Food safety & socioeconomic considerations of Brazil's street food industry

Previously, I looked at food safety in the Nigerian street food market, where research indicated that there was a lack of food safety knowledge among street food vendors, and this was likely correlated with a lack of formalized food safety training in that country. A new study looks at street food in Salvador, Brazil, and focuses not only in the food safety implications of the industry, but also on its contributions to the economy.

Similar to the demography of Nigerian street food vendors, the majority of those (56%) in Salvador were found to be women. Street food plays an important role in the economy in many lower-income regions, as it allows a source of income for women (who often are the head of household in lower income families), and also provides affordable food to low-income consumers. In Salvador, because the street food is positioned near the beach, it largely caters to out-of-town visitors, allowing 95% of the vendors to earn up to $186USD per day; the average income of the vendors was between 1 and 3 times the Brazilian minimum wage. Interestingly, though the majority of vendors were female, females were found to have an income slightly lower than their male counterparts.

The average (mean) age of the vendors was 40 years old, showing that this is a group of individuals who would otherwise be in the workforce in some other way. Again, showing the importance of street food to the economy, 54% of vendors were the heads of their families, with street food being the sole source of income. 86% of vendors were their own bosses, and 34% worked every day of the week. Interestingly, 46% of vendors only worked on weekends, presumably when there would be more patrons visiting the beach.

The other aspect of the study was food safety habits among the vendors. Similarly to Nigeria, hand washing was essentially non-existent: 23% of vendors reported that they "never" washed their hands, while only 41% washed their hands "often". As there are no sanitary facilities available at the beach, those vendors who did wash their hands had to rely on water brought from home, or in certain cases, sea water. Most vendors did bring water from home for use in their food sales, with 92% using it to drink, and only 61% using it for hand washing. Less than 30% of vendors were found to be sanitizing their food preparation surfaces and equipment, and the majority of perishable food items were not stored properly. I found it somewhat humorous that 82% of vendors stored beverages in Styrofoam coolers to keep them cold, but only 38% stored potentially hazardous food items in the same way.

Since the removal of food kiosks at the Salvador beach, street food has become essentially the only place to eat. The data from this study shows that there's clearly a market for street food in the area, allowing vendors to make a relatively decent income, and provide for their families. Given the economic importance of the industry, logical next steps would implementing some food safety measures to ensure customers (and workers) don't become ill. Requirements like those in B.C. (mechanical refrigeration, hand washing stations, etc.) would be overkill, and would likely put many of these vendors out of business. However, providing formalized food safety training, similar to that recommended for Nigeria, would enable the vendors to make their own outcome-based decisions on how to best run their businesses. A simple explanation of the importance of cold-holding could move some of those beverages out of the coolers to make room for the potentially hazardous food items!

Source: Silva, S. A., Cardoso, R. D., Góes, J. Â, Santos, J. N., Ramos, F. P., Jesus, R. B., ... Silva, P. S. (2014, 12). Street food on the coast of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil: A study from the socioeconomic and food safety perspectives. Food Control, 40, 78-84.
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