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 225: Food Safety Talk 225: I Got a Little Holodeck

In this very special pre-Thanksgiving episode, Don and Ben start with talking about Ben’s on-set experiences this week, which was like a food safety holiday. The guys then talk about the challenges connecting with entertainment producers and publishers around getting food safety messages into recipes and cooking shows. The conversation goes to pizza and COVID-19 (Australian and Jersey), Thanksgiving plans (or lack thereof) and eating just black licorice as nutrient source. The episode ends with a discussion about number and size of COVID-19 clusters of in various food settings.

The episode can be found on your favorite podcast app or downloaded here.


Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Buy Apple Watch Series 6 Bands – Apple

Food Safety Talk 219: How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?

Don and Ben start the episode on the original food safety story, Snow White. They move to microwaves, popcorn and shows with Greg Davies. Ben talks through a food safety issue related to home delivery of school foods that he’s working and gets Don’s feedback. They then do a bunch of feedback on sourdough, legionella, and magic defrosting trays. The episode ends on hand sanitizer that doesn’t look like hand sanitizer.

Download Food Safety Talk Episode 219 here (or wherever you get podcasts)

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Canned snails leads to NZ botulism outbreak

COVID-19 sucks. Botulism also sucks. Here’s a quick story with not a lot of details but home canned sea snails in New Zealand led to an outbreak of botulism amongst 4 people in the same house back in May. 

After Sqirl Jam’s #jamgate, this has been a pretty good food safety week for preservation stories.

Back to the sea snails, my guess is they were put into a jar with little or no acidification. Low acid foods like seafood have to be pressure canned to inactivate Clostridium botulinum spores and the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the go-to source doesn’t have anything on snails.

Using the clam or oyster pressure canning processing times isn’t a good idea either – even those similar foods have different processing times due to heat penetration variability. Best to freeze the snails. Not sure about quality, but would avoid the botulism risks.

Food Safety Talk 215: My Wooden Shoes

Don and Ben start the podcast talking about other podcasts, editing intricacies and other general inside sportsball stuff. The discussion goes to fall plans for universities. They talk about a petition to test meat for SARS-CoV-2, airborne transmission vs. aerosol transmission vs. borne in the air – and the role of fomites in different food settings. The guys end the show talking about sous vide meat donuts and Cyclospora in salad mixes.

You can find Food Safety Talk at iTunes, or any of your favorite podcast apps, or download the episode here. 

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Schaffner writes: Methanol as a hand sanitizer probably isn’t a good idea

Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University writes: I’m in the barfblog go to guy on hand sanitizer, so when Doug asked me to comment on this story how could I say no?

I have to confess that I had no idea that you could should not use methanol as a hand sanitizer. I do know that only ethanol is for “internal application”, and even then only in moderation. I assumed that methanol was like isopropyl alcohol, in that it would be safe for applying on your hands.

As noted in the story, it’s not technically the methanol itself that’s toxic, it’s the formaldehyde and formic acid that come from methanol breakdown in the body.

The Wikipedia pages for the three compounds do make for some interesting reading.

All three pages include information from NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). While the toxicology data for methanol from NIOSH does give a recommended exposure limit for the skin, NIOSH does not give a similar warning for isopropyl alcohol or ethanol.  The Wikipedia page is for isopropyl alcohol and ethanol do both mentioned that they can be skin irritants, however.

In digging a little deeper to try to understand methanol toxicity and the skin, I did come across this article: which would suggest to me that the risks posed by these illegal sanitizers are relatively small (unless you are dosing your entire body), but clearly there is a legal prohibition against using methanol in hand sanitizer.

Be sure to read the New York Times story, especially the comments from The company representative Mr. Escamillo who throws the blame on a broker who “had access to our company… and shipped sanitizers”. WTF?

It’s also great to see this article comes from Christopher Mele who called in the midst of my five second rule media blitz to do a very thoughtful interview At least I hope it was thoughtful, I remember sitting on my back porch and applying some Cabernet Sauvignon internally as we chatted. He called me back later for a story on whether you should take your shoes off in the house too.

We have to change

The murder of George Floyd last week is an image that I keep seeing in my mind although I haven’t written or said anything about it outside of my family.

George Floyd represents so many others whose names are known, and many others who aren’t as prominent.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to say something incorrect. So I said nothing.

I got busy and focused on other things. And that’s the problem, and why what is happening all across the U.S. and the world right now is so important: It’s easy to focus on other things and make this someone else’s problem to fight.

A close friend and colleague called me on my silence today saying that not addressing the events, by not acknowledging what was happening was hurtful.

Not doing anything is essentially condoning the history of systemic racism that is so rampant in this country. My friend is absolutely right.

I feel terrible, I have let them, and so many other people who I know and love, down.

We have to change. I have to change. Black lives matter. We have to fight for the safety of our loved ones. We have to ensure that we change the system for them.

One of the paralyzing aspects of this terrible situation is how complex the problem has become. I want to be part of the solution.

Food Safety Talk 211: Sounds Like Darth Vader

The guys start the show talking about electric bikes, foot pain and backyard (and front yard) chickens. The conversation goes to FoodNet statistics and how COVID-19 might impact foodborne illness tracking, reporting and recalls. In the second half of the episode Don and Ben are joined by Gordon Hayburn of Trophy Foods and Andrew Clarke from Loblaws (briefly) to talk about inspections, virtual audits. The show ends on a discussion of Gordon’s experiences in managing COVID-19 issues as a food manufacturer.

You can find the episode here or on iTunes (or elsewhere)

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Food Safety Talk 209: Joe Exotic Stimulus Check

The show starts with some French Canadian references, cousin talk and Belgium TV shows (at least one). The guys talk a bit about code switching, and Ben’s rewatching of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (even the bad ones). They then talk about how COVID-19 is affecting essential employees, and what that means for the food industry and supply. Ben and Don talk about what they think about pausing inspections and go into a deep dive about a blip in recalls. The discussion shifts to chicken liver pate and forcemeats. The show ends with the guys talking about Adam Schlesinger and John Prine.

Download the episode here or at a podcast place.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Food Safety Talk 207: Keeping Food Out of Toilet Rooms

This episode was recorded in February, back before stay-at-home orders, school closures and the recognition of a global pandemic. We ended up recording a couple more episodes after this that we put up because of timeliness. This one is a bit of a mess with interruptions and edits, sorry. In this episode Don and Ben deal with dog sounds, talk about British comedy shows and other things they are watching. The guys then talk about a guest pitch from someone not named Ray Romano. The guys do a deep dive on ghost kitchens and the challenges regulating them. They then talk about issues related to using consumer food purchase data to help with outbreak investigations. No deliberation, just conversation. The guys talk about how they consume news, where they stay up to date on food safety and other things. The episode ends on some listener feedback related to free venison.

Download the show here or on your favorite podcast ap.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

What We Know – And Don’t Know – About Food Safety And COVID-19

The always awesome, and all around great dude, Matt Shipman pitched a bunch of questions to Lee-Ann Jaykus and I about COVID-19 and food safety. Here’s what we said: (from The Abstract)

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

As the world grapples with COVID-19, people have a lot of questions about how to best protect themselves. Many of those questions have to do with food, and NC State experts are sharing the best available information on food safety, and what risks are associated with eating takeout and going to the grocery store.

Sharing this information is part of our mission as a land-grant university: we want to help people make informed choices about how to protect their health. We also want to help people get a better understanding of what we know and what we don’t know about the COVID-19 virus. And there is a lot we don’t know.

There are quite a few resources available online that can help readers better understand what we do know about COVID-19, such as this Q&A page from the World Health Organization. So we thought we’d talk to some folks at NC State about the basics of COVID-19 and (importantly) what we don’t know in the context of food safety, as well as what’s being done to fill those gaps in our understanding.

With that in mind, we took some time to pick the brains of Lee-Ann Jaykus and Ben Chapman. Both are trained microbiologists and are internationally recognized experts on various aspects of food safety. Jaykus, in particular, is a leading authority on food virology.

The Abstract: Okay, first question: what is “food virology”?

Ben Chapman: Food virology is the field of studying the biology, infectivity, transmission, epidemiology and control of human pathogenic viruses that are associated with the food we eat. Common foodborne viruses include norovirus and hepatitis A, but there are some lesser known ones like hepatitis E and astroviruses (a particular favorite name of mine) that we are learning more about and their impacts on the food system. This area of study is closely related to animal virology, as we look at public health as a combination of animal and human health – known in our world as “one health.”

Lee-Ann Jaykus: Foodborne viruses are diverse but have many features in common: non-enveloped structure; human-only transmission; fecal-oral exposure routes; a high degree of environmental persistence; resistance to commonly used food processing techniques and disinfectants, etc. SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is structurally very different from these viruses and is not considered “foodborne” per se. Nonetheless, SARS CoV-2 has been particularly challenging because it is less fragile than most common respiratory viruses and there is still much that we don’t know about how to control it.

TA: Because COVID-19 is caused by a virus, not by bacteria, that means it cannot be treated with antibiotics, right?

Chapman: Yes. COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, which appears to be closely related to another coronavirus that was the cause of illnesses classified as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome almost 20 years ago. As antibiotics or antibacterial soaps are created to disrupt certain biological functions of bacteria, they don’t have the same impacts on viruses.

Jaykus: That’s right. Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites; in other words, they require a live host cell in order to multiply. In fact, once they infect the host cell, they take over its functions, producing many new viruses, infecting surrounding cells and causing the symptoms of the disease. In general, the antibiotics we normally use are designed to kill or prevent the growth of certain bacteria and hence do not commonly work on viruses.

Chapman: There are antiviral drugs however, and applying these compounds as treatment for COVID-19 is something that medical researchers are investigating.

TA: So, the available resources addressing food safety and COVID-19 are based on the best available science. Given that COVID-19 has only been around for a matter of months, how much science is available right now?

Jaykus: Not much, although I think it is very safe to say that this is not a foodborne virus in the traditional sense of the term. And if the virus were present in a food, it would still not be likely to infect the person eating that food – although it’s probably not impossible. However, for such an infection to occur, all the right factors would need to be in place. It is so much easier for the virus to jump from one person to another by close personal contact and respiratory secretions. I believe putting our attention on foods takes attention away from what we already know works, which is social distancing and isolation.

Chapman: There are researchers around the world investigating the virus daily, helping us determine some of the very basic characteristics of SARS-CoV-2.

We also have a body of literature on SARS-CoV-1 that is giving us some indication on environmental stability, infection, shedding, symptoms, transmission, inactivation and other control measures that may apply to SARS-CoV-2.

The other big data set we’re all watching in real time is from the epidemiological studies that are coming out of some of the earlier clusters of outbreak. Work out of Wuhan, Washington State and cruise ships are all adding to what we know. But yeah, being only months into this, there’s not a rich body of work to make decisions on. Comparatively, we have decades of data on norovirus outbreaks to make decisions on – but even with that virus, it took many years to figure out how to grow it in a laboratory. So what we know about SARS-CoV-2 is really still in its infancy.

TA: How has our scientific understanding of COVID-19 and food safety evolved in recent months, or even in recent weeks?

Chapman: We’re relying on the data we do have in hand – that epidemiology is pointing largely to person-to-person transmission from symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. We’re also drawing on the library of literature on SARS-CoV-1 and other respiratory viruses. As of right now, CDC and FDA have been fairly clear that they don’t have any data (epidemiological or otherwise) that is showing that food or food packaging is a primary risk factor for illness. It’s not to say that transmission isn’t possible (we don’t use a lot of absolutes in the scientific world), but the evidence currently isn’t pointing to food as something we need to manage differently than we normally do for other foodborne illnesses. But every day I think we are actively looking to make sure we haven’t missed anything.

Jaykus: Quite frankly, and rightly so, we are not looking at SARS-CoV-2 as a foodborne pathogen, so we haven’t really studied it in the food system. Food companies are focused largely on preventing aerosol or tactile (hands or surfaces)-based contamination of foods and trying to protect their workforce from infection, which in turn protects the food they come into contact with. Using the controls currently in place and mandated by federal, state, and local food safety and public health authorities remain the best approaches: adequate and frequent handwashing; prevention of bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods; surface cleaning and disinfection; and (uniquely), liberal use of hand sanitizers. Add to that social distancing and exclusion of ill or infected food workers.

TA: How have we been able to learn even this much in such a short period of time?

Jaykus: It’s a pandemic. Scientists are racing against the clock. It is a different world when everyone is in it together and we’re saving lives.

Chapman: It’s such a global focus, like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. Everyone is generating and analyzing data as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that in many places people don’t have access to their labs, so that is definitely slowing the progress down. Still, there’s a ton of COVID-19 research coming out on a daily basis.

But there are lots of caveats to everything that has been done. For example, we are just beginning to really know what this virus is all about and still need to confirm that it acts like other coronaviruses. And we don’t have all that data in hand yet.

TA: What are some of the outstanding questions that we’re working to understand? Who’s taking the lead on addressing those questions?

Jaykus: From a food-safety perspective, characterizing the efficacy of various disinfectants is critical. For instance, we just don’t know if there is a “best,” or even a recommended, cleaning and sanitation regimen for food processing. I think that is a critical question right now. The facemask debate is a problem; I can see arguments both ways, but we have to be careful not to use face coverings only to find that they are a way to spread the virus.

It appears that the fecal matter of some infected people contains evidence of the virus, but we don’t know if that virus is actually infectious. Answering this question would allow us to better understand transmission in general.

Development of an inexpensive and very rapid test method that can be used to screen pre-symptomatic individuals or those shedding virus after recovery would be good for all, and especially helpful for critical infrastructure, including food manufacturing. Having such a test will be really important as we move toward lifting social isolation restrictions.

Chapman: Another big one is how long the virus remains viable on different surfaces (including food and packaging). There are a few studies out there that address this, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions. We need to know how long the virus remains viable not only on different materials, but under various temperature and humidity combinations. Another line of questioning involves the extent to which heat, disinfectants, UV light and pressure can inactivate the virus. And, of course, questions surrounding transmission, such as why there are seemingly so many asymptomatic individuals who are shedding virus.

TA: Why are those things important?

Jaykus: Because understanding these issues will provide scientific evidence upon which we can make better recommendations for controlling the spread of the virus.

TA: Where can people go to keep track of new information as it becomes available?

Chapman: The CDC is a go-to source, because they are proactive about posting new information daily. And NC State also has a bunch of resources available online.

Jaykus: There are good resources for tracking the pandemic here and here. People may also want to visit the Association of Food and Drug Officials Coronavirus website.

TA: What advice do you have for people who are trying to figure out, for lack of a better term, how to eat during a pandemic?

Chapman: Remember that the biggest risk factor is being around other people, so reduce those interactions as much as possible. Limit contact by using delivery or curbside pickup of food. Handwashing and sanitizer are excellent secondary control steps.

Jaykus: We all have to eat and food is low risk for transmitting this virus. Use of surface disinfectants and particularly, frequent handwashing and sanitizing is a useful protection. But really, your best protection is to put your efforts into the controls recommended by public health officials: i.e., limit your contact with other people and, when that is not possible, maintain social distance.