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.

Food Safety Talk 181: Hot Pants!

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.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Improperly home-canned peas linked to botulism illnesses

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.

 

Not as simple as just cook it: Ground turkey linked to Salmonella illnesses prompt Butterball recall

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).

Yesterday Butterball recalled over 75k lbs of ground turkey products after being linked to a Salmonella Schwarzengrund outbreak investigation.

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.

Repeat violations is a pretty good indicator of a food safety culture issue

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.

Food Safety Talk 177: Toilet as a Research Device

In this episode, the guys jump right into a discussion on why Ben is late and how bourbon, lead and the Indy 500 might all be connected (and have a food safety thread). The discussion goes to feedback on citrus slices; using AI for diets and journalism; and, farmers’ markets. Ben and Don go on to talk about cooking through slapping, the double turns out story of MSG and how magic temperatures get decided. The episode ends where it started – in the bathroom – with smart toilets and dumb soap dispensers. Oh, and a dirty, dirty salad robot.

You can download episode 177, Toilet as a Research Device here and on iTunes

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

O. Pete Snyder, food safety rock star

My very first thermometer came as a gift from Pete.

I was a newbie graduate student, full of hubris, trying my best to figure out how to communicate food safety to food handlers in restaurants. I started making these food safety infosheets (which have morphed into other things) and Pete was a concerned reader of FSnet (which morphed into barfblog).

After posting something that I likely put together in haste, he emailed me to share exactly how and why I got something wrong. He was gruff and to the point. It made me panic. I didn’t want to look stupid, and to this guy, who I didn’t know, I looked pretty stupid.

A couple of weeks later I posted something else, and he emailed me again; same thing, I was sloppy and Pete called me on it.

The third time, he emailed he asked for our lab phone number. He called and said that he could explain C. perfringens growth so much better with a conversation. We talked for 20 min. No small talk, just microbiology and food safety.

During that call I finally got it. He wasn’t being picky, or calling me out because of his ego. He was giving me feedback because he cared. And he cared that I got things right. In that conversation we talked about good thermometers and bad thermometers, I remember it really vividly.

A couple of days later my very own Comark PDT 300 showed up unannounced in the mail.

Since then, everything I write and everything I create goes through the Pete test in my mind – like, ‘What would Pete say about this? Did I get it right?’ I’ve passed the Pete test on to my graduate students as well.

Over the past decade, Pete and I had become friends, seeing each other at IAFP or the Dubai Food Safety Conference (at both places he was a star). He was so generous with his comments and accolades and asked lots of questions about my kids.

He was always the first person to wish me a happy birthday on Facebook too.

Pete was a giant. I was saddened to hear that he passed away last week. One of the last times I saw him I told him about the Pete test. He just chuckled and just wanted to talk microbiology. That’s the kind of guy he was.

I used my Comark PDT 300 on our dinner tonight and thought about Pete.

Oscar ‘Peter’ Snyder, Jr.

Snyder, Oscar Jr. ‘Peter’ Age 89 of Shoreview, passed away March 1, 2019 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Born in Washington, DC on February 23, 1930, Pete grew up primarily on the east coast and especially enjoyed vacationing at the family lake cottage in Beaver Lake, NJ. He was a career Army officer, with overseas assignments in Germany, Korea and Vietnam. He retired as a Lt. Col. after 22 years of service. He was a Bronze Star and Legion of Merit recipient. In 1974, he became an Associate Professor of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, and then in 1982 he founded the Hospitality Institute of Technology & Management (HITM), a food safety training, education & consulting firm. He was a passionate, lifetime proponent of safe food handling and the HACCP method of food preparation for organizations around the world. He especially enjoyed photography, traveling throughout Europe, and the music of Dave Brubeck. Pete also spent many years volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America and as an usher & lay reader at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church. He is preceded in death by his parents, Oscar & Louise, and sister Jane. Survived by wife of 59 years, Ella and sons, Tom (Anne), Scott (Lesley), Chris (Dawnette); grandchildren: Griffin (Andrea), Ryan, Andrew, Camille, Jasmine and great-granddaughter, Faith. Memorial service 11:00 am, Saturday, March 9, 2019, at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church with visitation one hour prior. Memorials in lieu of flowers to St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, 2300 N. Hamline Ave, Roseville, MN 55113; Feeding Tomorrow – IFT Foundation, 525 W. Van Buren, Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60607; or IAFP Foundation, 6200 Aurora Ave, Suite 200W, Des Moines, IA 50322.

Food Safety Talk 176: Bug Book

The show opens with a discussion about privacy, whether you should cover the microphone on your computer, or how you can scare your kids using Alexa. The guys talked briefly about what they’re watching, Ben’s trip to Athens Georgia, and celebrity feet. From there the show moves into listener feedback talking about the safety of eating Canadian seaweed. Listener feedback makes a interesting segue into failure, and the things we can learn from it. The show returns to listener feedback with a discussion about citrus safety and infused water. For some reason Don wants to talk about smoke detectors, before returning again to listener feedback and “Contamination Corner”, and ways to learn about stuff you don’t know about (like filibusters). Ben and Don talk about an interview that Don did for Cooking Light, before Don wants to talk about fixing his broken software. Ben ends the show with a long discussion regarding safe cooking directions for frozen vegetables, and why no one can agree.

This episode is available at foodsafetytalk.com or on iTunes.

 

Show notes so you can follow along at home are below:

Food Safety Talk 175: Dodransbicentennial

Don and Ben talk about UK author Nick Hornby (not to be confused with the non-Canadian Bruce Hornsby). Before they get into food safety stuff the discussion goes to the origins of hip-hop, the Beastie Boys book and Ben Folds. Don’s ongoing bit of talking about British TV comes up and then the guys discuss recent food safety talks they’ve given and Ben’s upcoming bridge tour of Athens, GA. The real food safety starts with a conversation on a Fox News host’s handwashing habits and top 10 lists of foods (and their click-bait). The guys also discuss tea water safety, Goop, how to become a process authority and software to manage food safety in restaurants. The episode ends with a phenomenal rap video on vitamins.

This episode is available at foodsafetytalk.com or on iTunes.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

FDA releases Romaine-linked outbreak report

Friends of the blog Scott Gottlieb and Frank Yiannas posted a statement to FDA’s website today detailing the findings of the agency’s investigation into over 50 E. coli O157 illnesses in the fall of 2018.

Today, we’re announcing the findings of this investigation and our best hypotheses as to how this contamination could have occurred. In the case of the one farm with a positive sample previously referenced, the FDA believes that the most likely way romaine lettuce on a specific ranch on this farm became contaminated was from the use of water from this reservoir as agricultural water. It is believed that this water came into contact with the harvested portion of the romaine lettuce, since the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 was found in sediment from the reservoir and in no other sampled locations. The water from the reservoir doesn’t explain how lettuce grown on other ranches or farms identified by traceback may have been contaminated. So, this one farm cannot explain the entire outbreak.

The full report can be found here.

My favorite part is this recommendation from investigators:

Perform a root cause analysis when a foodborne pathogen is identified in the growing environment, in agricultural inputs (e.g., agricultural water or soil amendments), in raw agricultural commodities or in fresh-cut ready-to-eat produce. The goal of a root cause analysis is to determine the likely source of the contamination, if prevention measures have failed, and whether additional measures are needed to prevent a reoccurrence.

From my experience, this root cause analysis approach is hit or miss when pathogens are found during routine sampling (but maybe a barfblog reader can provide me with some details on whether they know of folks doing this).

Pressure cooking and pressure canning

My friend, PIO extraordinaire and around great guy Matt Shipman asked Natalie and I about electric pressure cookers a couple of weeks ago, he was interested in answering questions that folks may have about whether they are safe to use. Here are the results of our conversation.

Electric pressure cookers, like the Instant Pot, have grown in popularity in recent years. One reason for this is that they allow people to prepare meals more quickly. But a lot of people aren’t sure why electric and stovetop pressure cookers prepare food faster than conventional stovetop cooking. And many people also wonder whether pressure cookers are actually safe.

You have questions, we have answers.

Why does food cook more quickly under high pressure? (Or, why does food cook more quickly in an Instant Pot?)

Let’s talk about heat.

Hot air rises. So, when you cook in a regular pot on your stove, a lot of the heat escapes. When moisture in the food turns into steam (which happens at 212 degrees Fahrenheit if you’re at sea level), a lot of that moisture also escapes through evaporation.

But when you’re cooking in a pressure cooker, there’s nowhere for that hot air and steam to go – it’s trapped.

“Because the hot air and steam are trapped, a pressure cooker allows you to heat the moisture – steam and water – above its normal limit of 212 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at NC State University. “And the pressure cooker traps that hot air and moisture with the food, which expedites the cooking process.

“In other words, the moisture surrounding the food itself reaches higher temperatures than it would without the pressure, which speeds up the chemical processes involved in cooking. But the food doesn’t dry out like it would in an oven or on a stovetop, because the moisture has nowhere to go.”

Are pressure cookers risky to use?

No, not usually.

Air and steam expand as they heat up. So, if no hot air and steam is allowed to escape, a pressure cooker can explode.

“Most modern pressure cookers have a safety valve that is designed to release hot air and steam when the pressure inside the vessel reaches a certain point,” Chapman says. “Once the pressure has been relieved, the valve shuts again.

“Modern pressure cookers should also have a release valve that allows you to vent hot air and steam before opening the lid. That’s important, because you don’t want the lid to fly off, or to get scalded by steam when you open the lid. (Even with the release valve, it’s a good idea to open the lid away from you.) In some models, the safety and release valves are located in the same part of the cooker.”

Can I cook frozen food in a pressure cooker? 

You can cook frozen food in anything. The real question is: “Is it safe to cook frozen food in a pressure cooker?” And the answer is yes.

“The food safety concern here is that you don’t want foods – like raw meat or poultry – to be in the temperature ‘danger zone’ for a long time,” says Natalie Seymour, a food safety extension associate at NC State. “That can happen if you’re cooking frozen foods in a crockpot or a slow cooker, or even in the oven.

“The danger zone is between 41 degrees and 135 degrees Fahrenheit (5-57.2 degrees Celsius), which is the temperature range that promotes pathogen growth,” Seymour says. “It’s also the temperature range that allows pathogens to produce toxins that can persist even after the temperature gets high enough to kill the pathogens themselves. Just killing the pathogens won’t make food safe if they have already created heat-stable toxins.”

In short, you can cook frozen food safely using anything, as long as you monitor the temperature to ensure that it spends less than four hours in that temperature “danger zone.” That can be challenging if you’re using a slow cooker.

“However, because of how they work, pressure cookers do a good job of getting foods through the temperature danger zone pretty quickly,” Chapman says. “That makes it safe to cook frozen foods in a pressure cooker.”

What’s the difference between a pressure cooker and a pressure canner? Can I use them interchangeably?

Pressure cookers and pressure canners are not the same thing, and you shouldn’t think of them as being interchangeable. A good rule of thumb is that you can use a pressure canner as a pressure cooker, but you cannot use a pressure cooker as a pressure canner.

“Pressure canners have to be able to reach and maintain a consistent internal temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit (115.5 degrees Celsius) in order to inactivate the spores that cause botulism poisoning,” Chapman says. “But pressure cookers are variable and often don’t reach temperatures of 240 degrees. Also, electric pressure cookers – like Instant Pots – run on a cycle, in which the internal temperature rises and falls. That means they can’t be used as pressure canners.”

Note: You can find additional resources for pressure canning here.