In every (decent) restaurant bathroom, there is a big bold sign that reminds employees to WASH THEIR HANDS. Exactly how well they wash those hands is a bit less definitive. And poorly washed hands touching your food after a trip to the bathroom, well, I’m getting nauseated just writing this.
You’re supposed to scrub your hands for as long as it takes to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice, but life, work and general antipathy towards that horrible song often cut that time short. And dirty hands can be a big problem.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States. To put it in cold, monetary terms, a single foodborne illness outbreak can cost a fast casual restaurant anywhere between $6,330 to $2.1 million.
To help restaurant employees and owners get a handle on clean hands, PathSpot has developed a special scanner that uses visible fluorescent spectroscopy to check washed hands for pathogens that may carry foodborne illnesses. After an employee washes their hands, they stick them under the device (installed in the back) which shines a purple light on them.
Once lit up, PathSpot can “see” any contaminants not visible to the naked eye still left on the hands. PathSpot looks for indicators behind 98 percent of all food borne illness types and protects against a broad range of food borne illness such as E.Coli, Salmonella, Norovirus, Hep A, Listeria, and many others. If contaminants are found, the PathSpot screen displays a red X and employees should re-wash and re-test their hands. Sites can choose whether they want people to identify themselves at the scanner or not. PathSpot then collects this data and gives it to restaurant management to determine where any breakdowns are in their sanitation procedures.
Right now, PathSpot is running pilots in forty food-related sites such as packaging locations and restaurants. According to Christine Schindler, CEO & Co-Founder of PathSpot Technologies, early results show that on average, 20 percent of workers (that’s one in five!) fail the hand wash scan during the first week of using PathSpot. As they use the scanner more, the number of failures drops by 75 percent over the course of the first month.
PathSpot joins a number of companies using light in clever ways to improve the food chain. ImpactVision is using hyperspectral imaging to determine food quality. SomaDetect uses light scattering analysis to determine milk quality and detect cow disease. And the handheld SCiO device uses near-infrared spectrometry to analyze cow feed for dry matter.
Based in New York City, PathSpot has raised $2 million in seed funding. The company charges a subscription fee for the service ranging from $100 – $150 per month and includes the PathSpot scanner as well as access to all the analytics.
Schindler’s sights are set beyond the bathroom sink, however. She said using light and their algorithms, future PathSpot devices could scan for allergens like peanuts, or be installed on a conveyor belt to scan plates or even food for contaminants.
But those applications aren’t even in development yet as the company focuses on scaling their current product. And if it works as promised, hopefully more restaurants find a spot for PathSpot in their kitchens.