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.

Missing the boat on food safety messages in cookbooks: redux

From the food-safety-in-popular-culture files comes the paper that keeps on giving. Katrina Levine and I both chronicled our experiences around our British Food Journal paper exploring the food safety messages in cookbooks.

I’m still being asked by friends whether Gwyneth and I are on speaking terms (we would be, and I’d point her and her Goop towards science and data); the print version of the paper was published last week (abstract updated with page numbers and stuff here).

And Huffington Post Australia, always current, picked up the story yesterday.

Researchers analyzed 1,497 recipes from 29 cookbooks that appeared on New York Times bestseller lists in 2013 and 2014. Recipes were considered “correct” if they noted the proper endpoint temperature for a meat or animal product, per guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. About 92 percent of recipes didn’t note a temperature at all. Some recommended other ways of measuring doneness, like cooking meat until its juices run clear or until it turns a certain color. Since these methods aren’t reliable, the study considered those recipes “incorrect.”

Some cookbooks offered both good and bad cooking advice, the study’s senior author Benjamin Chapman told The Huffington Post. For example, one recipe in Paltrow’s cookbook It’s All Good noted a correct endpoint temperature, but also instructed readers to wash poultry before cooking it ― a practice that can spread bacteria around the kitchen and is warned against by the USDA and other experts.

Celebrity cookbook authors should include safe cooking temperatures in their recipes more often, he added.

“We have the ability to list a science-backed indicator,” Chapman said. “And we’re missing the boat.”

The boat cliche seemed appropriate at the time. Me and the boys had just finished watching Showtime’s, The Beach Boys: Making Pet Sounds, and I was thinking of Sloop John B.


Bot cluster linked to California gas station

Botulism is no joke. The threat of bot toxins binding to nerve endings and blocking muscle contractions scares me.

A small bit of toxin means no more hockey, no catch with my kids and months of rehab. That’s why I find it so scary.

There’s usually less than a couple of hundred cases annually in the US. And not much foodborne. In the past week we’ve seen dried deer antler tea-linked to two illnesses – and now a California gas station looks to be the source of another outbreak, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Sacramento County Public Health officials are investigating a botulism outbreak after several people who ate prepared food from the Valley Oak Food and Fuel gas station in Walnut Grove contracted the possibly fatal form of food poisoning.

County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said five cases are under investigation and the affected people are in serious condition at local hospitals. Four of the five confirmed they’d eaten prepared food from the gas station. Kasirye said the county wants to ensure that anyone who has eaten at the gas station since April 23 and is experiencing botulism symptoms receives immediate medical attention.

Unknown are the linked foods – and what the type toxin it is (because that may be a clue). I usually stick to candy bars and gum at gas stations.

Rob Mancini: Why do folks insist on providing bad food safety advice?

Our resident non-aging television personality and food safety dude, Rob Mancini, writes

Inside Edition’s Chief Investigative Correspondent and food safety expert knocked on the doors of random homes in Los Angeles to conduct surprise kitchen inspections. Homes were graded as either A (good) to C (bad).

They also provided food safety tips for homeowners.

In 2005, as part of my show, Kitchen Crimes for the Food Network (Canada) and HGTV (US), we looked at food safety in residential homes in Canada  and found some pretty incredible things.

While I appreciate the concept of a food safety expert going into peoples’ homes and inspecting for food violations, I’m not sure if I agree with their tips.

Tips below:

1. Check cutting boards for grooves from your knives. Those small crevices can house some dangerous bacteria. If you see grooves, throw it out.

2. To prevent cross-contamination, store raw meat, fish and poultry on the bottom shelf of your fridge, below your prepared and ready-to-eat food.

3. Store food in plastic containers with tight lids or wrap tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil to keep out bacteria, both in and out of the refrigerator.

4. Even a dishwasher gets dirty. Keep your dishwasher clean and free of food particles by wiping it down with distilled bleach and occasionally run an empty load with bleach instead of dish soap.

5. Set aside one day of the month to check expiration dates, especially meat, seafood, produce, eggs and dairy – expired foods can contaminate your safe food.

6. After preparing a meal, especially meat, wipe down surfaces with distilled bleach.

7. Regularly empty your refrigerator and wipe down the surfaces with distilled bleach – especially those lower shelves where you store your meats.

When Powell sent me this article last night, one of the first things I did this morning was pass along these tips to some of my fellow homeowner friends to get their thoughts. First thing out of their mouths was “What….distilled bleach, what is a homeowner going to do with this tip?? What does this even mean?  Do I need to wear gloves?  Do I dilute it?”

Precisely… bad food safety tip.  Kinda’ like using the term piping hot for internal food temperatures. Do not use distilled bleach, scrub your food contact surfaces with soap and water and rinse. The trick is to use friction when cleaning to dislodge bacteria and other like organisms off the surface. If you are adamant on using a sanitizer, try vinegar, worked for our ancestors.

Now onto cutting boards, every cutting board has grooves and even if they don’t, bacteria can still be embedded in some sort of fashion. Bacteria are small and even a freshly planed cutting board, whether it is plastic or wood, is not perfectly smooth under a microscope and will cause entrapment.

O. Pete Synder evaluated 3 types of cutting boards, a hard maple cutting board, plastic cutting board, and a stainless steel surface. In his study he found that rinsing a cutting board with a solution of 1 part 5% vinegar to 4 parts water was a more effective sanitizer than using a quaternary ammonium compound solution for removing aerobic bacteria from a food contact surface (1).

ENOUGH WITH THE DISTILLED BLEACH ALREADY, if they are advocating for the use of chlorine, please quantify. Keep in mind, this is not a restaurant and homeowners are not likely to have chlorine test strips to test their solution concentration causing a myriad of other concerns.

Do not pour bleach into your residential dishwasher as this will lead to corrosion of pipes and may damage the machine. If you see residual food particles left after a cycle, this is an indication that your dishwasher is probably working well. Not a food safety concern and bleach will only ruin your machine.

No mention of dishcloths or scrub pads. Results from show have shown that your ordinary dishcloth, scrub pads, and kitchen sinks are the dirtiest things in your kitchen.

Maybe it’s time for a Kitchen Crimes US Edition.

1.     O. Peter Snyder, Jr., Ph.D. 1997.The Microbiology Of Cleaning And Sanitizing A Cutting Board. Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management.

A parent’s nightmare: criminal investigation into infant death ruled natural, due to acute salmonellosis

This is tragic stuff. Five month old Tyler Wilson dies from salmonellosis and parents also deal with the added nightmare of a public inquest. These are the real names and faces of food safety.

Lindsey Wilson and Tim Lees suffered every parents’ worst nightmare after discovering five-month-old Tyler Wilson unresponsive.

Tyler suffered no symptoms but on the morning of November 25, 2014, he was discovered unresponsive by mum Lindsey as she was changing his nappy.

Scan for James Campbell:
Tyler Wilson, five months, who died of a salmonella infection

The panic-stricken parents ran out of their home in Ventnor Street, off Newland Avenue in west Hull, screaming for help.


At a Hull inquest on Wednesday, senior coroner Professor Paul Marks ruled Tyler died of natural causes.

The ruling concludes more than two years of hell for the couple who were the subject of a criminal investigation.


Mancini speaks: Central Atlantic States Association of Food and Drug Officials 101 Annual Educational and Training Seminar

Our resident non-aging television personality and food safety dude, Rob Mancini, writes that he’ll be speaking at the CASA Educational Conference on May 2nd, 2017 in Saratoga Springs, NY regarding his research on alternate modes of food safety training.

The importance of training food handlers is critical to effective food hygiene; however, there have been limited studies on the effectiveness of such training.

Food safety training courses are administered worldwide in attempts to reduce outbreaks in food service, retail and temporary food service establishments. However, food handlers often exhibit a poor understanding of microbial or chemical contamination of food and the measures necessary to correct them.

Studies suggest that the provision of a hands-on format of training would be more beneficial than traditional classroom-based programs. The delivery of such a program may assist in changing ones’ food safety behaviours and aid in the retention of knowledge that are necessary to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness.

Golf ball parts in McCain’s frozen potatoes

When I was a kid my family used to spend a couple of weeks on Canada’s east coast every summer. My aunt, uncle and cousins lived in Halifax, we lived in Toronto and a few times we met for a week of cold water beaches, mussels, Anne of Green Gables, and golf on Prince Edward Island.

We rented an old farm house set back from the road a couple of hundred yards. I know the rough distance because I spent a lot of time driving golf balls from in front of the porch towards the road.

Over a field. I don’t think it was potatoes. Maybe it is now. Maybe that’s what lots of people in PEI do over potato fields.

Today, McCain foods recalled some frozen potato products because there might be golf ball parts in them.

McCain Foods USA, Inc. announced today it is voluntarily recalling retail, frozen hash brown products that may be contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials, that despite our stringent supply standards may have been inadvertently harvested with potatoes used to make this product.



This is a new one.

Food Safety Talk 124: Talking about Mike Scorpion

This episode starts with a chat about the need for butter refrigeration, bats and scorpions in leafy greens (oh my).  The guys briefly celebrate Ben’s birthday before talking about risk attribution, and yet another hot take on the 5 second rule, eating insects on purpose, and “food safety” tips from the internet. They make two book recommendations before talking about rat lungworm and other disgusting things.  The show wraps with an example of doing food safety right, and breaking news about doing food safety wrong before a brief dip into pop culture.

Bats in salad is yuck factor stuff; actual illnesses end up lost

I don’t know exactly when the barfblog risk factor vs. yuck factor thing was coined, but it’s been a running theme for over a decade. The concept is that stuff that grosses some people out (like this 3-year old’s poop party) garners more attention than the stuff that actually makes people sick.

There’s literature out that that shows that individuals are likely to perceive a situation or product as unsafe if it appears dirty, gross, or yucky, regardless of whether or not there is an actual food safety risk.

Many food safety regulatory systems, at national and local levels, employ a risk-based standard and inspection process grounded in both epidemiological and scientific evidence for monitoring and addressing food safety from farm-to-fork.

Risk and yuck get confusing.

Like bats and scorpions in bagged salad are a bigger deal for the mere mortals like the hockey parents I hang out with than actual outbreaks (like this one). Finding something that’s gross, and isn’t expected, garners a stronger media reaction than seven cases of E. coli O157.

Lots of folks I’ve talked to over the past couple of days want to know why there are suddenly more of these weird animals-in-food events (there aren’t) and how it happens.

We’ve seen stuff like this before:

Frog found in bag of Aussie salad

‘Why have I a soggy fishcake on my plate?’ Tesco customers’ horror as they find dead bird in salad during meal

And rats.

It’s possible that the mechanical harvesting could pick something like this up and it makes it through the quality control steps (see this video of what a salad mix mechanical harvester looks like beginning at 1:17)

The washing, sorting line is a place for quality control to happen (and here’s another video about that process), but it doesn’t surprise me that small animals make it through (and these events seem really rare)

As for risk, animals can carry human pathogens. As with any fresh produce item, there’s not a cook step (usually), so the potential for these extra critters (and their feces or body parts) to carry something like Salmonella is there. But the exposure chance is pretty low. Once discovered, I don’t know if many folks will eat around the animals once discovered.

Folks might benefit from targeted information about yuck versus epidemiologically-driven food safety risks. Not just the home chefs, but the industry and government risk managers that have to explain where their food safety priorities lie – and how stuff – like bats – slip through the cracks.

Behavioral theory stuff, like food safety, isn’t simple

Food safety and public health folks are pretty good at writing proposals and getting funds to do research and usually because of a funder’s requirement to take something to the people, add on some component outreach throwaway activity to make something. Usually it is a brochure, or posters, or a website where the outputs of research are shared.

And they often suck. Because folks who are good at one type of research may forget that there are other disciplines where data gets generated on what works and why.

At one of my first IAFP meetings over a decade ago I sat through a 3-hour session of cleaning and sanitation in processing environments and each speaker ended their talk with the same type of message we all need to edumacate better. And no one mentioned evaluation.

There’s about 10,000 papers in the adult education, behavioral science and preventive health world that set the stage on how to actually make communication and education interventions that might work – many are based on behavioral theory – the kind of thing that comes from, experiments, data, critique, disagreement, repetition and replication.

The literature has some common tenants: know thy audience; have an objective; base your message on some sort of evidence; ground the approach in theory and evaluate.

A particular favorite of mine is the Integrated Behavioral Model. It takes the Theory of Planned Behavior, adds some bells and whistles and gives something for folks to base their materials on. It’s not simple.

The good stuff rarely is.

Today we picked up something in our feeds coming from a public health group in the UK, that says making good intervention are easy. They even have a fun name for it, the EAST framework (which stands for Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely).

The first principle of the EAST framework is to make the desired behaviour easy. Small food businesses can help make healthier eating easier by:

Harnessing defaults
We have a tendency to stick with the status quo or the pre-set option. For this reason ensuring the healthiest option is the default option is a powerful tool for changing consumption behaviour. The healthier default, for example, could be offering a food item like a default side-salad instead of chips, or it could be a default portion size, like a small coffee as the default rather than a large size.

Decreasing the ‘hassle factor’
We can be deterred from a behaviour by seemingly small barriers. Decreasing the hassle factor by, for example, placing healthier drinks at the front of the fridge and sugar sweetened beverages at the back may prompt people to select the healthier option.

Utilising substitution
It is easier for us to substitute a similar behaviour than to eliminate an entrenched one. For this reason, reformulation of products (such as cooking food in rapeseed oil, making fatter chips or using low-fat spread) allows customers to engage in similar behaviours (still buying chips) but for the behaviour to be healthier.

Sounds easy. Lets see it in practice. And evaluate it.