Street food in Nigeria: how safe is it?

Street food is becoming more popular throughout the world. It's not just us first-world people who watch "The Great Food Truck Race" on the Food Network, but globally people are seeking new ways to provide inexpensive, ready-to-eat food products to consumers on the go.

Typically, reducing a food service into a "mobile" location brings with it some inherent food safety challenges: new electricity sources need to be identified, water usage has to be limited to that which can be contained in freshwater and grey water tanks, there's not a lot of storage space, etc. With a good food safety plan, all of these challenges can be reduced. However, therein lies the rub: do mobile food service operators have the food safety acumen to develop a good food safety plan?

A group of Nigerian researchers looked to answer this very question by surveying 160 street food vendors to study food safety behaviors and hygiene practices. What they found wasn't great, if I'm being honest. Nothing in the study made me want to hop aboard a flight to southwestern Nigeria for some street meat. Nearly 62% of respondents had no formal food safety training at all, which was reflected in their hygiene practiced and attitudes toward keeping consumers safe. A stunning 3.8% of respondents "always" store food in the refrigerator, while 76% don't store food at refrigerated temperatures, and 16% don't have any food storage facilities at all.

In terms of personal hygiene, only 17% of respondents "always" washed their hands after using the toilet (though 79% responded that they did so "often"). Unfortunately, 77% of respondents admitted to using a reusable household towel to dry their hands after washing, instead of single-use paper towel.

Given the hygiene behaviors identified during the survey, it's very likely that there's a correlation between worker knowledge on how to prevent food-borne illnesses and formalized food safety training. While socioeconomic factors can reduce an individual's access to this type of training, and their ability to take time away from the workforce to participate, some sort of state-funded option could go a long way toward correcting some of these behaviors. Further, inspections and legislation surrounding street food (full disclosure: I don't know what's already in place in Nigeria) could ensure that vendors have refrigerated storage where necessary, and access to soap and paper towels for hand washing.

Source: Aluko, O.O., Ojeremi, T.T., Olaleke, D.A., & Ajidagba, E.B. (2014). Evaluation of food safety and sanitary practices among food vendors at car parks in Ile Ife, southwestern Nigeria. Food Control, 40, 165-171.

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