Street foods have become a very important part of our meals. They are ready-to-eat foods and beverages sold in public corners or hawked on the streets. Many people nourish themselves daily on the go. For some people, purchasing street foods is their major means of consuming an adequate meal. Street foods have since become a part of our food culture.
While there are many junks out there on the streets, consumers have to be very careful in their selection of food so that they get foods that are wholesome and safe to eat.
Today, I had the opportunity to meet a seller of fried Tilapia and Crabs. In terms of nutrition, these street snacks are a better deal than street puff-puff and buns which are usually a combination of refined flour, sugar, oil and spices. These add to calories, giving you some energy, but they do not give you value for what your body requires. Tilapia and crabs on the other hand are nutritious sea foods that provide you with protein, omega 3 fatty acids, and a good number of vitamins and minerals.
Looking at these foods -the fried Tilapia and crabs – one would say that they were probably fried under high temperature and thus some harmful bacteria would have been destroyed. While the Tilapia was packaged in a polyethylene bag, the crabs were left exposed on plastic saucers risking more contamination from the environment. There are other issues of safety in preparation, handling, packaging and hawking for both street foods.
The major problem with street foods, whether they are nutritious or not, is safety. How safe are these street foods? Many studies over the years and in different parts of Nigeria have shown that many times microbial levels of these foods are above the acceptable limits allowed in food.
In a country where street foods are not regulated, they may be causing a lot of harm and issues of public health importance. An outbreak of food poison remains a continuous threat not just in Nigeria but many parts of the world.
One of the ways to address issues of food safety is consumer awareness. Consumers need to make better choices of choosing street foods that are more nutritious and safe. When we demand for nutritious and safe food, vendors will work to meet these needs. In the meantime, if there is an opportunity to reheat these street foods before you eat them, please do so. Another thing to do is to choose foods that are sold in clean environments and well packaged (there are other things like water and hygiene of the vendor that one must look out for). It does not make sense to buy roasted corn near a gutter filled with murky water.
Street food vendors also need to be educated and regulated. Sanitation is also very important to reduce issues of waste accumulating and blocked drains. Let us stay safe and healthy.