Why Twitter Is Accusing Brad Leone Of Promoting Botulism

Before the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen's sterling reputation fell to a string of racial equity transgressions in 2020 — including offering lower pay to the employees of color who appeared in the magazine's video series, per The New York Times — viewers came to know and love the cast of characters on its wildly popular YouTube channel as one big, dysfunctional family. 

There was Sohla El-Waylly, whose enthusiasm for food and encyclopedic knowledge of cooking has served her well as a prolific YouTube freelancer. There was Claire Saffitz, who set out to recreate popular store-bought confections on "Gourmet Makes" and has since put out a cookbook and helmed her own channel. There were Priya Krishna, Rick Martinez, Molly Baz, and Carla Lalli Music, all of whom have continued to succeed in the post-BA food world with flying colors. And then there's Brad Leone, the effusively energetic Jersey boy who has worked his way up from BA's Test Kitchen Manager to an integral facet of the magazine's print and digital presence.

Leone's BA series, "It's Alive," sees the affable chef fermenting anything he can get his hands on, from mussels to PB&J. The YouTube series is still going strong — but recently, critics have taken issue with some of Leone's cooking methods. Food journalist Joe Rosenthal took to Twitter on April 11 to warn against the threat of botulism (a dangerous strand of food poisoning that can lead to serious illness, per the CDC) in some of Leone's videos.

There may be food-safety hazards at play in Leone's pastrami video

An April 11 tweet from self-identified "mathematician and food antagonist" Joe Rosenthal links to an Instagram post that features a longer explanation of the food safety issues at play in the April 4 "It's Alive" episode, "Brad Makes Pastrami." Rosenthal writes that Brad Leone fails to "use an actual cure for the meat," fails to brine the meat in sanitized water or a properly sanitized container, and fails to "fully submerge the meat in the brine" in the pastrami video. 

Rosenthal also notes that Leone uses a fork to tenderize the meat, a method he claims "[pushes] bacteria from the meat's surface into the interior." These actions, he says, puts viewers who try the recipe at risk for botulism. Rosenthal concludes the Instagram post by alleging that Bon Appétit team members "are explicitly aware" of his criticism of the video "and thus far have failed to take action to remedy this situation."

At Gawker, Tarpley Hitt reminds readers of the time Bon Appétit marketed its "Brad's Fermentation Station" T-shirt as the "It's Alive-Endorsed, not FDA endorsed long-sleeve," suggesting a certain pride in the show's history of hazardous cooking methods. Hitt also draws attention to a Twitter moment wherein a viewer told Leone that his pastrami recipe gave her "mind-boggling diarrhea." Leone's response was sympathetic, but he suggested a stomach virus was more likely the culprit. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time viewers have voiced concern over Leone's cooking methods. 

His seafood canning video violated FDA guidelines

Evidently, Joe Rosenthal has been following the food safety blunders on "It's Alive" for quite a while. Upon the release of Brad Leone's seafood canning tutorial that came out last year (a since-deleted video that Rosenthal maintains is "likely the worst food-related video ever published by a major company"), Rosenthal took to his Instagram stories, which can be viewed in a two-part story highlight titled "BA/Botulism" to clock its various missteps. 

While he applauds Leone for stressing the importance of food safety in the beginning of the video, Rosenthal goes on to cite a collaborative document stating that canning seafood in boiling water (the method Leone demonstrates in the video) is unsafe, and that seafood must instead be pressure-canned. Rosenthal then points out that Leone fails to let the canned seafood reach the temperature at which botulism is destroyed (between 240-250 degrees Fahrenheit, per the USDA). 

A later slide in the story highlight shows a clip from the "Brad Makes Hot Sauce" video, in which the chef proclaims that "no one's had botulism since like 1920." According to the CDC, however, 242 cases of botulism were reported in 2018. A 2021 Washington Post article confirms that Leone's seafood canning method violated FDA guidelines, which prompted Leone to issue a public apology on his Instagram page, telling viewers, "Please don't water bath your cans." The moral of the story is to always check FDA guidelines before handling ingredients that can cause foodborne illness.