Streetfood and desire

In the West the concept of authentic street food has been somewhat romanticized in the developing world however it can be a killer. In one of the most rapidly developing African nations, Nigeria it is estimated that 200,000 children die each year because of diarrhea caused by food borne pathogens. Research published in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health suggests that education, inspections and surveillance of food borne disease outbreaks could remedy this situation.

According to Jacob Oluwoye of Alabama A&M University, USA and Olasunmbo Ajayi of Bowen University, Nigeria, street vended foods are riddled with pathogenic microbes, including Campylobacter, Clostridium, Salmonella, Escherichia and Listeria because of poor hygiene standards, mishandling of raw and cooked materials, an unsanitary preparation environment and the use of untreated well water, for instance. There are also the additional problems of viral pathogens, parasites, toxic chemical contaminants and prions. Street food is sold in the open air, often near garbage collection spots without protection from the environment and ready contamination from soil, dust, wind and rain.

The team points out that this is a growing problem as there has been an explosion in the number of street vendors across Nigeria, partly because of urbanization and rising unemployment. They also point out that this brings with it another problem for children who are often removed from education and put to work on food stalls when they would otherwise be taking lessons in school.

“Street foods create significant safety and public health risks to the sellers who are running between vehicles to sell their foods and to the buyers who may lack awareness as to the food safety hazards of the food,” the team reports. Their study concludes that although there are food safety laws in Nigeria, these laws are archaic, grossly neglected and not enforced. The same may well apply elsewhere.

Ajayi, O.A. and Oluwoye, J.O. (2015) ‘Sustainable street vended foods and food safety: a conceptual framework’, Int. J. Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health, Vol. 5, Nos. 3/4, pp.195–216.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.