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.

This one is weird, 21 boxes: Salmonella causes limited Cap’n Crunch cereal recall

I’ve seen a lot of recalls, this is the first time I remember seeing only 21 boxes distributed to five specific stores. I’d like to know the back story on this one (maybe some avid barfblog readers can help).

The Quaker Oats Company, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, Inc., today announced a voluntary recall of a small quantity of Cap’n Crunch’s Peanut Butter Crunch cereal due to the potential presence of Salmonella. While the potentially affected product only reached five specific Target stores and is limited to 21 boxes of one variety with two Best Before Dates, Quaker is initiating the voluntary recall to protect public health.

The recall was initiated as the result of a routine sampling program by the company, which revealed the finished product may contain bacteria.

The product being recalled was distributed in limited quantities only to the five Target stores listed below. This recall only includes 21 outstanding boxes purchased after Nov 5.

This is some Willy Wonka golden ticket type stuff. I wonder if this was a market withdrawal that happened, except all but 21 boxes were pulled before sales. On the shelf quick, than off the shelf. Except for 21.


Posting restaurant grades is a good thing; does it make food safer? It’s hard to tell

I’ve long been a fan of posting restaurant inspection scores, grades, happy faces, whatever. The philosophy I subscribe to is that the inspection work is done with public money and the public should have access to the results. Whether the info is posted on the door, or a website, it should be accessible.

For a while lots of folks have wondered whether the posting matters, public health wise. I want to believe it does, but I’m still not sure.

The biggest issue in real life experimentation and hypotheses is that there are lots of other factors that could lead to an outcome. And if the outcome you’re looking for is reduction in Salmonella illnesses, you likely can find it if you look. Like Melanie Firestone and Craig Hedberg did in their EID paper that was released this week.

But I’m not convinced that less Salmonella was a result posting grades alone. And I don’t think they are either, since Firestone and Hedberg  highlight the other factors in their limitations:

First, this was a quasiexperimental, ecologic study that represents an association and not a causal relationship. Second, the NYC restaurant letter grade program involved multiple changes to sanitation enforcement in addition to letter grade posting; changes included inspection frequency, greater risk for fines, improvements to online resources, and additional training opportunities.. As a result, we could not determine which factors contributed the most to the reduction in Salmonella infections.

It’s good stuff, we need more data on these things. Posting grades is good, and absolutely should be done. So is increasing consequences and oversight – but how much each factor matters is still unknown. And what about other pathogens like norovirus and pathogenic E. coli?

FDA warns of honey-filled pacifiers after links to 4 cases of infant botulism

Tragic stories around infant botulism have popped up over the past couple of years and, as a dad, reading them is like a gut-punch.

In 2011, infant Amanda Zakrzewski was diagnosed with infant botulism and had to undergo 9 days of antitoxin treatment in hospital. Amanda wouldn’t eat, her eyes glassed over and she wasn’t able to suckle due to the paralysis the botulinum outgrowth caused. The result was months of rehab.

Also in 2011, 16-week-old Logan Douglas was temporarily blinded and paralyzed from infant botulism. He fully recovered after six months, but at one point the illness was so severe that doctors had discussed turning off life support systems as the toxin was attacking his body.

Logan’s illness was linked to honey that his pacifier was dipped into.

Kinda like the four infants from Texas whom FDA says have acquired the terrible illness from pacifiers filled with honey.

The FDA is reminding parents and caregivers not to give honey to infants or children younger than one year of age. This includes pacifiers filled with or dipped in honey.

The FDA has received reports from the state of Texas that four infants have been hospitalized with botulism. All four infants had used pacifiers containing honey. These pacifiers were purchased in Mexico, but similar products also appear to be available in the U.S. through online retailers.

Lets get the food safety science right at Thanksgiving

I’ve written before that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. A mid-week day off (which often stretches to a whole week of food, football and hanging out) is the way to go.
My parents make their annual pilgrimage from Southern Ontario to take in the whole turkey week Black Friday festivities as well.
The week also provides a really great opportunity to take food safety pictures (right, exactly as shown) and talk food safety stuff. The yearly blitz of holiday interviews have started – and so has Dr. Bob, suburban Chicago columnist.
A valiant effort at tackling food safety in the holidays, Dr. Bob misses the mark with a few things:
He starts with,
Emergency rooms across the state and nation are gearing up for a busy week following the Thanksgiving holiday. Unfortunately, many family get-togethers will spread more misery than joy. And I am not speaking of those troublesome individuals that exist in all families that drive many of us to contemplate violent acts. Rather, I am alluding to seasonal foodborne illnesses, which will put a quick end to the Thanksgiving holiday for tens of thousands of families nationwide and several hundred here in our own state.
That’s a great lede – but show your work here Dr. Bob, tens of thousands of hospitalizations might be an over reach here – even if we evenly divide the estimated 128,000 hospitalizations a year we get to a weekly average of 2,500 – I don’t think there’s data to show that Thanksgiving is a 5x or 10x riskier time of the year.
More from the good doctor,
Foodborne illnesses fall into two general categories: intoxication and infection. Foodborne intoxication is caused by ingestion of foods that contain a toxin that may be naturally present in the food, introduced by contamination with poisonous chemicals, or produced by bacteria or fungi growing on foods. Toxins may also be present in some fish and shellfish that have consumed toxin-producing algae. Examples can include contamination with cleaning agents, pesticides and herbicides as well as heavy metals.
Uh, I’m a bit lost – are we talking food borne illness or other stuff now.
Here’s the best though,
It is a well-accepted fact that 100 percent of poultry products are contaminated with salmonella. You read right, 100 percent of the Thanksgiving turkeys carry salmonella. It is only the cooking to proper temperatures and the avoidance of cross contamination that stands between health and sickness.
Not quite, FSIS actually does a great job in reporting contamination levels of Salmonella in poultry, and shows that in turkey contamination is much lower (like only 1.7% positive in turkey). And campy is around the same.
I’m all for talking about food safety and risk reduction and using the holidays as a hook – but lets get the numbers right, avoid the fake news, and give people real risk information.

Food Safety Talk 169: Panel of Plonkers

The episode starts with a quick discussion of books the guys are planning on reading this week, and a book that arrived mysteriously at the offices of many other food safety folks (including Don and Ben). The food safety discussion goes to a story of a Chicago bus driver pooping on his bus and trying to clean it up with the contents of a coffee cup; Don and Ben chat about the pros and cons of this approach. The guys tackle the safety of storing breast milk, pickling eggs in miso, and what levels of contamination may have led the Romaine-linked E. coli O157 outbreak earlier this year. The show ends on raw flour, TTIs (not STIs) and raw chicken thingies.

You can download episode 169 here and at iTunes.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Happy birthday Sam, no, you can’t eat the batter

My youngest kid is 8 today. He’s the funniest, cutest and most charming of any of us.

And he knows it.

He pretty much gets away with everything. Last year during the annual parent/teacher conference his teacher told us, sure, he talks all the time, he distracts other kids, but how can you discipline him? ‘He’s Sam’.

Today, this budding mite hockey player has practice, donuts with his teammates and then we’e going home for pizza and cake.

As Dani was making the cake earlier today I checked to see whether it was Duncan Hines. Although we’ve long outlawed eating cookie dough and licking the mixing bowl in our house, I still didn’t want to use the stuff that was recalled yesterday after being linked to five cases of Salmonella Agbeni.

From FDA’s website:

The FDA is investigating the manufacturing facility that made recalled Duncan Hines cake mixes.

FDA and the CDC informed Conagra Brands that a sample of Duncan Hines Classic White Cake Mix that contained Salmonella Agbeni matched the Salmonella collected from ill persons reported to the CDC. This was determined through Whole Genome Sequencing, a type of DNA analysis.

Based on this information, Conagra Brands is working with FDA to proactively conduct a voluntary recall of Duncan Hines cake mixes from the market. The FDA is conducting an inspection at the Conagra Brands-owned manufacturing facility that produced the cake mixes. The FDA is also collecting environmental and product samples.


Consumers should not bake with or eat the recalled product. Additionally, consumers should not eat uncooked batter, flour, or cake mix powder.

Salmonella in low moisture foods continues to be an issue. As the Salmonella dries out it gets hardier and survives for months (or longer). Flour (if that’s the source) comes from dried wheat that’s milled and not heat treated (because it messes with the gluten. Salmonella or E. coli from wheat fields can make it to cake batter fairly easily.

Food Safety Talk 168: Washed Up in Big Soap

The show opens with a brief tutorial on Wi-Fi signals and how to block them. The show quickly turns to hockey, and Don’s recent appearance on another podcast, before getting in to food safety quickly with a report from Deep Albany, and effective ways to prevent cross-contamination in sandwich shops. The guys reflect on some of the food safety greats they’ve met in the past, before Ben provides his regular segment on Canadian cuisine. Don talks a little bit about a great idea for a food safety tool he was once given. In a different twist on food safety, the guys talk about copper toxicity, and the dangers of making foods with ingredients sourced from the Internet. The show wraps with some listener feedback on a variety of topics. In the After Dark the guys talk about books they are reading, Ben’s new favorite band and Don’s selection for the alphabetically listed 50 most quoted Rutgers experts in the news.

You can check out the episode on iTunes or here.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Schaffner in Consumer Reports: ‘you have to recall the whole burrito.’

When a common ingredient used in a bunch of ready-to-eat foods is recalled things snowball. One recall announcement turns quickly into multiple and leads to larger questions about overall systems.

Or as Don told Consumer Reports last week, ‘It’s the nature of our complex food system today. If a potentially contaminated bit of onion gets used in a burrito,’ he explains, ‘you have to recall the whole burrito.’

Since Oct. 16, there have been at least 13 recalls of ready-made foods, such as salads, sandwiches, wraps, pizza, and burritos, due to potential salmonella and listeriacontamination. All of these foods have been traced back to a single plant owned by McCain Foods, in Colton, Calif., which processes, cooks, and freezes vegetables for distribution to other food producers.

To date, almost 4 million pounds of food sold under many different brand names have been recalled, and the Food and Drug Administration says more recalled products may still be announced.

All of the products involved are now past their expiration dates, so they shouldn’t be on store shelves. In addition, according to a spokesperson from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS): “FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks … to verify [that] recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers.” (In this case, “customers” refers to food companies that purchase vegetables from McCain.)

The FDA notes that some of the recalled products require cooking, which could potentially kill dangerous pathogens. However, many of the recalled items are considered “ready-to-eat” or RTE.

And that makes them risky, says James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports. Even if the product was intended for cooking at home, different food items need to be heated to different temperatures to guarantee bacteria will be killed. Consumers may not always know to heat the product thoroughly.

Additionally, Rogers notes that handling products that contain foodborne pathogens—even if heated thoroughly—could contaminate anything they come into contact with, like your hands. The safest bet is to throw them out.


Pathogenic E. coli illnesses linked to visiting animal exhibits/interactions

A couple of weeks ago the NC State Fair wrapped up. I’ve documented my home food preservation involvement, but fairs often include lots of animal/person interaction too.

And zoonoses risks comes with the territory. There are lots and lots of petting zoo, fair, animal exhibit illnesses and outbreaks. Here’s a spreadsheet with some highlights. 

Public health folks in Utah are investigating a bunch of illnesses that look like they are linked to visiting these interaction exhibits:

Utah public health officials are investigating an increase in Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) infections across the state. While the source of these infections has not been identified, several ill individuals reported visiting petting zoos, corn mazes, and farms.

Since October 1, 2018, 20 cases of STEC have been reported along the Wasatch Front and in the Central and Southwestern regions of Utah. Cases range in age from 10 months to 71 years old. Eleven cases are younger than 18. Six people were hospitalized and no deaths have been reported. “For the past five years, Utah has averaged about 13 cases of STEC during the month of October,” said Kenneth Davis, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH). “An average of 113 STEC cases and 25 hospitalizations are reported each year in Utah. This increase in October is higher than normally expected,” said Davis. UDOH is working with Utah’s local health departments to investigate the illnesses and determine the source of infection.

A 2015 MMWR article showed a lot of the disease risk stuff needs to be taken care of before with good planning and procedures.  Yeah, hand washing matters, but so does not letting kids bring lunch/snacks into a contaminated environment.

Or serving food directly in the barn to a 1,000 kids.

According to Curren et al.,

During April 20–June 1, 2015, 60 cases (25 confirmed and 35 probable) were identified (Figure). Eleven (18%) patients were hospitalized, and six (10%) developed hemolytic uremic syndrome. No deaths occurred. Forty primary cases were identified in 35 first-graders, three high school students, one parent, and one teacher who attended the event. Twenty secondary cases were identified in 14 siblings, four caretakers, and two cousins of attendees.
Food was served inside the barn to adolescents who set up and broke down the event on April 20 and April 24. During April 21–23 approximately 1,000 first-grade students attended the event, which included various activities related to farming.
Animals, including cattle, had been exhibited in the barn during previous events. Before the dairy education event, tractors, scrapers, and leaf blowers were used to move manure to a bunker at the north end of the barn. Environmental samples collected in this area yielded E. coli O157:H7 PFGE patterns indistinguishable from the outbreak strains.
Although it might not be possible to completely disinfect barns and areas where animals have been kept, standard procedures for cleaning, disinfection, and facility design should be adopted to minimize the risk for exposure to pathogens (1). These environments should be considered contaminated and should not be located in areas where food and beverages are served. Hands should always be washed with soap and clean running water, and dried with clean towels immediately upon exiting areas containing animals or where animals have been kept previously, after removing soiled clothing or shoes, and before eating or drinking. Event organizers can refer to published recommendations for preventing disease associated with animals in public settings.

Here’s a set of guidelines we came up with for folks to use when choosing whether to take a trip to these animal events. (from: G. Erdozain , K. KuKanich , B. Chapman  and D. Powell. 2015. Best practices for planning events encouraging human-animal interactions. Zoonoses and Public Health 62:90-99).