What is street food?
The demand for street food has increased in recent times due to increase in population, and demand for non-traditional food services. People prefer to have ready-made food and appreciate it for its unique flavor, without minding the absence of basic food hygiene. Street foods includes: ready-made foods or drinks that are prepared or sold by street vendors and hawkers, especially in public places.
Why do people eat street food?
People prefer to eat from street-vendors mostly out of habit. Moreover, our social and cultural heritage plays a role in our food choices, as well. Furthermore, the convenience and uniqueness of flavors offered by street vendors, not to mention their affordability attracts people. Some people opt to eat street food because of a busy schedule and lack of time.
What are the major food borne illnesses?
Street foods are associated with a number of illnesses; these can be infectious or toxic in nature. Food is a common source of entry of viruses, bacteria and pathogens to enter the body. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), foodborne pathogens are associated with diseases like severe diarrhea, food poisoning, and even meningitis.
What bacterial infections can occur?
When it comes to most prevalent foodborne bacterial infections, salmonella is a common example. Salmonella causes typhoid fever, which is quite common in our country, and quickly becoming drug-resistant. It can present with fever, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. If you encounter such symptoms be sure to reach out to healthcare professionals such as those at Rehman Medical Institute to rule out serious infections.
Other bugs that spread through street-food include: clostridium perfringens, bacillus cereus, staphylococcus aureus. These bugs can cause infections like diarrhea, vomiting, food poisoning and cholera.
Over the past few years, food borne infections and food safety have become an important public health concern. The prevalence of foodborne viruses is increasing in our country due to increase in substandard street food, causing a heavy public health burden.
How do foodborne infections spread?
Foodborne infection spread through inadequate health measures taken by food handlers. Moreover, majority of outbreaks are due to handling of food by infected individuals. Inadequate toilet services with lack of soap etc., are also a cause of foodborne bugs.
Other causes include use of contaminated and expired ingredients to make food. In the extreme heat of summers, most people opt for a cold beverage at a street food vendor without thinking about contaminants in the water or ice, street vendors use.
The high rate of infectivity of street food is also because it is not regulated by any government or health regulatory service. In most of the developing countries, street food makes up for a significant portion of informal sector of economy. However, the food practices of this sector are extremely unsanitary.
Another important cause of high infectivity of street food is the method of transportation of food. Meat, for instance, can be spoiled in transport if not properly refrigerated or frozen. Moreover, meat can be a source of animal-borne infections, known as zoonotic diseases. Meat can also be contaminated by airborne pollutants and spoil quickly.
Use of utensils
Cross contamination can occur if proper utensils are not used, and if food is improperly stored. For example, if the same knife is used to cut raw meat, and salads, without washing in between, then contamination can occur in salads. Cleanliness of the utensils in which food is consumed also plays a role in infectivity. Non-disposable plates and cutleries if washed improperly can lead to disease.
Use of bare hands
Some street vendors do not wash properly and handle food with bare hands. A lack of proper toilet facilities, combined with bare food handling makes for a high infectivity rate. Pathogens such as typhoid-causing salmonella survive on human hands for more than three hours, and if proper hand washing technique is not used, they can spread through the food to other people.
How to prevent street food borne infections?
Countries need to have regulations to monitor street food, as well as protect their citizens from disease outbreaks. As mentioned before, street food makes up a big chunk of informal sector of economy and as such, they should also be protected.
Countries like Malaysia, India and Philippines have regulations for street vendors. In fact, licenses are issued to street vendors in Malaysia, for conducting their trade, and these vendors are subsequently regulated. Food laws are also now amended in Africa to develop strategies to identify and control food hazards.
Similar policies are needed in our country where a lot of people not only consume street food, but a huge population relies on the income through vending food. With implementation of food laws for proper storage of food and hygiene practices of food handlers, a great improvement can be made in quality of street food.
More studies and epidemiological data is needed to know about the adverse health impact of street food on health. For people who already have chronic diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), unhealthy street food can significantly worsen the disease. For anyone suffering through the consequences of unhygienic street food, a good gastroenterologist is a must, such as the health professionals at Iqra Medical Center.