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.

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:

Radiation exposure in Russia blamed on Fukushima crabs

I’m a sucker for food safety jokes, and the punchline of “it must have been the Fukushima crabs” is a beauty.

According to the Telegraph, doctors in Russia who treated victims of a military test explosion have evidence of being exposed to radioactive materials, with isotopes being found within their muscle tissue.

Officials however are playing the food safety card when trying to explain why cesium-137 is there.

Staff from the Arkhangelsk regional hospital were not informed at first that they were treating irradiated patients, and protective measures were not taken until the next day, they told Russian media this week.

In some cases, staff said they were falsely told patients had been decontaminated.

One doctor was later found to have the isotope Caesium-137 in his muscle tissue. He was told he must have eaten too many “Fukushima crabs” during a trip to Thailand, his colleague told the news outlet Meduza.

In related news, Chernobyl on HBO is excellent.


Lost luggage with roasted green chiles leads to a food safety issue

Don and I were part of the latest episode of Underunderstood where we chat about the food safety risks associated with roasted green chiles (that started out frozen, and ended up ‘cool to the touch’) being in lost luggage for a couple of days.

Check out the episode for more details.


The Complex Underworld of Lost Baggage Delivery

Food Safety Talk 187: Must Split and Toast

Don and Ben do their annual live from IAFP show. This year, from the dungeons of the Kentucky International Convention Center, the guys are joined by listeners coming from as far at New Zealand. The show starts with a discussion of IAFP meeting happenings, symposia and back room chatter. The discussion goes to some listener feedback on Chipotle, English muffins, donut walls and ignoring voluntary recall guidance. And papayas.

Photo: Renee Comet (Getty Images)

A few in-studio listeners then join Don and Ben at the mic and ask questions (and get asked questions).

The episode can be found on iTunes and here.

Show notes so you can follow at home:

Petting zoo illnesses make me sad because the food and ag community has failed

I’m a fan of agritourism, whether that’s touring a bunch of backyard chicken coops or learning about animals, I see value in this stuff. It’s not without risk though – and managing that risk is imperative. A while ago someone asked me about the types of food businesses I like to frequent, from a food safety perspective, and I thought about it a while and came up with this: I like to eat food from places where the people involved in making decisions are constantly worried about making people sick. Like it’s their nightmare. Not places that tell me not to worry about stuff.

My petting zoos/animal interaction wants are the same.

A few years ago my friend (and Carolina Hurricane superfan), Dr. Megan Jacob and I took a couple of visits to animal education/interaction sites to get some ideas about what people do (visitors and organizers). From those visits we saw a lot of stuff that made us think we need to take a different approach. Lots of signs saying to wash hands. Don’t bring food around the animals, don’t bring strollers.

And not a lot of people following the messages. I don’t blame the visitors. I blame us (or at least the collective us) for not doing a better job at saying why it’s important, not having enough people there with reminders and actively helping visitors reduce their risks.

A couple of years ago Gonzalo Erdozian esteemed member of the barfblog team, looked at what was available at a bunch of small petting zoo sites/events in Kansas and Missouri – and came up with some great suggestions after finding lots of risky practices (abstract is below). Reducing risks at fairs and petting zoos isn’t a simple thing – it’s a mix of having the tools, people to point patrons to them, and explaining the risks (without being jerks).

Gonzo found that the reminders really worked.

After those visits, Megan and I, with the help from some others put together a workshop for NC folks who run these events and sites. We learned a whole bunch more from the participants – one of the biggest takeaways for me was that organizers were reluctant to engage in these discussions because although they knew that there was a risk, they didn’t want to alert people who were there that it was risky because maybe they wouldn’t come. I’m not sure what the correct word for that is, but it seems paternalistic or something. One philosophy we’ve followed at barfblog is that people can handle risk discussions and we’re kinda responsible to have them. And let the participants choose.

I home almost daily past the Kelley Building, ground zero for an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in 2011 linked to 25 illnesses at  the NC State Fair. The building wasn’t considered to be an animal contact area – a petting zoo – but was a spot that was a popular cut-through from an entrance gate to the midway area. Organizers of the fair led a commission to look at what happened, and made changes – having more handwashing stations, passive reminders and actively having actual people reminding; further limiting access to non-petting zoo animal buildings; and, increasing cleaning and sanitation.

People brought food, strollers, and their hands touched a lot of likely contaminated handles and rails.

Over the weekend news broke of another tragic cluster of illness linked to fair/animal interactions. 

A 2-year-old boy died and three others were sickened upon contracting the E. coli virus after coming into contact with farm animals at the San Diego County Fair, according to authorities.

The child was hospitalized after visiting the county fair two weeks ago, and died Monday after complications stemming from the virus, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency confirmed on Friday. The other three children did not need medical attention.

A 2-year-old boy died and three others were sickened upon contracting the E. coli virus after coming into contact with farm animals at the San Diego County Fair, according to authorities.

The child was hospitalized after visiting the county fair two weeks ago, and died Monday after complications stemming from the virus, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency confirmed on Friday. The other three children did not need medical attention.

The frustrating nexus of these (and all the other illnesses) is that it’s good for folks to learn about agriculture and farming and food by seeing and interacting – and that very situation is risky.

What doesn’t help is when the agricultural community scoffs at these illnesses (I haven’t heard it on this one, but have in the past) essentially saying that handwashing is common sense, so these illnesses happen because people are ignorant. Except that all falls apart because we (the folks in the know) haven’t done our job telling folks how they can manage some of the risk of getting sick, and how organizers are also trying to reduce the risk to patrons. By missing that, we’re not doing everything we can to ensure that the safe behaviors take place. And that makes me sad.

Erdozain G, Kukanich K, Chapman B, Powell D. 2012. Observation of public health risk behaviours, risk communication and hand hygiene at Kansas and Missouri petting zoos – 2010-2011. Zoonoses Public Health. 2012 Jul 30. doi: 10.1111/j.1863-2378.2012.01531.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Outbreaks of human illness have been linked to visiting settings with animal contact throughout developed countries. This paper details an observational study of hand hygiene tool availability and recommendations; frequency of risky behavior; and, handwashing attempts by visitors in Kansas (9) and Missouri (4), U.S., petting zoos. Handwashing signs and hand hygiene stations were available at the exit of animal-contact areas in 10/13 and 8/13 petting zoos respectively. Risky behaviors were observed being performed at all petting zoos by at least one visitor. Frequently observed behaviors were: children (10/13 petting zoos) and adults (9/13 petting zoos) touching hands to face within animal-contact areas; animals licking children’s and adults’ hands (7/13 and 4/13 petting zoos, respectively); and children and adults drinking within animal-contact areas (5/13 petting zoos each). Of 574 visitors observed for hand hygiene when exiting animal-contact areas, 37% (n=214) of individuals attempted some type of hand hygiene, with male adults, female adults, and children attempting at similar rates (32%, 40%, and 37% respectively). Visitors were 4.8x more likely to wash their hands when a staff member was present within or at the exit to the animal-contact area (136/231, 59%) than when no staff member was present (78/343, 23%; p<0.001, OR=4.863, 95% C.I.=3.380-6.998). Visitors at zoos with a fence as a partial barrier to human-animal contact were 2.3x more likely to wash their hands (188/460, 40.9%) than visitors allowed to enter the animals’ yard for contact (26/114, 22.8%; p<0.001, OR= 2.339, 95% CI= 1.454-3.763). Inconsistencies existed in tool availability, signage, and supervision of animal-contact. Risk communication was poor, with few petting zoos outlining risks associated with animal-contact, or providing recommendations for precautions to be taken to reduce these risks.