Phone app allows researchers to conduct concealed food safety observations

mob app

Smartphones are so ubiquitous, and text messaging and social media activities so common in public places, that no one questions what anyone does with their phone. That pervasiveness allows a phone application to be used in direct, concealed observations without alerting the people being observed.

That is the conclusion of food science researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, who studied whether phones could be used in place of the traditional clipboards to improve the quality of data collection related to food safety observations.

Food safety practices used 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, according to Catherine Cutter, professor of food science. Those changes — known as the Hawthorne Effect — can render such observations meaningless.

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