December 12, 2018

Is Your Smart Phone or Tablet a Food Safety Hazard in the Kitchen?

If you use your smart phone, tablet, or laptop in the kitchen, is that tool a food safety hazard? Two researchers at the FDA are looking at this issue.

Smart Phone Kitchen

Amy Lando, MPP, and Dr. Michael Bazaco in the Office of Analytics and Outbreak at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition analyzed findings from the 2016 Food Safety Survey and related focus groups. Their next step is to find out if there’s any danger of contamination from using these devices during food preparation.┬áThe researchers already know that bacteria that can cause human illness can survive on cell phones.

This is the first study to look at how consumers use personal electronic devices such as a smart phone in the kitchen. It was published in the February 2018 issue of the Journal of Food Protection. The researchers say that there is no hard evidence that these devices have caused any food poisoning cases, but that’s what they are going to study next.

The FSS study was a telephone interview with 4,000 respondents, conducted from October 2015 through January 2016. Seventy-three of those participants met in eight focus groups with a trained non-FDA moderator.

The study showed that 49% of consumers use these devices while preparing food, but only 37% of them wash their hands with soap after touching the device. Lando said that most people don’t recognize this as a food safety issue. Consumers are more likely to wash their hands after touching raw meat, chicken, or fish, with 85% reporting this behavior.

This study’s intention was to understand the risks associated with cross-contamoiantion from device surfaces such as smart phones to food. The researchers want to develop advice to help consumers minimize this risk. Voice activation functions may have the potential to allow less manual contact.

The researchers say that it’s best to minimize contact with the phone or table during cooking, and to wash hands regularly during the food preparation process. Both researchers say they do use these devices in the kitchen, but always wash their hands well after handling it.

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