Notational Analysis Form
Observational Study of Food Safety Practices in Retail Deli Departments
PUBLISHED ON Oct 1, 2010
LAST UPDATED Oct 1, 2010
Metadata Updated: November 15, 2017

M.B. Lubran,1*, R. Pouillot2, S. Bohm†, E.M. Calvey2, J. Meng1, and S. Dennis2

1 Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, University of Maryland
2 Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration


Notational analysis is an observational method in which a food employee’s actions can be recorded quickly and in the sequence that they occur.  The notational analysis technique was initially employed to record the behavior of food employees by Clayton and Griffith (2004), who adapted the technique from the field of sports science. Lubran et al. (2010) used this tool to record the actions of food employees in deli departments at six chain and three independent retail establishments in Maryland and Virginia, as they prepared deli products for sale. The frequency of contact with objects and deli products before sale, hand washing and glove changing during preparation, and equipment, utensil, and surface cleaning and sanitizing was determined. Compliance with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2005 model Food Code recommendations, which must be adopted by the individual state and local jurisdictions that are responsible for directly regulating retail establishments, was also assessed.

How to Use the Tool

Each action a food employee performs can be recorded on the Notational Analysis Form.  The form is designed to record the behavior of one food employee at a time.  Before using the tool, the researcher needs to develop a list of codes or short-hand notations for objects, equipment, actions, and other things they expect to encounter within the observation environment (see code key used by Lubran et al., 2010).  An example of an action observed by Lubran et al. (2010) which was recorded as a single action of the form using the code key is “PUP SAL” or “Pickup salami”.  Once a code key has been developed, it is recommended that these codes and the form be pilot-tested to ensure they are exhaustive and that the observer(s) is properly trained on how to use them. 

In addition to recording the actions the food employee performs, the observer can also use the form to record whether food safety actions (such as hand-washing) were recommended to be performed, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Code, as a result of the food employee’s previous sequence of actions.  For example, an employee may be observed touching his or her hair and then picking up a ready-to-eat sandwich.  In this case, the Food Code would recommend that the food employee should have washed their hands in between these actions because they touched bare human body parts other than clean hands and clean, exposed portions of arms before engaging in food preparation (see §2-301.14).  Another use of the form is to record whether the food safety actions the food employee performs are performed adequately or are attempted but not fully completed.  For a description of these different classifications of actions based on the Food Code recommendations used in previous studies, please see Lubran et al. (2010) or Green et al. (2006).  Finally, space is also provided in the form for notes and to record the time at pre-determined intervals (for example, every 10 actions). 

Some suggestions for improving data collection which were used in this and other studies include that:

  • No data should be collected during the first 10 to 15 minutes of observation (Green et al., 2006; Clayton & Griffith, 2004 waited 30 minutes).
  • Protective clothing similar to those worn by the employees of each business should be warn in an attempt to blend in with the surroundings (Clayton & Griffith, 2004).
  • A diagram of the work space should be recorded to aid in review of the data.   The work space should encompass the entire area used by deli counter food employees.


  • Lubran, M.B., Pouillot, R., Bohm, S., Calvey, E.M., Meng, J. and S. Dennis.  2010.  Observational Study of Food Safety Practices in Retail Deli Departments.  J. Food Prot. 73:1849-1857.
  • Clayton, D. A., and C. J. Griffith. 2004. Observation of food safety practices in catering using notational analysis. Br. Food J. 106:211–217.
  • Green, L. R., C. A. Selman, V. Radke, D. Ripley, J. C. Mack, D. W. Reimann, T. Stigger, M. Motsinger, and L. Bushnell. 2006. Food worker hand washing practices: an observation study. J. Food Prot. 69:2417–2423.


*The authors welcome any comments, suggestions and questions.  Please send them to Dr. Lubran at Meryl.Lubran@fsis.usda.gov.

The Notational Analysis Form and the code key used by Lubran et al (2010) are available for download.