Street foods made safer

A training manual in South Africa shows the importance of keeping food hot to prevent bacterial growth.

Three essential elements to healthy street foods: cleanliness, water supply and waste disposal.


Read also our related articles:

In South Africa as in many other developing countries, a faster pace of life and the migration of villagers to the city are making ‘street foods’ an increasingly important part of the daily diet. Prepared and sold on the street, these foods are tasty and convenient. Unfortunately, lack of attention to hygiene and poor access to clean water and waste disposal can turn a quick meal into a nasty bout of food poisoning.

In collaboration with the Government of South Africa, FAO has created a series of educational products to help vendors, food inspectors and consumers make the sale of street foods a safer and more profitable enterprise. A manual was produced for public health officers, giving essential information on safe food preparation and handling. A video showed vendors how producing good, safe food results in a boost in business. FAO also helped to reprint a series of training booklets that food inspectors throughout the country will use to educate street vendors.

"The project has been so successful, we'd like to use it as a model elsewhere in Africa," says Enrico Casadei, nutrition officer in FAO's Food Quality and Standards Service. Plans are underway to organize a regional conference that will use South Africa's experiences as a starting point for similar programmes in neighbouring countries.

Street foods are consumed by an estimated two and a half billion people world-wide. Because of its low cost and convenience, street food is an indispensable part of urban and rural diets in the developing world. But there are also risks. Food stalls often lack the necessary storage, refrigeration and cooking facilities to prevent contamination with bacteria such as Salmonella. In warm, moist conditions, a single bacterium can duplicate into 17 million disease-bearing organisms in just eight hours. And limited access to running water and waste disposal increases the potential for passing the problem on to many customers.

A few thousand miles away in Dakar, Senegal, the street food sector is also booming. So too are related problems. Groups of stalls cause traffic jams, waste fouls the streets and sewer system, and the incidence of food-borne illness is rising.

But all that is about to change. With help from FAO, Dakar officials have begun an ambitious project to improve the street food sector. Construction of a new market area is underway where street vendors will have access to fresh water, waste disposal and toilets.

Vendors are being taught basic rules about food hygiene, for instance, to keep cooked food away from raw food to avoid contamination and to refrain from food preparation when ill with a cold or infection. They are also learning business management skills, since without a healthy business it’s hard to devote the time and resources to improving hygiene. Finally, vendors are finding out about their legal rights so it’s clear how much they’re required to pay in taxes and what they should expect in return.

“From the first minute, street food vendors appreciated the advice we were giving them,” says Catherine Bessy, a consultant in FAO’s Food Quality and Standards Service. “They recognized that if your customers have more confidence in the foods you sell, they’ll come back.” Meanwhile, a public education component has helped consumers to recognize good, fresh food, and a new design for a street food cart has shown how a cart can be adapted to supply water and provide food storage space and waste disposal at low cost.

Dakar is also training its food inspection officers how to properly examine open-air food stalls. "The idea is that they won't just be enforcers of the law, but can also provide advice,” says Ms Bessy.

21 August 2001

Related links

 FAO Home page 

 Search our site 


©FAO, 2001