A Hoser in North Carolina

I’m a total food safety nerd. I even use big food safety events to remember when things in my life happen.  Had I not emailed Doug in the winter of 2000 looking for an on-campus summer job at Guelph, I’m sure I wouldn’t be doing that.

The story would be a lot cooler if I had sought out Powell as a potential employer because I was interested in the stuff he did, but I didn’t. I had no idea what he did — and being a bit of an idiot, I didn’t bother to look it up. I emailed Doug on the advice of a friend, and former Powell Lab-ite, Lindsay Core. Lindsay knew I was desperately looking for a job, and didn’t tell me much else about the dude or what he filled his days with. Lindsay just said "I think you two will get along".  I didn’t really know what that meant, but really had no other prospects.  So I emailed him. And he hired me to pull news.

Pulling news meant that I surfed through the tubes of the interweb for anything food risk-y (food safety, GE crops, animal disease, etc) and the stories I found (along with the other news pullers) become the content for FSnet and the other listserv postings Doug puts together every day.  Doug’s philosophy fit in with what I was looking for — he never really cared where I was as long as I could be found with an email and that I would get something to him when he needed it.

About three weeks in, I fell in love with the content and became hooked on food safety communication. That’s when an E.coli O157 outbreak linked to Walkerton Ontario’s town water system hit. I was already interested in disease (maybe it was because of Outbreak or the Hot Zone?), but the coverage and discussion within the Powell lab around Walkerton (how the outbreak was handled and communicated to the folks drinking the water) drew me in. I knew it was time to move from molecular biology and genetics to food safety. So finding what I really liked is linked in my mind to the 2000 Walkerton outbreak.

That’s where it all started.

I equate a May 2003 trip to Dani’s graduation from Dalhousie in Halifax with the news of the first Canadian BSE case. On the way home, I saw Doug on the in-flight CBC newscast talking about how CFIA has handled things (and thought, even when I’m away from Guelph for three days Powell and food safety follow me).

In 2006 I was about to leave for a trip to Kansas to visit Doug, and begin the initial evaluation of the food safety infosheets, when the E.coli O157:H7/spinach outbreak broke. When I arrived in Manhattan it was all E.coli O157 and spinach for us. The picture that Christian created with the skull and leafy greens (right) became a signature picture amongst the food safety infosheet pilot participants. Those pilots, and conversations with Doug and Amy in their living room, evolved into video observation of food safety practices — one of the things I’ve spent the past couple of years on.

I’ll always remember 2008 for a bunch of personal things (having a kid, getting hitched, getting a position at NC State and moving to North Carolina) — and will probably equate it to Maple Leaf Foods, Listeria monocytogenes and Michael McCain (who was just named Canadian Business Newsmaker of the Year — kind of like OJ being named US Sports Newsmaker of the Year?).

In my time spent in the various incarnations of FSN/iFSN/barfblog/Powell’s lab, I’ve seen Doug’s hair catch on fire; been accosted in a hot-tub (not by him) while in Phoenix with him; got lost on a trip with him in snowy, -20C Montreal without my coat; threw up in his backyard; talked about a ridiculous amount of pop culture with him; started a company with him and Katija; translated Kiwi accents for him; and, maybe most importantly, went to see Neil Young with him.

We’ve golfed, played squash and hockey together. Each of which he beat me at, and often reminds me of it. He also likes to point out, and I never argue with him, that I owe him. I do; although it’s a bit like owing something to Tony Soprano.

There’s lots of stuff I’ve left out of the post because it’s hard to write about 8 years in 750 or so words, but through all the fun stuff and late-night emails, Doug has shown me how to create a lifestyle around food safety where working and vacations blend together.

Doug’s got lots of friends, former friends and never-friends. The ratio is probably about 1:1:1. Some food safety folks have told me that they wish he was nicer. I’m glad he’s not. His skepticism and cynicism (and sometimes lack of tact) makes him great at what he does, and have made him the perfect mentor for me.

So enough of this post being about Doug, it’s really about me. On Monday I start a faculty position in the Department of 4-H Youth Development and Family & Consumer Sciences at NC State University as food safety extension specialist.  I’m excited as I get to support extension agents throughout North Carolina; develop food safety programs to be delivered from farm-to-fork; and, conduct applied research on food safety. It doesn’t sound like a job to me. $550 for season tickets to the Hurricanes, and about three hours to Myrtle Beach are added bonuses.

Dani, Jack and I left Canada a week ago for the USA. Our furniture will arrive sometime next week, so for now we’re minimalists. We’re currently camping indoors, with only an air mattress, lawn chairs and a 42" television (I guess the TV isn’t really camping equipment, but whatever).

On Tuesday night we picked a whole chicken up at Target and decided we’d roast it, but forgot that in our equipment-less situation we didn’t have our trusty PDT 300 to take the temp. 

The juices were running clear.  The chicken was piping hot (even a bit crispy) but after I had my first couple of bites I noticed that the meat close to the center looked pretty raw.

We went and got an interim thermometer at Target yesterday.???

The Monday start date hinges on me not coming down with Campylobacter or Salmonella.

Doug sent me an email a couple of nights ago (while we were chatting about the fantastic Canada/US World Junior Hockey Tournament game) that said "you your own dude at NC State" (he’s one arm typing with Sorenne lately).  Yep. That’s true, but I wouldn’t be my own dude here if it wasn’t for him, and I’m excited to work on more great stuff together.

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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.