Dr Ben Chapman is an Assistant Professor and food safety specialist with North Carolina Cooperative Extension at North Carolina State University.
His group designs, implements and evaluates food safety strategies, messages and media with the primary aim of having less people sick with foodborne illnesses.
As part of UCLan's Distinguished Visitor Programme, Dr Chapman was invited to UCLan by the SSTO's Carol Wallace to discuss our food safety teaching programmes and to forge a research collaboration between the two Universities.
Dr Chapman is also a regular blog contributor to the aptly-named barfblog, co-hosts a bi-weekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage people across a variety of Social Media platforms. We met with Ben and Carol to talk about their plans:
Tell us how the visit came about?
CW - Ben and I met a few years back, but it wasn't until a year ago we started talking about collaborating as we've got a lot of similar interests. I was lucky enough to visit North Carolina State University to find out more about how they do things there.
When the opportunity presented itself through UCLan's Distinguished Visitor Programme, I thought it was the ideal chance for Ben to have a look at us and formalise our collaboration plans, in addition to meeting other researchers. The visit will also help us build future partnerships between the two universities and help us move our research forward.
How have you found Preston so far?
BC - It's been fantastic. It's fun to get out of your day-to-day grind and spend time with colleagues who have common interests. We see each other at international meetings, but you don't get the chance to talk about our programmes or discuss emerging issues. We both work closely with the food industry, but obviously in different parts of the world, and have a lot of similar challenges and issues, so it’s extremely valuable to be able to discuss each other’s experiences.
You mention similarities – are there many differences between your research?
BC - The differences are in how things are regulated or the focus of issues, but the challenges remain the same. A lot of Carol's work looks at how people implement food safety strategies. It doesn't matter that strategy is as the knowledge is transferable. There are some nuances due to those regulatory differences, but ultimately it’s all similar research.
Are there differences in the way things are taught?
CW - Here at UCLan we offer online teaching whereas North Carolina don't have that programme as yet in food safety. They do have undergraduate food science courses which have food safety in them and most of the postgraduates will be doing research Master's. One of the reasons Ben is here is to look at how we teach online and he'll be doing an Adobe Connect webinar with our students during his visit.
BC - Carol’s programme is further ahead than we are in terms of how courses are delivered. We do offer some distance learning, but it’s not an entire programme created around that. I want to be able to take back some of Carol's methodologies and implement them back home. I also do a lot of work with other educators who work in the field directly to practitioners. I see this as an ideal model to better educate those people.
Tell us what inspired you to get into the industry?
BC - A Dustin Hoffman movie called Outbreak! When I was at High School I was really interested in Biology. As I got older I was intrigued by disease and what causes it. As an undergraduate I studied Molecular Biology in Genetics and was really interested in the food system. I ended up linking with a Professor who was interested in risks around food and how people communicated and learned from this.
Through my experience with him I did a lot of work in the media and interacted a lot with practitioners such as farmers. I moved onto my Masters and then PHD and began to look at restaurants and caterers and how they do things. But it all started with Hollywood’s portrayal of viruses - I found it fascinating.
Is there any chance you starring in Outbreak 2?
BC - Yes, maybe there’s a screenplay somewhere in my future! On a different tangent the 2011 film Contagion is fabulous – it was so well done; the science behind it was brilliant. I've not gone back to view Outbreak so don't know whether that still stacks up, but Contagion was so good it might end up inspiring a new generation of people into the industry.
Where do see your research leading?
BC - My main focus is how people in the industry get their information about food safety. How do I connect with people, engage with them, but also train people involved in food safety issues in an online environment? We need to be able to have more informed decisions, whether that’s the consumer, a restaurant manager or the CEO of a major food processing company.
CW - It's all about learning from incidents and events. We’re going to explore these in research terms by speaking to companies and finding out how they go about trying to improve things. We’re also very interested in Farmer's Markets and food safety practices.
Ben's team have worked on those in the States and its growing here, so we want to do some collaborative work so we can compare and contrast the research. We’re also looking to do some student exchanges to assist learning at both Universities.
BC: That was one of the key deliverables Carol and I wanted to discuss. How do we go about improving interaction between students to enhance their learning experiences? To be able to understand the differences between food safety here and in the USA would prove invaluable to them.
It gives an insight in how to make change. Understanding how to affect change if food safety is compromised is vital if people are to do their job properly, and hopefully this new collaboration will help us make a major impact on the industry in the future.
The SSTO would like to thank Dr Chapman and Carol Wallace for this interview. You can follow Dr Chapman on Twitter @benjaminchapman.