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.
Last night I was watching the Toronto Raptors play in their first NBA finals so I missed my annual viewing of the Scripps Spelling Bee. I’ve been hooked on the spelling drama since watching Spellbound in 2002.
Campylobacter was one of the words in this year’s competition. One of my food safety nerd friends sent me the below screenshot from Instagram.
I used to be a lick-the-batter-off-the-spoon kind of guy. I stopped doing that a few years ago. I don’t eat raw cookie dough, or let my kids eat it. I’m probably not the most fun dad, but outbreaks like what is going on right now is why.
Courtesy of the Safe Plates Information Center and NC State Extension
As of May 24, 2019, 17 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O26 have been reported from 8 states. A list of the states and the number of cases in each can be found on the Map of Reported Cases page.
Illnesses started on dates ranging from December 11, 2018 to April 18, 2019. Ill people range in age from 7 to 86 years, with a median age of 23. Sixty-five percent of ill people are female. Of 17 people with information available, 3 have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
In interviews, ill people answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures in the week before they became ill. Of seven people who were interviewed, four (57%) reported eating, licking, or tasting raw, homemade dough or batter. Two people with detailed information reported eating raw dough or batter made with flour or baking mixes from ALDI.
Investigators with the Rhode Island Department of Health collected records and flour samples at a bakery where an ill person reported eating raw dough. Records indicated that the bakery used Baker’s Corner All Purpose Flour from ALDI. The outbreak strain was isolated from an unopened bag of Baker’s Corner All Purpose Flour collected at the bakery.
WGS results showed that the E. coli O26 strain identified in the Baker’s Corner All Purpose Flour sample was closely related genetically to the E. coli O26 strain identified in ill people. These results provide additional evidence that people in this outbreak got sick from eating flour.
On May 23, 2019, ADM Milling Co. and Aldi recalled pdf icon[PDF – 142 KB]external icon 5 lb. bags of Baker’s Corner All Purpose Flour sold at retail locations in the following states because they may be contaminated with E. coli: Connecticut, Delaware, Massachussetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia
It’s a good idea to take care when handling raw flour the same way as you would if you were preparing raw meat. That means washing your hands well after you touch it, sanitizing your countertops after you use it and not eating flour products until they’re thoroughly cooked, Chapman says.
Overall, you should definitely take this seriously. “It’s really, really risky to eat raw flour products,” Chapman says.
And I think about this every time I squeeze and plop down a bag of flour in my kitchen. The pathogens, if they are in there, get spread around like shrapnel.
Don and Ben are joined by longtime friend and colleague, podcast downloader (and sometimes listener) Linda Harris. The three nerds talk about other podcasts, Kardashian indices, Erdos numbers, berries, and the long and progressive food safety story of raw almonds. The almond story touches on what should happen when an industry has a major outbreak, how working with extension and research academics can lead to solutions and ripples of managing food safety risks.
For almost 20 years I’ve tried to connect the things I know about. Today it worked.
Matt Shipman and Chris Liotta, my buddies and colleagues in NC State Communications and our college communications independently hit me up with a question about if we could connect food safety and hockey as Raleigh was in the midst of NHL playoff fever.
Here’s what we came up with:
A lot of traditions have developed around the Stanley Cup since it was first awarded to hockey champions in 1893. One of those traditions is for members of the winning team to drink from the Cup, which raises the question: could the Stanley Cup spread disease?
To get at that question, we should discuss the history of the “common cup.”
Shared Cups and Public Health
In the early years of train travel in the United States, travelers were expected to share a common cup, or a dipper, when getting water in their train cars. This eventually raised public health concerns, which led to a spate of state and federal laws barring the use of common cups in train travel.
“We now know that whenever someone places their hands or mouth on a cup, or other eating utensil, that person can deposit bacteria or viruses on the surface,” says Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at NC State University (and avid hockey fan). “The next person to use that utensil may then ingest the bacteria or virus.
“This form of cross-contamination is well established, and has been identified as a vector for disease since studies of diphtheria and tuberculosis in the early 20th century – which is what led to the common cup laws in the first place.”
That’s good general background, but what about the Stanley Cup in particular?
Drinking From Lord Stanley’s Cup
The bowl part of the Cup, which is what people actually drink from, is made of silver – not dissimilar to a silver chalice your grandparents might own, if your grandparents own a silver chalice that’s been photographed with Wayne Gretzky. And the fact that it’s made of silver actually matters.
Silver is inert. That means it won’t react chemically with most of the substances you put into it, like the acidic fruit juices. Silver also has antimicrobial properties. However, given the circumstances we’re talking about (a bunch of hockey players drinking out of the Cup), those antimicrobial properties won’t reduce the risk of cross-contamination in any meaningful way.
What About Booze?
Everyone knows alcohol is a disinfectant. But does the presence of alcohol eliminate the risk of disease transmission for people drinking out of the Cup? No.
“There are two big factors here,” Chapman says. “One factor is the amount of alcohol in the beverage. For example, beer has a lower percentage of alcohol than champagne, which has less alcohol than hard liquor.
“An alcohol percentage of about 3% appears to be the threshold for making a difference in regard to contamination. And the higher the alcohol percentage, the more effective the beverage will be as an antimicrobial agent.”
However, this first factor is largely irrelevant, because of the second factor: time.
“In order to kill off pathogens, the alcohol has to be in contact with the pathogens for a specific period of time,” Chapman says. “The higher the alcohol content, the shorter the contact time needs to be.
“But, as we’ve noted in the past with eggnog, even strong liquor won’t significantly reduce microbial contamination in an hour or less. And nobody’s waiting an hour between sips when it comes to the Stanley Cup.”
What Increases Risk?
People have put all sorts of things into the Stanley Cup, from dogs to caviar. But the riskiest behavior comes when people put things in the Cup that are likely to be contaminated, such as raw eggs (that’s happened) or babies that are about to poop (that’s happened too).
Beyond that, basic health guidelines suggest that any time someone is drinking from the Cup, you want to make sure they’ve washed their hands first and haven’t thrown up recently. Players who are playing through an illness, for example, could potentially pass it on to the rest of the team. (Players who barfed due solely to athletic exertion likely don’t pose an increased health risk.)
What Is The Biggest Risk?
“If someone is going to contract a disease by drinking out of the Cup, my best guess would be norovirus,” Chapman says. “There are more than 19 million cases of norovirus each year in the U.S., and it is incredibly hardy. In addition, it only takes a little bit to make you sick – on average only a few virus particles are necessary to cause an illness.
“If norovirus got onto the Cup, it could survive there for months. What’s more, you have to take very specific steps to sanitize a surface contaminated with noro.”
However, it’s important to note that cross-contamination can only occur if one of the people handling the Cup is a disease carrier.
There have been a few times in my life that I thought about getting a tattoo. When I was doing my undergrad in molecular biology and genetics, I often talked about getting a double helix on my shoulder. I didn’t.
More recently I’ve thought about getting a digital thermometer on each of my forearms. I haven’t yet.
FDA’s announcement of multiple tattoo inks contaminated with microbes has caused me to take pause again. But, like with food recalls I’m left with as many questions than answers: what microbes? How did they get contaminated? Is this a GMP issue?
The FDA has become aware of contaminated tattoo inks through its FY2018-2019 inspections of distributors and manufacturers, routine surveys of marketed tattoo inks, and subsequent microbiological analysis of sampled tattoo inks. The FDA has identified 6 tattoo inks contaminated with bacteria harmful to human health. The tattoo inks were manufactured or distributed by 4 firms inspected under an ongoing assignment.
The following tattoo inks have been recalled because they are contaminated with microorganisms:
Scalpaink SC, Scalpaink PA, and Scalpaink AL basic black tattoo inks manufactured by Scalp Aesthetics (all lots)
Dynamic Color – Black tattoo ink manufactured by Dynamic Color Inc (lots 12024090 and 12026090)
Solid Ink-Diablo (red) tattoo ink manufactured by Color Art Inc. (dba Solid Ink) (dba Antone’s Ink) (lot 10.19.18)
I read a couple of papers on pathogenic E. coli in lettuce a couple of days ago. I was sort of lost in the disconnect between lives and microbes. Cooper Bell is yet another tragic example of why getting better at food safety matters and a reminder that it impacts real people everyday.
In this super long episode (sort of a double album) Ben and Don talk about their recent travels, PowerPoint as a performance and river cruising. The conversation takes a food safety turn into raw milk goat cheese, bull pizzles and veggie washes. They talk through some listener questions on surviving in the wild, foods they eat (and avoid) and pet food bowls. The show ends with some quick hits on phone cleaning, deli slicer-linked illnesses and geographical differences in pathogen exposure (and how the demise of the Aztec population is like Ontario beef farming).They answer the age-old question of what to do when there’s no paper towels in the restroom. They don’t talk about how the Toronto Maple Leafs are out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Food Safety Talk 181:Hot Pants! is available on iTunes and here.
A couple of years ago I ran into a barfblog reader who commented to me, ‘You’re really scared of botulism, aren’t you?’ This wasn’t a random question, it was related to a few things I had posted over a couple of year period. I think he thought I was irrationally worried about it.
Scared isn’t how I would describe it. Rattled and in awe of are probably better terms. The toxin blocks motor nerve terminals at the myoneural junction, causing paralysis. It starts with the mouth, eyes, face and moves down through the body. It often results in paralysis of the chest muscles and diaphragm, making a ventilator necessary. Months of recovery follow an intoxication.
Maybe I am scared.
There isn’t a whole lot of botulism in the U.S. every year, and not all of it is foodborne – (infant botulism is more common); over the past two decades, improperly home preserved foods have been identified as a common vehicle.
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (my favorite Thursday read, see my coveted mug at right) nails it again with a detailed report of three botulism cases in 2018 – all linked to an improperly canned jar of peas.
Here are some highlights from lead author Bergeron and colleagues:
On June 6, 2018, at 1:30 p.m., the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene was notified of three related women who had arrived at a hospital 4 hours earlier for evaluation for acute nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, slurred speech, ptosis, thick-feeling tongue, and shortness of breath. Two patients developed respiratory failure, requiring intubation and mechanical ventilation in the emergency department, and the third patient was intubated at 7 p.m. that evening.
Approximately 14 hours before arriving at the hospital, the patients had shared a homemade potato salad containing home-canned peas. The family’s freezer had malfunctioned, and, to preserve some commercially produced frozen peas, one of the patients had home-canned the peas 1–2 weeks before consumption.
The patient who prepared the home-canned peas was a novice home canner. She used a peach preserves recipe with a boiling water technique, replacing the peaches with frozen vegetables. The patient was unaware that low-acid foods (e.g., vegetables) must be canned in a pressure canner rather than a boiling water canner to eliminate C. botulinum spores (1). After the jars cooled, the patient correctly checked for jar seal. One of the jars of peas was not sealed, so the patient covered and refrigerated it, and the family consumed the peas in the potato salad.
I use a lot of ground turkey – it’s my preferred ground meat for tacos and homemade burgers and tomato sauce. I switched to turkey when my kids were younger (because I was so much more freaked out about STECs, it was one way to manage the risk).
A year ago we did some work with RTI for FSIS on ground turkey preparation and during our observations found that cross-contamination could be a particularly an issue (to spice bottles and other areas).
FSIS and public health partners, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, have been investigating a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Schwarzengrund illnesses involving 5 case patients from 2 states. Wisconsin collected three intact Butterball brand ground turkey samples from a residence where 4 of the case patients live. The case patients and ground turkey Salmonella Schwarzengrund isolates are closely related, genetically.
Butterball, LLC, a Mount Olive, N.C. establishment, is recalling approximately 78,164 pounds of raw ground turkey products that may be contaminated with Salmonella Schwarzengrund, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.
The prepacked raw ground turkey was produced on July 7, 2018. The following products are subject to recall: [View Labels (PDF only)]
48-oz. plastic wrapped tray containing “BUTTERBALL everyday Fresh Ground Turkey WITH NATURAL FLAVORING (85% LEAN/15% FAT)” with sell or freeze by date of 7/26/18, lot code 8188, and UPC codes 22655-71555 or 22655-71557 represented on the label. 48-oz. plastic wrapped tray containing “BUTTERBALL everyday Fresh Ground Turkey WITH NATURAL FLAVORING (93% LEAN/7% FAT)” with sell or freeze by date of 7/26/18, lot code 8188 and UPC code 22655-71556 represented on the label. 16-oz. plastic wrapped tray containing “BUTTERBALL everyday Fresh Ground Turkey WITH NATURAL FLAVORING (85% LEAN/15% FAT)” with sell or freeze by date of 7/26/18, lot code 8188 and UPC code 22655-71546 represented on the label. 16-oz. plastic wrapped tray containing “BUTTERBALL everyday Fresh Ground Turkey WITH NATURAL FLAVORING (93% LEAN/7% FAT)” with sell or freeze by date of 7/26/18, lot code 8188 and UPC codes 22655-71547 or 22655-71561 represented on the label 48-oz. plastic wrapped tray containing “Kroger GROUND TURKEY FRESH 85% LEAN – 15% FAT” with sell or freeze by date of 7/26/18, lot code 8188, and UPC code 111141097993 represented on the label. 48-oz. plastic wrapped tray containing “FOOD LION 15% fat ground turkey with natural flavorings” with sell or freeze by date of 7/26/18, lot code 8188 and UPC code 3582609294 represented on the label. The products subject to recall bear establishment number “EST. P-7345” inside the USDA mark of inspection. These items were shipped to institutional and retail locations nationwide.
My kids are terrible at remembering things. Everyday one of them forgets at least one of the following: homework; water bottle; to change his socks; to flush; brush their teeth.
There are many more.
As a parent it’s my job to keep reminding them – and it gets frustrating when the same things are done over and over.
But they are 8 and 10. And not running a food business. Their repeated mistakes don’t leave to foodborne illness risks for thousands of customers.
I read the FDA warning letters with fascination every time an email alert comes out. Today’s highlight for me was that a food business, Reuben’s, cant seem to get stuff straight after repeated reminders from FDA inspectors. In 2005, 2008, 2009, 2016 and again last fall they had issues with facilities, pests and behaviors.
The investigators found the same stuff. That’s frustrating – and kinda shows that the business leadership doesn’t get it, or care.
When someone asks me about inspection results at a restaurant or a processor I tell them the limitations of the snapshot, what really matters is how has the business dealt with issues over time. Repeated issues without fixing shows a negative food safety culture in my books.
Here are some other highlights:
Several tiles were missing on the production floor. Water was pooling on the floor where tiles were missing/broken.
Chiles fell onto the dirty floor and were picked up by and placed into the rinse/cooling tank with other roasted chiles
Uncovered chile relleno products were observed in the walk-in freezer. The ceiling directly above the uncovered products displayed an accumulation of condensation drops and peeling paint.
We observed an employee push an uncovered rack of green chile from the walk-in refrigerator into the production area. The sides and top layer of green chile came in direct contact with an curtain which appeared to be soiled with red chile debris and grime.