Ben Chapman

About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a 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.

Managing food safety in the time of COVID-19

I collaborated with a team of food safety professionals on the below article. Byline is:

Eric Moore, Director of Food Safety and Industry Relations, Testo

Ben Chapman, Professor, Food Safety Specialist, NCSU

Don Schaffner, Professor, Extension Specialist, Rutgers

Steven Mandernach, Executive Director, AFDO

Hal King, CEO Active Food Safety

March 2020 was a month unlike any of us have experienced before. Beyond the transition to working remotely and the seemingly endless video meetings and webinars, we’ve collectively learned a lot about coronaviruses, environmental stability, inactivation, transmission routes, how to perform wellness checks of employees,  and have fielded dozens of questions from food industry stakeholders and the media. This tragic pandemic has led to partnerships and collaborations towards many common public health, food safety and risk goals.

The current challenges to ensuring the health and safety of employees and customers has never been more difficult. There are likely unintended positive food safety impacts that are being seen across the food system. We guess that employee handwashing practices are likely at an all time high with all the added focus. Extra attention to proper chemical use to clean, sanitize and disinfect both food and non-food contact surfaces, especially high-touch surfaces, is almost certainly happening. 

Although much of what we know about COVID-19 is emerging, many media outlets are sharing consistent (and evidence-based) messages that food safety professionals have been teaching and preaching for years. On a more personal level, hearing our kids belt out new handwashing songs, watching Tik-Toks on social distancing, and now all know a little something about epidemiology – flattening the curve — is heartening. There is even a slick new website, Wash Your Lyrics, that you can use to generate your own song and handwashing poster with everything from Styx to Post Malone to the Grateful Dead. It’s been truly amazing to see how in the face of adversity some amazing advancements in enabling and supporting behavior change can happen. Of course we would have preferred there be no pandemic, but this is now the new normal. 

Since food manufacturing, foodservice, food retail, agriculture and transportation are all classified as essential critical infrastructure, the collective food industry has a responsibility to respond. It is with great thanks and admiration to these organizations and the numerous individuals that run them who are helping the rest of us get through daily life by ensuring we have safe food which is essential for our survival. We are also trying to find any positives that may result such as better reporting, and creative approaches to food manufacturing and sales.

After conversations over the last few weeks at GFSI in Seattle, then AFFI-Con in Las Vegas we thought it might be time to take a minute to share some of the ideas and recommendations  because it’s never too late to start planning for what comes next and being ready for the next challenge including the potential for seasonal reemergence (and don’t forget a pandemic flu is likely in our future as well). How can food safety professionals learn from our current situation to establish sustainable practices? Here is what we have so far. The list is not all inclusive but includes  ideas we feel merit further consideration, action and diligence: 

Management Team:

  • Implement an employee health and wellness program that supports pro-active restriction and or exclusion.  
  • Have a pandemic response plan incorporated into your organization’s Business Continuity Plans which should include key aspects of service limitations, increased cleaning/sanitizing and disinfection, etc.
  • Designate roles within your organization that will connect to global, national, regional and local regulatory authorities to monitor the situation and to deploy adequate control measures to continue operations. 
  • Identify backups for each job position and if possible alternate production sites to offset production delays.
  • Promote remote work for non production or essential roles. Digital food safety management systems (FSMS) are a great tool to facilitate and maintain adequate processes and controls are being met even from a remote location.  
  • Consider providing transportation for employees that use public transportation.

Perishable Food:

  • Reduce food waste by lowering par inventory levels.
  • Identify if/what products in your inventory that can be frozen without quality compromises, and used at a future date. Think about consolidating inventory in preparation for staff reductions 
  • When closing a facility, divert safe food to local food banks or shelters – donate as much product to them as possible as long as it has not passed its expiration date.
  • To assist locations in returning to normal operations (post pandemic) discard perishable products near the end of useful life. 

Refrigeration Recommendations:

  • Reorganize inventory and condense products into fewer refrigeration units. 
  • Empty refrigerators should be turned off, as empty refrigeration space places more stress on the cooling system that could lead to unnecessary wear and tear. This also conserves energy and allows for deep cleaning to take place as well as preventative maintenance to ensure optimal functionality once placed back into service.


  • Adopt Digital Food Safety Management systems (DFSMS) based on HACCP guidelines that enable real time refrigeration temperature monitoring and alert based operational compliance reporting. These systems have the ability to consolidate multiple important critical food safety reporting activities by providing visibility and awareness across an entire organization 
  • Implement the use of infrared handheld thermometers as a pre-screening tool  to measure temperatures of individual employees at the start/end of their shift. Screening methods and results should be based on CDC guidance and confirmed by a medical professional.   
  • Investigate the use of advanced thermal imaging instruments to assess elevated body temperatures and in consultation with local health professionals and legal advisors, make decisions to protect employee health.

Communication Practices:

  • Leverage technology to maintain internal communication (teleconference, video conference and webinar). 
  • Keep handwashing and hand sanitizing and employee health top of mind for employees and family members via job aids and training 
  • Encourage  customers to use order ahead options and delivery services.
  • Promote the use of cashless payment at operating locations. 

Operations Planning:

  • Incorporate the use of a daily set of health assessment questions as part of temperature monitoring  (are you sick, have you been around anyone sick, do you live with anyone that  is sick) based on the CDC guidance for employee wellness.
  • Decide when to close dining rooms, restrooms and seating areas and reassessment plans for reopening. 
  • Protect cashiers by providing physical barriers between them and customers
  • Clean and disinfect credit card pin pads and touch screens between each customer at indoor self-checkout locations.
  • Clean and disinfect outdoor touch screens/credit card pin pads at routine intervals.
  • Eliminate self-serve items, buffets, and areas that encourage high touch surfaces and when possible package foods that are sold individually. 
  • Designate continuous cleaning and disinfection of high touch surfaces in the entire facility (door knobs/handles, handrails, phones, light switches, hand sinks, paper towel dispensers, restrooms, credit card pin pads and touch screens, etc.) to one or more employees
  • Have liquid hand sanitizer stations as well as sanitizer wipe stations in operating locations so employees can sanitize hands when hand washing is not feasible 
  • Designate employees to monitor customers entrances to ensure that all consumers are prompted to use sanitizer prior to entering.
  • Set up que line placements (e.g., X every 6 feet) and signage  to ensure customers are able to stand 6 feet apart IF a line is likely for pick-up service. 
  • Place signage encouraging anyone who feels ill to not enter and provide alternatives as to how to help them with food essentials (delivery, curbside pickup).
  • Consider transition from traditional paper and laminated menus to a digital format, when re-opening. Further consider systems that allow the customer to use their own device to access menus.

Production Planning:

  • Review your operations production and operating hours, should they be shorter or different from normal operating hours. 
  • Reduce or rethink your menu to take advantage of alternate labor models or product availability. 
  • Consider simplifying your menu items to less complex products, this would support a more sustainable labor pool that may have less formal culinary training as well as reducing the amount inventory which should help control food waste during such an unpredictable event.     
  • Divide employees into small function-based teams and stagger production times or production areas to promote adequate social distancing.

We have all had people ask us where to get information and stay up to speed with the newest and emerging information about COVID-19. Here are links to the most accurate resources that we are using daily to answer our food safety questions.

Jimmy Johns get’s a warning letter from FDA

This warning letter from FDA to Jimmy John’s about continuous use of sprouts is unique. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. 5 outbreaks, at least 88 illnesses, all linked to sprouts, should lead to something different. The old approach doesn’t seem to be working.

Here’s my favorite part: “In May 2012, a meeting was held with FDA at your request. During that meeting, you expressed that you would offer only clover sprouts, and to only source clover sprouts from [redacted] suppliers.

Since that corrective action, your firm has been implicated in three additional sprout-related outbreaks. Documents from traceback investigations conducted by FDA, states and local partners demonstrate that in addition to [redacted] sprouts, Jimmy John’s restaurants are using multiple other sources of sprouts.”

Going to other suppliers, hell keeping sprouts on the menu and then taunting with sassy posters (Skull. Crossbones. Eat at your own risk. Nudge. Nudge.), was a brazen move by JJ’s. and not really in line with what their CEO James North said following one of those outbreaks: “Food safety and the welfare of our customers are our top priorities and not negotiable in our business.”

Yesterday North sent a statement to USA Today after receiving the warning letter that said the sprouts have been removed from restaurants. “This removal was out of an abundance of caution and was not initiated by any known, immediate threat,” North said.

Abundance of caution is the stupidest term in food safety risk communication.

Leafy greens, unsolved mysteries

CDC and FDA both posted an updates to their Romaine/E. coli O157:H7 outbreak pages yesterday that shows another 36 ill folks with an onset date as late as December 1, and that one of the growers associated with an unopened bag of Fresh Express Romaine also supplied Romaine in other outbreaks that FDA is investigating.

FDA says: These outbreaks are each caused by strains that are different from each other and different from the larger outbreak. One of the additional outbreaks, in Washington state, is potentially linked to romaine lettuce. The other outbreak, with cases in the U.S. and Canada, is linked to Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp Chopped Salad Kits.

I had a couple of conversations about these outbreaks today and someone asked about why Salinas Romaine has been linked to outbreaks around the same time frame in 2017, 2018 and this year.

Essentially asking whether I had any theories on why the risk seems to go up around the time that the season is nearing its end and supply is transitioning elsewhere. Is it because people are more lax about food safety around this time? Something else?

My answer: Not sure, but I think that’s exactly what everyone is trying to figure out.

Here’s our current list of foodborne illness outbreaks linked to leafy greens. We will continue to update as more info is known.

Michele Samarya-Timm writes: Grandma’s Traditions and a Food-Safe Thanksgiving

Longtime friend of the, Michéle Samarya-Timm, health educator at the Somerset County Department of Health (that’s in New Jersey, represent) writes:

It’s hard to contradict old school beliefs, change a recipe that’s been handed down for generations, or tell someone they didn’t fold the napkins correctly – holidays bring out both obvious and latent risks to family, sanity, and even one’s health. Knowing why traditions exist — as well as recognizing which ones to keep, and which to sunset — can be key to happiness and health at Thanksgiving and beyond.

Traditions for many begin with family, and food. I recall how holidays at Grandma’s house were a veritable cornucopia of harvest delights – sides like russet potatoes, zucchini pickles, carrot gravy and sliced beet salad were only ancillary adornments to the spotlight of the holiday – a gloriously roasted and hefty Tom turkey.

As grandma entered her mid-nineties, she reluctantly relinquished her holiday kitchen duties to her daughters – all 7 were well versed in cooking (and eating!), having been tutored by their mother’s exacting hand. It never mattered that every one of my aunts had roasted legions of turkeys in their time; Grandma would not trust that a turkey was done until she navigated her walker into the kitchen and stuck the bird with her favorite 2-pronged wood-handled meat fork. Neighbors and family alike knew a turkey wasn’t finished cooking until Mama decreed it was so.

Grandma was particular, mostly because she spent a good deal of her life on a farm. Folks didn’t go to the nearest supermarket to buy meat in those days. Instead, one ambled out to the poultry coop, grabbed the least scraggly fowl, and slaughtered it with a practiced hand. The turkey then would be bled, gutted and plucked. My Aunt Kay described the last step to me: “Mama would dip the bird into boiling water which loosened the feathers enough for easy yanking. Remaining quills would be carefully burned off with a quick pass of a torch made by lighting yesterday’s newspaper.” Any remaining soot or debris was removed by giving the defrocked bird a quick water bath before being seasoned and dressed for his multi-hour roast.

Fast forward to modern day, where many are lucky enough to select a thanksgiving entrée from the local supermarket, rather than a turkey roost. These days, the likes of Mr. Perdue, Butterball, Jennie-O and many others have taken over the chore of slaughter, and eased the preparation duties in American Thanksgiving kitchens. The processed and featherless grocery store bird relieves the holiday chef of the burden of slaughter, and with it abolishes the step of washing the turkey. Yup, you heard right — if you are not slaughtering the turkey, don’t wash it.

Raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches with harmful bacteria. Rinsing or washing the thanksgiving turkey can spread harmful bacteria on nearby surfaces through splash or aerosolized droplets – just like a sneeze can. And just like a sneeze can spread disease, so can a turkey bath.

It doesn’t matter if your mother, aunt, or grandmother used to wash their poultry, the modern, scientific guidance from the USDA and others is to let this tradition go. Properly cooking a turkey will kill any bacteria that are lurking in the meat, and keep your family safe.

These days, Thanksgiving is at my house. I happily take after my Grandma in setting out a bounteous feast, and welcoming family and friends. And like Grandma, a turkey isn’t done until I say it’s done – only I do it by sticking the bird with my favorite thin-probe thermometer, and verifying a reading of 165F. This is the new tradition, and one I’m delighted to pass on.

This Thanksgiving, remember: wash your hands, NOT the turkey!

Note: Writing this Thanksgiving piece for barfblog, I realize it’s my 12th year doing so, and I look forward to many more! Many thanks to Doug Powell, Ben Chapman and crew for continuing to enlighten the public and public-health masses on all things food safety. When it comes to fighting barf, you are truly superheros!

Food Safety Talk 199: Possum Droppers

Don and Ben start the episode talking about kimchi fermentation and all the cabbage that needed to be washed and salted. The conversation went towards collaborations with fun people that might seem a bit unnatural to outsiders. The guys talk about a few outbreaks including two pathogenic E. coli ones linked to Romaine lettuce and Hep A in blackberries. They then do some listener feedback on foreign objects, bad cleaning and sanitizing machines and chitterlings. Also, bacteria is everywhere.

Food safety recalls are always either too early or too late. If you’re right, it’s always too late. If you’re wrong, it’s always too early.
– Dr. Paul Mead

Food Safety Talk 199: Possum Droppers can be found on iTunes, Overcast or at

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

E. coli O26 and (O121) loves flour

I wrote this in May, and it’s still relevant:

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 recalls like what is going on right now is why.

General Mills announced today a voluntary national recall of five-pound bags of its Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose Flour with a better if used by date of September 6, 2020. The recall is being issued for the potential presence of E. coli O26 which was discovered during sampling of the five-pound bag product. This recall is being issued out of an abundance of care as General Mills has not received any direct consumer reports of confirmed illnesses related to this product.

This recall only affects this one date code of Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose Flour five-pound bags. All other types of Gold Medal Flour are not affected by this recall.

Guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) continues to warn that consumers should refrain from consuming any raw products made with flour. E. coli O26 is killed by heat through baking, frying, sautéing or boiling products made with flour. All surfaces, hands and utensils should be properly cleaned after contact with flour or dough.

I think they mean cleaned and sanitized.

There’s something about O26 and O121 and flour that we’re all gonna have to figure out.

Here’s the outbreak from May 2019. Here’s a Canadian outbreak from 2017. Oh, here’s another outbreak from 2016.

Botulism is the worst, avoid the old soup – Lost in translation edition

While most of the time the symptoms are identified and the illness diagnosed, I still think that botulism would be a terrible way to go. Paralysis, ventilator, life long impacts.

Florian Garcia of Le Parisien reports (and this has been translated, poorly) that outdated soup was to blame for a French woman’s botulism. I’m guessing there was some temperature control issues (like it came in a tetra pack and wasn’t refrigerated – or there was a processing failure) at the root of this, not the date thing.

soup, via wikipedia

“She is almost totally paralyzed, blows a friend of the family. And with very little hope of recovery. “A week and a half after a first malaise occurred late August, the health of this resident of Essonne has deteriorated significantly. After several days of hospitalization, the doctors of Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris diagnosed her case of botulism . A very rare disease, which she contracted by ingesting an outdated vegetable soup.

For the family, who does not want to express themselves, a vegetable soup is at the origin of the disease. In the fridge of the victim, several products call the investigators of the repression of frauds. Among them, a soup with a deadline of consumption (DLC) August 4 … outdated for three weeks.

“We took this information very seriously and immediately put ourselves at the disposal of the authorities, details the brand of soup incriminated. No problem was reported on the 630 bottles of the lot that have been sold and consumed since. “

According to her, the negligence was therefore committed by the consumer. “Given the incubation period, three days according to the National Health Security Agency (ANSES), the date of hospitalization of the patient, end of August, and the deadline for consumption of the product, August 4 , it turned out that the sick person has consumed an expired product, “says the company.

Given the severity of the disease, the company’s production method was scrutinized. “We were able to demonstrate that all the manufacturing operations were done in the state of the art,” added the spokesperson. It is a pasteurized soup and like all products of this type, it is heated above 80 ° C. This guarantees pasteurization but not sterilization. It must therefore be kept cool and consumed within a maximum of 30 days. Beyond this DLC, the freshness of a product of this type can not be guaranteed. “

If you process tahini, you should include Salmonella as a known or reasonably foreseeable hazard

After a few months of retreating and thinking about next steps for barfblog, and focusing on consumer food safety observations in our new kitchens, I’m getting back in the posting mix.

And still, one of my favorite emails (after the weekly MMWR notification) is FDA’s updated warning letters. There’s so much to be learned in these beyond the fun stuff like peeling the skin off of a bearded dragon (not a euphemism).

Here’s my favorite from today’s update, courtesy of Sunshine International Foods Inc – a tahini processor.

There are a few nuggets in this one but my big takeaway is that the letter provides a fantastic blueprint for all other tahini processors to follow if they want to meet what FDA expects. Including that you absolutely need to include Salmonella as a known or reasonably foreseeable hazard in a preventive control plan.

Oh and if you are a retailer or food service buyer, looking through these warning letter alerts are probably a good idea – I’d be making vendor decisions based on these (and asking my current suppliers how they are different from the folks who receive them).

From the letter:

Your hazard analysis did not identify a known or reasonably foreseeable hazard for each type of food manufactured, processed, packed, or held at your facility to determine whether there are any hazards requiring a preventive control, as required by 21 CFR 117.130(a)(1). The hazard evaluation must include an evaluation of environmental pathogens whenever a ready-to-eat (RTE) food is exposed to the environment, as required by 21 CFR 117.130(c)(1)(ii). Your RTE tahini products made from natural sesame seeds are exposed to the processing environment following pasteurization and prior to packaging, and your repackaged RTE tahini products are exposed to the processing environment throughout the processing of these products. Although you have identified “Microbial Growth Staphylococcus Aureus” as a potential significant food safety hazard in your hazard analyses for your RTE tahini products (including RTE tahini manufactured from natural sesame seeds with creation date 5-01-18, RTE flavored tahini manufactured from natural sesame seeds with creation date 5-01-18, repackaged RTE tahini with creation date 5-01-18, and RTE flavored tahini using raw tahini received at your facility with revision date 3-6-19), these hazard analyses do not identify contamination of RTE tahini with the environmental pathogen of Salmonella as a known or reasonably foreseeable hazard for each type of food manufactured, processed, packed, or held at your facility to determine whether it is a hazard requiring a preventive control.

Also, folks should do better on cleaning and sanitizing the hard to get spots where Salmonella or Listeria might be living.

1. All food-contact surfaces, including utensils and food-contact surfaces of equipment, must be cleaned as frequently as necessary to protect again contamination of food, as required by 21 CFR 117.35(d). However, our investigators observed the following conditions:

a. Hardened tahini was present around the gasket between a stainless-steel pipe feeding from the hold/pasteurizer tank to the hopper for the retail jar filler located in the Pasteurizer/Filling/Packing Room.

b. Soft tahini was observed around and beneath the lid seams to the retail line filler hopper in the Pasteurizer/Filling/Packing Room.

c. Soft and hardened tahini were observed inside the retail line filler hopper and (b)(4) filler heads.

d. Soft tahini was observed inside the square mixer and grinding/milling hopper in the Roasting/Milling Room.

e. Chocolate tahini was observed inside the stainless-steel pipe feeding into the (b)(4) in the Pasteurizer/Filling/Packing Room.

Spanish sushi restaurant linked to outbreak; also had some odd online reviews

Sushi and sashimi is one of those foods that splits the food safety nerd world. Some folks eat it, some don’t.

That’s really a personal risk management decision.

There’s lots going on in a sushi restaurant risk-wise: holding rice at room temperature for a long time, to allow for easy rolling increases the risk of Bacillus cereus illnesses; the fish can have parasitic worms from the water environment living in them; and, there’s been an ongoing issue related to Salmonella likely due to processing handling (see back scrape).

It can all be done with reduced risk – but it takes dedication from buyers, suppliers and food handlers.

Control the B. cereus in rice with acidification, temperature control or time.

Address parasites with freezing.

Limit Salmonella through supplier controls.

Folks in Majorca, Spain apparently recently ate at a restaurant that wasn’t great at risk management, according to the always fun Sun.

Twenty-four customers fell ill after dining at Dragon Sushi restaurant in the city of Palma de Majorca, in the eastern Spanish region of Majorca.

However, reviewers offered mixed opinions about the grub on offer at the tourist hotspot eatery.

In a review entitled “Worst sushi ever!”, a reviewer said: “This place had the worst sushi I’ve ever had in my life.”

Meanwhile in another review titled “Terrible!! Never go again!! Pinworms in my edamame!!”, another diner said: “I really can’t recommend this sushi restaurant! Worst sushi ever in my life!!”

Local health councillor Patricia Gomez confirmed that 24 cases of food poisoning had taken place among clients who said they ate at the Japanese food outlet last weekend.

A spokeswoman for the Health Department said the victims are suffering symptoms including “gastroenteritis” and further tests are being carried out to find out what caused the illness.

According to local media, many of the victims – including children – are still in hospital after suffering diarrhoea, fever and vomiting.

My amateur epi guess is that it’s a rice/B. cereus outbreak.

Food Safety Talk 191: Make KABOBs with Gordon

Don and Ben are joined by friend Gordon Hayburn, dog judge and VP food safety and quality at Trophy Foods. The guys talk dogs, monorchids and online food discussions. They go on to talk about plant-based meat alternatives, is chicken really chicken and the fallout and management of food fraud. The episode ended on how food safety culture gets implemented and a discussion of kebab, er, KABOB, making.

Download the episode here, or on iTunes

Show notes so you can follow along at home: