Use of the Smartphone Application "Food Safe Surveys" for Data Collection during Direct Concealed Observations

Robson A. M. Machado, Joshua A. Scheinberg, Lori F. Pivarnik, Catherine N. Cutter Biblographic citation: Food Protection Trends, vol. 35, no. 5, pp. 357-364, Sep 2015 Volume 35, Issue 5: Pages 357–364

Food safety practices of food handlers often are observed for research purposes. However, if these observations are not concealed, they can result in unintended behavioral changes, commonly referred to as the Hawthorne effect (HE). Direct concealed observations (DCOs) have been used to minimize the HE during observational data collection in various settings. However, some limitations to data collection can include the need to memorize observations or take notes out of sight of those being observed. We describe a newly developed smartphone and tablet application for use as a data collection tool for DCOs. To further evaluate the use of smartphones as inconspicuous data collection tools, a short survey was developed and disseminated to assess public perceptions of smartphone use in a retail setting. Participants were shown images of individuals using either a smartphone or a clipboard in a retail environment and asked to provide open-ended responses. Ninety-five percent (95%) of participant (n = 85) responses indicated that images of clipboard use in a retail setting suggested evaluative activities (e.g., research, inspection), whereas none of the participants indicated that images of smartphone use in the same environment suggested evaluative activities. These results demonstrate that use of a smartphone for data collection in a retail setting may not be perceived as an evaluative activity, and that its application during DCOs could minimize the HE. This research may be of interest to researchers, regulatory personnel, and food industry professionals who are seeking ways to evaluate the food safety behaviors of food handlers.

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