of cooling device – dry ice, gel packs or regular ice
The nature of the delivery service
Clearly labeling the outside of the package that its perishable
Schaffner says it’s the food company’s responsibility to make sure its product is shipped in a way that ensures it is safe to eat upon arrival. Common shipping carriers — like UPS, FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service – don’t take responsibility for handling perishable food.

So is it safe to eat food that’s traveled via a non-refrigerated shipping truck? Schaffner says, like many other issues regarding food safety, “it’s complicated, and it depends.” Because there are so many variables, there’s really no definitive answer.

After our meal kit stuff arrived most of it ended up in our fridge for a couple of days. Yesterday I made a tasty and fairly easy cheese, pepper and olive grilled sandwich and a salad. Tonight’s challenge was a bit more involved.  Warm potato salad, marinated cucumbers and chicken cutlets – and that’s where it all fell apart for me.

The food safety instructions sucked. 

The raw chicken package had the USDA safe handling instructions to cook thoroughly. Damn. No other info, like what temperature thoroughly might be (right, exactly as shown).

I went to the step-by-step meal instructions, figuring I might see a temperature. Nope. Just cook until golden brown. And cooked through (below, exactly as shown). Damn. Nothing about cross-contamination either. A missed opportunity, but not surprising. Katrina Levine, Ashley Chaifetz and I wrote about how shitty cookbook instructions are when it comes to food safety. And we weren’t the first.

There’s lots of anecdotal conversations about how folks don’t know how to cook. Millennials and otherwise. Meal kits might make cooking easier – but won’t help with food safety.

Costco recalls cut broccoli because of E. coli O26

Non O157 STECs aren’t new but it’s still kinda notable when they pop up in recalls. The more folks look, whether buyers or suppliers are testing for them, the more folks find.

In 2015 E. coli O26 caused 60 illnesses (including 22 hospitalizations) associated with Chipotle. No source was identified, but the pathogen has been seen in both meats and produce. Today’s winner is cut broccoli.

According to a CFIA post, Costco is recalling Gold Coast brand broccoli florettes after someone found the pathogen. Or as CFIA so helpfully says, ‘This recall was triggered by the company.’

Gold Coast has a food safety page on their website. They say stuff like, ‘Microbiological Testing Program – Our new, fully equipped, in-house Microbiological Laboratory performs raw product, in process, finished product, and environmental testing.’


‘All raw and finished products are “lot coded” and can be traced back to specific suppliers, growers, ranches, fields, and plots.’

I look forward to hearing more.

These sponges go to 14

Friend of barfblog, and frequent contributor (and modeler extraordinaire), Don Schaffner writes,

I’m always interested in the way microbiology is perceived in the popular culture. When peer reviewed research articles get wide pick up, I’m especially interested. This happened recently with an article on kitchen sponges. Rob Mancini has already blogged about this right here on barfblog, but I’d like to share my thoughts and perspectives.

The fact the kitchen sponges can be massively contaminated by high levels of microorganisms is not news. This has been shown repeatedly in the peer reviewed literature.

What was apparently new in this latest article was the application of “454–pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes and fluorescence in situ hybridization coupled with confocal laser scanning microscopy (FISH–CLSM)”. And I get it. Molecular-based methods are all the rage, and the ability to visualize the presence of microorganisms is very important.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that experimental design, and proper experimental controls are important no matter what sort of science you’re doing. When I dug a little deeper into the above article I was shocked to learn that all of their conclusions were based on a sample of 14 sponges. That’s right, 14 sponges. Furthermore, the authors make claims that “sponge sanitation methods appear not sufficient to efectively reduce the bacterial load in kitchen sponges”. How did they know this? Well when they were collecting those 14 sponges they asked the sponge owners “to specify whether they regularly apply special measures to clean their sponge. The procedures mentioned were: heating in a microwave and rinsing with hot, soapy water”. Of the 14 sponges collected, in five cases the sponge owners reported applying special measures, although the authors do not which of the five used microwaving and which used rinsing with hot, soapy water.

What’s my take away message from this? By all means, go out there and use the hot new technology. But please don’t forget that sample size is very important, and while surveying people for their opinion about what they do might be convenient, it’s no substitute for actually investigating. And if I had to predict the effect of washing sponges with hot soapy water? Probably no different than washing in cold soapy water.

And if anybody out there has access to “454–pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes and fluorescence in situ hybridization coupled with confocal laser scanning microscopy (FISH–CLSM)“ and wants to collaborate, I am available.