Street foods around the world

Millions of people consume street foods each day in India. (FAO/15572/R.Faidutti)

Healthy food on the go from a street vendor in Ecuador. (FAO/16315/G.Bizzari)

Over the last 15 years, FAO has helped officials improve street food in more than two dozen cities world-wide.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the purchase of street foods accounts for 20 to 30 percent of urban household expenditures and provides a major source of employment. During a cholera outbreak in 1991, officials in Peru and Bolivia found the virus in certain street foods like ceviche, an uncooked fish dish. FAO offered technical assistance to a number of street food projects throughout the region. Between 1991 and 1994, these projects helped train over 600 food inspectors and close to 50 000 food handlers, from Mexico to Central and South America.

Unfortunately, momentum waned after the cholera scare abated, so a new campaign has begun to educate consumers to demand higher quality street foods. Radio, television and print programmes have been started in Bolivia and Colombia. Local NGOs and food associations are also keeping this campaign alive.

In Bangkok, Thailand, 20 000 street food vendors provide city residents with 40 percent of their overall energy intake. Unfortunately, studies have consistently found unacceptably high levels of bacteria and other toxins. To combat the problem, the Thailand Department of Health instituted a Code of Practice for Street Foods that includes 10 steps to making them healthier. With FAO support, local authorities were able to hold half-day briefings for food inspection officers to learn about the code of practice. They also developed a public awareness campaign to teach customers about the importance of improved hygiene. A year after the code of practice was introduced vendors in one area announced that sales were up 20 percent.

Besides being cheap and convenient, street foods can also be nutritious. A study in Calcutta found that an average 1 000 calorie meal contained about 30 grams of protein, 15 grams of fat and 180  grams of carbohydrates. And at an average cost of about five Indian rupees, street food is probably the least expensive means of obtaining a nutritionally balanced meal outside the home, according to the study.

21 August 2001

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©FAO, 2001