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UH team wins prize for food safety training system

Post a commentBy staff reporter , 02-Dec-2016
Last updated on 02-Dec-2016 at 11:27 GMT2016-12-02T11:27:35Z

Enhancing food safety behaviour through behaviour-based training tools. Picture: ©iStock/kabliczech
Enhancing food safety behaviour through behaviour-based training tools. Picture: ©iStock/kabliczech

A University of Houston (UH) team has won a competition to help bring smartphone/tablet based food safety training tools to commercialization.

The augmented reality technology streamlines cleanliness practices to smaller and midsize food service operations where access to such tools might be limited.

A user places a smartphone on the food safety chart in the kitchen and it would be linked to a 30-second video on hand washing or access the best way other food safety tasks should be done.

The UH Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management was one of four winners of the Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) competition and received $50,000.

The awards are a collaboration between the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the National Science Foundation.

Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director, said: "Through this new partnership with the National Science Foundation, we are able to help move ideas from the research lab to the marketplace, where they can provide real solutions as these teams intended."

Assistant professor Sujata Sirsat, the principal project investigator, PhD student Heyao "Chandler" Yu and Hilton College professor John Bowen, developed a behaviour-based, educational toolkit to educate, monitor and improve safe food handling practices for restaurant and grocery store employees.

The team has interviewed 100 potential customers on the front lines of food service to gauge commercialisation demand.

Safe food handling is ‘not even close’ to where it needs to be, according to Sirsat, with 60% of foodborne illness occurring in restaurants, most commonly from employees who come to work sick.

“The goal is to enhance food safety behaviour by designing behaviour-based training tools for managers to motivate their employees to follow best practices.”

The team and the other winners - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Lincoln University and Cornell University - will present findings in Washington D.C. this month before deciding whether to move forward or not.

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