Consumers' Use of Personal Electronic Devices in the Kitchen

J Food Prot. 2018 Feb 23;437-443. doi: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-17-172. Online ahead of print.


Smartphones, tablets, and other personal electronic devices have become ubiquitous in Americans' daily lives. These devices are used by people throughout the day, including while preparing food. For example, a device may be used to look at recipes and therefore be touched multiple times during food preparation. Previous research has indicated that cell phones can harbor bacteria, including opportunistic human pathogens such as Staphylococcus and Klebsiella spp. This investigation was conducted with data from the 2016 Food Safety Survey (FSS) and from subsequent focus groups to determine the frequency with which consumers use personal electronic devices in the kitchen while preparing food, the types of devices used, and hand washing behaviors after handling these devices. The 2016 FSS is the seventh wave of a repeated cross-sectional survey conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The goal of the FSS is to evaluate U.S. adult consumer attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge about food safety. The FSS included 4,169 adults that were contacted using a dual-frame (land line and cell phone interviews) random-digit-dial sampling process. The personal electronics module was the first of three food safety topics discussed by each of eight consumer focus groups, which were convened in four U.S. cities in fall 2016. Results from the 2016 FSS revealed that of those individuals who use personal electronic devices while cooking, only about one third reported washing hands after touching the device and before continuing cooking. This proportion is significantly lower than that for self-reported hand washing behaviors after touching risky food products such as raw eggs, meat, chicken, or fish. Results from the focus groups highlight the varied usage of these devices during food preparation and the related strategies consumers are using to incorporate personal electric devices into their cooking routines.

Keywords: Consumer; Food safety; Personal electronic devices.