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.

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:

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