Data collection related to food safety observations in restaurants and supermarkets could soon be made easier with a new smartphone app. This app can replace traditional methods to improve the quality of data collection without any fuss.
Food safety practices adopted by food handlers are often monitored for research, inspection and regulatory purposes. However, if surveillance is not concealed, it can result in unintended behavioral changes, known as the Hawthorne Effect. These changes can render such observations meaningless.
Catherine Cutter, professor of food science at Pennsylvania State University, said, "Direct concealed observations have been used to minimize the Hawthorne Effect during observational data collection in various settings, but some limitations can include the need to memorize observations or take notes out of sight of those being observed."
For the study, researchers described a newly developed smartphone and tablet application for use as a data collection tool for direct concealed observations.
The smartphone app helps create of checklists to record aspects such as hand hygiene, the adequacy of hand-washing facilities, the temperature in coolers holding ready-to-eat foods and the presence of potentially hazardous foodstuff. It allows the user to easily add photos, audio, videos and open-ended notes to their reports.
Cutter added, "The app can be used as a non-threatening tool to make direct, concealed behavioral observations and no one will ever realize you are doing it. An observer can just pretend to be texting or fiddling with the phone, while monitoring the interactions between customers and workers in retail establishments such as supermarkets. The results should cater to researchers, regulatory personnel and food industry professionals who are seeking ways to evaluate the food safety behaviors of food handlers."
The study is published in Food Protection Trends.