Let us talk about hand washing and other food safety practices for street-side food vendors. Should discretion be applied to these vendors since they do not have an established facility? The answer is a resounding no! Small or large, in a permanent or temporary structure, food safety is applicable to all. Some persons may believe the narrative is overplayed, but until there is a change in behaviour the topic must continue. This is because of the observable poor practices being demonstrated and the possible far-reaching consequences of these behaviours.
Friday evenings, for years, have been unofficial “no cooking” and on these evenings street food vendors do rousing business. Jerk/fried chicken, jerk pork and soups are some of the fare that can be had at favourite spots around the country.
Stopping at a popular roundabout one Friday evening highlighted the scant regard paid to food-handling practices. One worker was seen battering and frying chicken, then moving directly to serving jerk chicken to a customer. This involved using a chopper to chop up chicken; all the while the flour batter from handling uncooked chicken was still on the worker's hands. Let us call that the cross-contamination point one. For cross-contamination point two, another worker that was already serving cooked chicken used the same utensils from cross-contamination point one. It was also observed that the cashier was also serving cooked food. Another observation was that the busier the spot got the more breeches occured.
Based on the observation at cross-contamination points one and two, what are the issues of concern? What are the preventative steps?
In a nutshell: Hand washing and proper assignment of duties. The worker who was handling the uncooked chicken (high contamination) should not be serving cooked food (low contamination). If they are involved in serving customers, then frequent hand washing must take place and aprons must be worn and changed regularly.
It still boggles the mind to see the flecks of batter flying when the jerk chicken was being prepared for the customer. Did the customer wash his hands before eating? No, he did not. He unwrapped his meal and started eating with his fingers; and this is to be expected because at these spots patrons are relaxing and holding a vibes. It is not a “knife and fork” setting. The concern here is that the worker's hand had contaminated the container; from there the contamination is a direct path to his system by way of his fingers.
It does not matter where food service operators ply their trade; observing food safety practices is a must. The basic principles cannot be overemphasised: Clean, separate, cook and chill:
1. Wash hands!
2. Keep clean.
3. Separate raw from cooked.
4. Cook thoroughly.
5. Prevent cross-contamination.
6. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
This Friday or whichever day you stop at your preferred chill spot, take a look at some of the practices that you see.