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60 Seconds With . . . Ben Chapman

The professor has become a go-to food safety expert during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Ben Chapman

Ben Chapman is a professor of agricultural and human services and a food safety Extension specialist. He has been a go-to expert during the coronavirus pandemic, helping guide the conversation about everything from take-out meals to grocery shopping. He’s been quoted by news outlets such as The Washington Post, CNN and Fox News. (Oh, and about that take-out pizza? It’s all good.)

What’s the biggest question people have been asking you?

Is food something we should worry about? Being around people matters a lot — that’s why social distancing works. The questions are, “OK, I get that. What else should I be focusing on?” It’s really a natural jump to food, because every day I’ve got to consume something, and I know at certain intervals I have to go out and get it or get it delivered.

So what’s the answer? Can the coronavirus remain infectious on food?

The quick answer is yes, it can be there. We don’t have any indication that it wouldn’t be there, if someone was to cough or sneeze or transfer it with their hands. But we don’t have any evidence of people getting sick from food or food packaging. We’re all unlikely to get sick from it, if it were on food. There are a lot of biological reasons and epidemiological reasons.

Will COVID-19 lead to long-term changes in food safety?

The things that we’re doing to control transfer of this virus will have impacts on controlling norovirus and hepatitis A. So that’s a silver lining. I think there will be long-term impacts on how we handle buffet lines and hot bars. I think we’ll see more hand sanitizer in those settings. One of the struggles that we’ve had in the food industry is employees working while ill. We’re now in a situation where it’s not negotiable. Hopefully that will help steer the industry to where we’re going to do everything we can to make sure you don’t show up ill.

You’ve said that watching the movie Outbreak as a teenager sparked your interest in public health. Have things come full circle for you?

Oh my gosh, yes. That’s what I got really interested in, was disease and how people got sick. The movie hasn’t aged super well, at least according to my kids.

— Sarah Nagem

This story appears in the summer 2020 issue of NC State magazine. Members receive the award-winning publication in their mailboxes every quarter.