New App Means Secret Food Safety Inspections

Researchers have developed a new app that allows them to inconspicuously collect food safety data so they can conduct more accurate safety inspections
October 20, 2015

Health Inspectors will be able to secretly conduct food safety checks thanks to the development of a new smartphone app.

According to Pennsylvania State University's Professor Catherine Cutter, food workers who know they are being observed can unintentionally alter their behaviour, which distorts results. Known as the Hawthorn Effect, these changes in behaviour often make the observation itself pointless.

With the new app though, food businesses would be unaware they were being examined so council inspectors would be more likely to observe the normal goings-on of the business. Therefore, resulting in a more accurate food safety inspection.

"Direct concealed observations have been used to minimise the Hawthorne Effect during observational data collection in various settings," said Professor Cutter.

However, for a person to conduct a concealed observation they would likely have to rely on their memory. After all, if they were to take notes in front of the people being observed then it would not remain concealed for long.

The New Food Safety App

As a solution to this problem, researchers from Pennsylvania State University have developed an app that allows health inspectors to conduct their food safety checks discreetly on their mobile. The idea is that a person using their phone when dining out or waiting for take-away would not draw suspicion.

"In our research, we describe a newly developed smartphone and tablet application for use as a data collection tool for direct concealed observations," said Professor Cutter.

The app includes checklists for hand washing, measuring temperatures and potential food safety hazards. The user can also add audio clips, photos and notes taken from the observation.

However, although this new app would allow the inspector to inconspicuously gather information while dining in a restaurant or café, one question remains - how would they access the kitchen?

A routine food safety inspection can mean checking temperatures, storerooms and equipment. And although this app would allow them to secretly observe front-of-house operations, they would still have to alert the business when they entered the kitchen.