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.

Texas Environmental Health Association and Austin

There are exactly five cities I could live in. Portland, Madison, Toronto, Raleigh.

And Austin.

I grew up in one of these, and currently live in another.

The only problem with Austin is a lack of hockey. 

Today I gave a talk to the Texas Environmental Health Association about a bunch of food safety stuff. Got to catch up with old friends and tell folks about some of the fun things we’re working on.

Also got to eat some brisket, listen to good music and drink some Texas beer.

Good times.

Food Safety Talk 135: This is a podcast

Don and Ben are on the road, talking to some of the best folks in the food safety world at the NEHA Region 4 conference/FDA Central Region retail food protection seminar in Minneapolis. This recording was an experiment, the first Food Safety Talk recorded in front of a live, non-studio audience. Topics included raw milk, hepatitis A, listener feedback on liquid nitrogen, our favorite Bond movies and least favorite pathogens.

Episode 135 can be found here and on iTunes.

 

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Hepatitis A transmission: Door knob edition

There’s a lot of hepatitis A going around in Southern California. With an outbreak going through the homeless population in a couple of counties and potential exposure of fruit cart patrons, there’s lots of paranoia.

The San Diego Tribune asks, can you get hep A from a door knob (this outbreak’s version of a toilet seat can give you HIV). My friend, colleague, and virologist extraordinaire, Lee-Ann Jaykus answers the call:

Lee-Ann Jaykus, a microbiologist at North Carolina State University who specializes in hepatitis and other types of food-borne illness, said that, while it is definitely possible for this bug to linger on a surface — maybe for weeks — it’s not likely.

She noted that only one activity is known to spread a hepatitis A infection: Accidentally ingesting a tiny amount of an infected person’s feces.

Even though this microbe is tough enough to live on surfaces for extended periods, it would take quite a large amount of material, she said, to actually have a transfer occur.
“It’s not impossible, but the chances are very slim. You would need people walking around with a lot of poop on their hands all of the time to be causing a problem in the general population,” Jaykus said.

Research shows that the chance of transference decreases with each thing that person touches after their hands are contaminated, she said. And dry surfaces tend to be less prone to collecting and holding substances than wet surfaces.

So, an infected food service worker who does not adequately wash his or her hands after going to the bathroom is more likely to transfer the illness to a moist, cold piece of lettuce while building your burger than a homeless person is to leave behind a significant contamination on the door handle of a downtown restaurant.

In all cases, Jaykus added, the bit of bad stuff would have to make it into your mouth. So, in the context of public transportation, just don’t lick anything at your local bus stop and wash your hands before putting them near your mouth. You should be just fine.

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: