Food Vending: Convenience or Hazard

By: Theophilus Franklyn

They are prevalent on the side walk, under trees, at the back of vehicles and even on beaches. Whether they are selling clothing, food, non-perishable items, fruits or vegetables – they are all vendors – plying their trade.
But who is a vendor? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a vendor is “someone who is selling something.” It goes on to specify that it is a person who “sells food or goods on the street.”
In the capital city of Kingstown alone, it is estimated that there are over 1000 vendors who can be categorized as progressive entrepreneurs who are doing their best to make a living.
Many of them are food vendors who make it convenient for Vincentians and visitors to enjoy cooked food, snack boxes, fruits and other delicacies. However, there are some negligent vendors whose operations are less than hygienic, spreading detrimental food borne diseases.

So it’s important to look out for red flags in food vending.
Cleanliness: One of the first things to look out for when it comes to food sale is storage. Food that is being left open to the elements where dust, buzzing flies and human cough particles can come into contact – are recipes for food poisoning.
Watch the location where the business is established. Is it near a dump site where rodents and other pests frequent? Is it close to washrooms facilities where bio waste and pungent odor is given off? Or is it where a vagrant or stray animals sleeps and the area is not clean? Where a vendor sets up shop, truly says a lot about them as a business person.
Be vigilant and observe how the vendor operates. Where are they placing their utensils? Are they properly washed? Where does the water come from? Ensure that the water being utilized is not taken from stagnant streams or rivers.
How are the persons selling dressed? Food vendors and their assistants must not be wearing sleeveless tops, have long unkempt hair and slippers to name a few. The last thing customers want, is for the perspiration from a street vendor’s arm pit to drip into ones food or be choked by a long strand of hair.

Uncooked Food: Food that is not properly cooked is just as dangerous as unhygienic food handling. Salmonella is one bacteria that causes severe food poisoning.
According the Center for Disease Control (CDC) – persons can develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days and most persons recover without treatment. However, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized.
The transmissions of Escherichia coli or E.coli is found in the environment, foods and intestines of people and animals. CDC warns that although most strains of E.coli are harmless, others can cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, vomiting, diarrhea and pneumonia. Some meats, fruits, lettuce and other green leafy vegetable that have been in contact with human or animal fecal residue can cause E. coli poisoning.

Leptospirosis: The urine from animals such as rats is one of the main ways that leptospirosis is spread in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The four legged creatures could be seen scurrying from gutter to drains and have been known to run over a foot or two. But vendors who own pets must also be aware that they their fur companions can spread the disease. They must ensure that they wash clothing, upholstery and bedding where their cats and dogs snuggle.

Right Temperature: Bacteria grows every two hours when it is left at room temperature. So it is important that vendors have sufficient heating apparatus to keep food warm for extend hours at 5-60Ο Celsius or 40-141Ο Fahrenheit.
Food should be piping hot after it has been reheated in the microwave and reheating used food is generally a “no-go” as this further encourages bacterial growth.
Additionally, cold food should be stored at their correct temperature. For example fresh salad with mayonnaise/salad dressing should be kept on ice to prevent food poisoning from occurring.

Checks & Balances: In St.Vincent and the Grenadines there are quality assurance systems that can be adhered to, such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Points (HACCP) or International Organisation Standard (ISO) 2000.
In instances such as a food borne outbreak, they help to record, trace, analyze and review how hazards may occurred and what corrective measures may be needed annually.
Although this country is not HACCP certified, the Health Department seeks to be at least compliant to the provision of such systems.
As a precautionary measure the Public Health Department mandates that food handlers must be trained and medically certified twice as a year. And with Ten (10) health districts throughout mainland St. Vincent and Two (2) in the Grenadines, resident Environmental Health Officers (EHO) or Sanitary Officers ensure that the Public Health Act of 1977 and Environmental Services Act 1977 are enforced.
In conclusion, vendors must not view the daily inspections for compliance as a nuisance, but realize that it is a preventative act to ensure that safety measures are adhered. This protects the customers from food borne diseases, vendors from being penalized and ensures that lives are saved.

About the Author: Mr. Franklyn is an Environmental Health Officer within the Ministry of Health ,Wellness and the Environment for the past 10 years.

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