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FAO Technical Support for Improvement within the Street Food Sector 

Georges Codjia

Regional Nutrition Officer 



6 June 2000

FAO Technical Support for Improvement within the Street Food Sector



The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is the principal specialized agency of the United Nations dealing with a wide range of food and agriculture issues with the objectives of: raising levels of nutrition and standards of living of the peoples under their respective jurisdictions; securing improvements in the efficiency of the production and distribution of all food and agricultural products; bettering the condition of rural populations; and thus contributing toward an expanding world economy and ensuring humanity’s freedom from hunger.  An important aspect of FAO’s work involves consideration of all aspects of food quality and safety throughout the stages of production, storage, transportation, processing, and marketing.  Overall responsibility for this aspect of FAO’s work falls with the Food and Nutrition Division (ESN). 

FAO’s food quality and safety programme includes work on food standards, policy formulation and developmental projects on food control, food law and technical regulations; food quality and safety control programmes for the food industry; establishment of national food import and export certification programmes; food contamination monitoring programmes; national and regional training programmes and workshops on specific technical aspects of food control; publications and technical manuals on food control subjects; and expert consultations to address specific problems concerning food quality and/or safety that provide wound advice on which future work could be based. 

FAO’s food quality and safety programme of work is determined by priorities identified within FAO Member countries.  The situation in many of these countries regarding street foods has dictated that FAO pay serious attention to this issue.  Street foods are defined as “ready-to-eat foods or beverages prepared and/or sold in the street and other similar public places”.  The rapid rate of urbanization in many developing countries has brought with it a considerable expansion in street food vending.  Other phenomena associated with rapid and unplanned urbanization such as over-crowding and inadequate sanitary and other infrastructure create further challenges to the assurance of quality and safety in street ended foods. 

Street foods have become an indispensable component of food distribution systems in many cities in developing countries. They combine two features, which contribute significantly to food security and nutrition:

·        They are physically and economically accessible to most people and can play an important role in helping them to meet their basic energy and nutrient needs; and

·        They generate significant employment in urban and rural areas, which is important in alleviating poverty, the major causative factor in food insecurity.

 Negative aspects of the street food trade relate primarily to food-borne hazards associated with these foods as well as the obstruction of pedestrian and vehicular traffic and the littering and fouling of public spaces.

FAO activities related to street foods began about fifteen years ago.  The objectives of the studies initiated at that time were to evaluate the street food phenomenon- both its positive and negative aspects.  Based on the investigations carried out various actions have been undertaken to improve the situation.  Much has been achieved, but much remains to be done.  Periodic review and analysis of the evolving situation is necessary to ensure that we stay on the right track.

FAO-Supported Studies on street Foods 

Understanding a problem and its context is the first step in seeking solutions.  In recognition of this, FAO has supported several studies on food quality and safety and socio-economic aspects of street food in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Sites of street food studies in Asia have included the following:  Pune City, Calcutta and Bombay in India, Bogor in Indonesia, Penang in Malaysia, Kathmandu in Nepal, Hyderabad, Rawalpindi and Secunderabad in Pakistan, and Bangkok in Thailand.  Sites of similar studies in Latin America and Africa include:  LaPaz in Bolivia, Bogota in Colombia, Guatemala City, Guatemala; Tegucigalpa in Honduras, Mexico City in Mexico, Managua in Nicaragua, and Lima, Peru.  African studies have included ones in Cotonou, Benin; Abidjan, Côte D’Ivoire; Accra, Ghana; Bamako, Mali; Rabat, Morocco; Ibidan, Lagos and Kaduna in Nigeria; Kampala, Uganda; and Kinshasa, Zaire. 

Data collected during these studies has generally involved some or all of the following elements: socio-economic information on vendors and consumers; educational level of vendors, consumers and others directly involved in street food trade; hygienic practices of preparers and vendors of street food; levels of contamination of street foods; licensing systems and other regulatory mechanisms in place; magnitude of street food trade; nutritional contribution made by street foods; as well as other pertinent information. 

The dangers of attempting narrow technical approaches to solving complex developmental problems are widely documented.  The street food sector is in itself a relatively complex system where the various component elements interact to produce an overall result.  If we attempt to modify the end result without fully understanding the factors that are implicated, we are almost certainly doomed to failure.  The more we know, and the more holistic an approach we take to solving problems and the more likely we are to find effective and sustainable solutions.  For instance, we have to know something about economic aspects of the street food business in order to be sure of the feasibility of possible improvements that might be recommended to street food operators to increase the quality and safety of their products.  Information on educational background and the daily schedules of street food operators are necessary inputs in the organization of training programmes.  In developing sustainable and effective solutions we must be able to analyse constraints to achieving the targeted goals.  The more information we have, the closer we will be to developing a systematic methodology for assessing the street food sector and recommending and implementing appropriate improvements.

Magnitude of the Street Food Industry and its economic implications 

In many cities in developing countries, trade in street foods is far from being a marginal activity.  The FAO studies demonstrate that street foods have become an important economic activity in many developing countries.  A study of the street food trade in Calcutta estimated that US$ 100 million in profit was realized each year.  In Cotonou in the early 1990s it was estimated that the yearly turnover of the street food trade was about US$ 20 million.

The street food sector is a significant source of employment for many people, particularly women who are quite often the first victims of heightened poverty.  It is therefore an “economic crisis absorber” that cannot be ignored.  The initial investment in the street food sector is very low, and the income that is usually generated by this activity if often between three to ten times the prevailing minimum wage.  According to FAO studies this is true for all regions. 

Another important economic aspect of the street food trade is the value of the raw materials and other supplies that they regularly purchase.  Considering that locally-produced agricultural products represent a large proportion of vendors’ raw material purchases, the agricultural trade linked to the street food sector is substantial.  Studies in Bangkok suggest that this trade represents millions of US dollars daily. 

Street Food Consumers 

Studies confirm that people with low incomes represent a significant percentage of regular street food consumers; people from higher income groups are often also regular consumers.  For example a study carried out in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1994 revealed that while 38% of street food consumers were from lower income groups, the majority of the consumers came from more affluent segments of the population.  In another group of surveys which were carried out in Asia and Africa during the early 1990s, it was found that “white collar” workers represented 14% to 43% of the consumers while “labourers” represented from 7% to 48% of the consumers depending on the location. 

Children constitute an important segment of street food consumers.  Street food vendors frequently establish themselves near schools so as to be readily accessible to the students.  In Ziguichor, Senegal, students represent 35% of street food consumers.  Ninety-six percent of the elementary school children in Ile-ife, Nigeria, typically buy breakfast from street food vendors and 76% buy two meals a day.  Studies in Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean have also shown that children are significant consumers of street foods. 

Overall, consumer spending on street foods represents a significant proportion of the household budget in cities studied in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.  It was estimated that in Malaysia approximately 25% of household food expenditure was on street foods.  In Abidjan 20% of meals are taken outside of the home and most of these are purchased from street vendors.  A Latin American study that was conducted in the early 1990s revealed that 25% to 30% of household expenditures are incurred in the purchase of street foods. 

Nutritional Impact of Street Foods 

In Bangkok during 1991, a comprehensive survey revealed that street foods contributed up to 80% of the energy, protein, fat and iron intake of 4 to 6 year old children.  The same study showed that on average for all age groups, 40% of the total energy intake, 39% of total energy intake, and 44% of iron intake originated from street foods.

A study in Calcutta showed that street foods can be nutritious  as well as low cost.  The study revealed that an average 500g meal containing 20-30g of protein, 12-15g of fat, 174-183g of carbohydrate and providing approximately 1,000 Calories could be purchased for the equivalent of less than US$ 0.25. on the street.  A study in Bogor Indonesia showed that it was possible to obtain almost half the recommended daily allowance of protein, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C from a meal costing the equivalent of US$ 0.25.  Consumer education could play an important role in guiding the public in nutritionally –correct street food choices. 

Food Safety Issues in Street Foods 

FAO studies on street foods have highlighted a number of food safety problems and issues.  Most of people involved in the preparation and vending of street foods have low levels of education and little or no knowledge of good hygienic practice in the handling and preparation of food.  Furthermore they work under crude and often unsanitary conditions.  Microbiological contamination is a major problem associated with street foods.  According to the nature of the food and the conditions under which it is held and the manner in which it is served the associated risks may vary considerably.  Studies have demonstrated the presence of unacceptably high levels of microbiological contamination and the presence of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella spp., Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium Perfingins or Vibrio cholerae.  Contaminated water has frequently been shown as an important source of contamination in street foods. 

Studies have also demonstrated that chemical hazards are often associated with street foods.  This situation arises through the use of unauthorized additives or colours.  Mycotoxins, heavy metals and other contaminants such as pesticide residues have also been reported.  Problems such as these, which are linked to the poor quality of raw materials, are exacerbated by the use of clandestine supply networks in the street food trade. 

FAO Meetings on Street Foods 

FAO has played a leading role in raising awareness around the world about the need to address problems associated with the street food trade.  This has been achieved through various seminars and workshops that have been held on the topic at national regional and national levels.  Commitment at the levels of national and municipal policy-making is essential if sustainable improvement in the street food situation is to be realized.  FAO regional workshops on street foods go beyond raising awareness, they are important tools in encouraging regional cooperation in addressing common problems.  Such workshops also are for a where experts participate in the collective assessment of actions and elaboration of strategies for improving the street food situation in their respective countries. 

Regional Meetings in Latin America and the Caribbean 

FAO’s first involvement in a workshop on street foods at regional level was at the occasion of the Joint FAO/PAHO Workshop on Street Foods, held in Lima Peru during October 1985.  the workshop resulted in recommendations including improving food handling technology and training of food handlers in good hygienic practices.  Other recommendations were made with respect to legislative and health protection issues.  The background material for this meeting was derived from the studies of the street food sector that had been conducted in various countries with the region with FAO’s support.  The recommendations of the workshops gave rise to several FAO-funded activities particularly training programmes for entrepreneurs who prepare or vend street foods, training of food inspectors and other food control officials involved in the regulation of the street food trade, and the implementation of education programmes for consumers of street foods. 

A second regional meeting for Central America was held in Guatemala City, Guatemala, in October 1990.  the objectives of the meeting included the following:  to review the street food situation in the light of activities that had been carried out since the first regional meeting; to formulate strategies for achieving further improvements in the street food sector; and to promote the use of training materials that had been developed with the assistance of FAO. 

Another regional meeting on street foods for Latin America was held in Sao Paolo Brazil in July 1991.  The meeting was attended by the countries of South America and was similar in intent to the above-described meeting for the Central American countries. 

A fourth regional meeting was held in Bogota Colombia in December 1997 on the establishment of regional center for street foods.  This meeting served to review progress in achieving goals in the improvement of the street food situation in the region and to initiate plans for the establishment of a regional center for street food development. 

Regional Meetings in Asia 

The First Regional Seminar on Street Foods in Asia was held in Yogyakarta Indonesia in November 1986.  this was the second major FAO workshop on this topic.  The meeting generated an active exchange of information among participating countries and resulted in several recommendation for follow-up.  Recommendations covered the following areas; improvement of street food technologies, training of food handlers, strengthening of regulatory infrastructure; and, consumer education.  A number of follow-up activities were undertaken in several countries in the region, including; Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines and Thailand.

 The Second Regional Seminar on Street Foods in Asia was held in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia in January 1992.  the meeting aimed to review activities that had taken place in the region since the last regional meeting, and to reassess strategies to be implemented at national and regional levels for the development of the street food sector.

 Regional Meetings in Africa 

An Inter-Country Workshop on Street food in Africa was held in Accra Ghana in April 1992.  The meeting of Anglophone African countries served to review the street food situation in the region and to develop strategies for improving the sector.  Recommendations from the meeting called for action in the following areas; further studies into the street food phenomenon in the region, training for street food vendors, development of street food vendor associations or cooperatives, consumer education, sanitary facilities and regulatory systems. 

A regional seminar on the street food sector in Africa was held in Cotonou Benin in November 1994. This was similar in content to the Accra meeting but covered francophone Africa.

The “Seminar of Mayors of Francophone and Lusophone West African Countries” was organized in Praia, Cape Verde in June 1999.  it was the first gathering of this type convened to deal with the problems of street food.  Some twenty-five mayors representing cities in 12 countries discussed strategies at the municipal level for dealing with issues such as; selection and management of sites for street food vending, provision of services, dialogue with street vendor associations, licensing, control mechanisms, training of municipal officials, etc. The mayors issued a declaration stating their commitment for implementing actions agreed upon during the seminar. 

International FAO Meetings on Street Foods 

FAO held an expert Consultation on Street Foods in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in December 1988.  International experts were invited to the meeting in order to: assess the street food situation with emphasis on the socio-economic significance of this trade; review the experiences of different countries and identify requirements for possible technical improvements; and to propose areas for further attention by governments and international organizations. 

An FAO technical meeting on street foods was held in Calcutta in December 1995.  the objectives of the meeting were; to consider the progress that had been so far achieved in improving the quality and safety of street foods globally; to analyse the different experiences gained and lessons learned from work around the world geared towards improving street foods; and to develop a set of guidelines for renewed or extended action at all levels.  One of the outputs of the meeting was a guideline action plan on street foods which provided a stepwise guide in developing programmes for street food development.

FAO Project on Street Foods 

To date, FAO has implemented and/or supported several projects aimed at improving the street food sector in the following countries: Bolivia, Colombia, Côte D’Ivoire, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Lesotho, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand and Zaire.  Regional projects were implemented for the Caribbean countries and the countries of Central America.   

The projects promote an integrated approach to improving the street food sector, taking into account the various aspects of this sector: food hygiene and safety, socioeconomic, regulatory and sanitary.  Based on a diagnosis of the situation, the projects propose tailor-made solutions involving such elements as: strategies for the local authorities to address problems of street food regulation and control, waste collection, sewage and other sanitary facilities, spatial organization, etc; training for public health inspectors and food producers; development of appropriate technological innovations to be adapted by preparers and traders of street food at various stages of their operations.  A participatory approach is always emphasized in these projects so as to ensure that all stakeholders concerns are adequately and appropriately addressed.

General Project Approach 

The projects commence with a study to assess the street food situation in the zones of interest.  The experience of FAO’s earlier street food studies allows improved recognition of factors to be considered in such work.  This typically includes; documentation of regulatory controls, examination of practices within the street food industry, a study of socio-economic factors applying to consumers and vendors, a survey of contamination levels in street foods.  Each study that is carried out permits some refinement of the methodology used.  These studies are generally carried out by national consultants, with or without the assistance of an international consultant and always under the supervision of ESNS officers at FAO Headquarters.

A component of the projects typically deal with issues related to the regulation and control of street food.  This may involve seminars and meetings aimed at raising the awareness of central government and municipal officials of the problems associated with street food, the benefits of such trade to the city and the country as a whole, and their role in regulating the trade so as to optimize benefits and minimize its negative effects.  National and international consultants are often involved in making recommendations to governments on strategies that might be employed in the control of street foods.  Training of local officials such as public health inspectors in sampling and inspection procedures is usually also included in projects.  Training is also provided on good hygienic practices in food handling so that they are able to recognize problems and provide advice to vendors as required.  Finally, study tours are frequently organized to enable local officials to see how other cities are coping with the issue of street food regulation.  This facilitates progress through sharing of experience among developing countries.

Perhaps the central focus of most street projects rests with training of the vendors themselves.  Their lack of knowledge of the principles of food hygiene is main cause of the high levels of contamination that are frequently found in street foods.  The key to improving safety of street foods lies in the prevention of food safety problems not in attempting to control problems after they have arisen.  The main responsibility of assuring the quality and safety of street foods lies with the entrepreneurs who are involved in this trade.  Governments must ensure that they are adequately trained to meet this responsibility.  An approach commonly taken in FAO projects is to develop a core of trainers on good hygienic practices in the street food industry, wither within government agencies or street food vendor associations.  This assures the continuity of street food vendor training after completion of the project.  Training manuals and other training materials have been developed and have been found effective in many training programmes.  A training manual for trainers of street food vendors was published by FAO in 1990.  this manual was developed for use in Latin America.  An instructor’s training manual targeted for street food vendors and school canteen operators was published in 1993.  this manual was developed by FAO and the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Philippines during an FAO street food project in the Philippines.  A guide to good hygienic practices in the street food sector was produced by FAO in 1995.  it was developed during an FAO project in Ivory Coast.  A training of trainer’s manual on good hygienic practices in the street food trade is currently under preparation based on the African street food experience.

As a result of the assessment study carried out in the initial stages of the project, problems that vendors encounter due to inappropriate equipment, materials and procedures are often brought to light.  In some projects innovations have been introduced to allow for improved food handling.  In an FAO project in Côte D’Ivoire, for instance, model stalls and carts were designed to meet the needs of the vendors while providing improved protection against food contamination.  Care is taken to ensure that materials used in the construction of such equipment is readily available locally at a cost that is affordable to the vendors.  Other equipment such as ice-boxes have also been designed for use by the vendors.  The FAO project in Calcutta also developed carts for ambulant street food vendors.

 Education programmes for street food consumers have been carried out in several of the projects.  The objective of these programmes is to enable the consumers to recognize unsafe street food practices and thus avoid poor quality and unsafe street foods.  In some cases basic nutrition concepts are also covered to assist consumers in making the nutritionally-correct choices.  Several pamphlets and posters have been developed various project to promote consumer awareness of street food safety issues.

Street Food Projects in Response to a Cholera Epidemic 

During the outbreak of cholera in Peru in 1991, street food was seen as a possible vehicle for the spread of the disease.  This triggered priority sanitary actions to reinforce street food control programmes.  Regional programmes were implemented in the Caribbean and Central America and several projects were implemented at national level in Latin America.  These projects aimed to implement strategic actions, including the definition of clear policies to control street foods, the introduction of regulatory mechanisms, the training of officials involved in street food control, education campaigns for street food handlers and vendors, the identification and improvement of technologies, processes, facilities, and equipment for preparing and selling street foods, and consumer awareness programmes.  These actions led to an improvement of street food preparation and sales practices and to the inclusion of street foods into regular food control programmes.

Street Foods in School Feeding 

Given the wide use of street foods by children in some countries, two FAO projects focused on the possible use of street foods in school feeding programmes. An FAO project in the Philippines which commenced in 1992 aimed to develop and test models for integrating street foods into the school nutrition programme.  Training was an important component of this project and it covered not only good hygienic practices, but also preparation of nutritious and low-cost recipes.  The project also provided mobile food carts of good sanitary design, artesian wells with manual water pumps and water lines, as well as basic equipment used in selling food.  The project had extremely positive results.  A project is currently on-going in Nigeria which aims to evaluate the feasibility of integrating street foods within school feeding programmes and develop a five-year national action plan for improving school feeding.

Other FAO technical support to street food development 

It is important to note that all of FAO work in the area of strengthening food control systems in member countries is of value to governments in improving the street food sector.  FAO’s work in food control generally involves improvement of food control administration and management, upgrading of food inspection capabilities and strengthening of food analytical capacity, all of which play a role in governments’ capacity to control and regulate the street food trade.  FAO is also widely promoting the role of governments in preparing industry to play their role in assuring the quality and safety of foods that they produce.  This concept is important in achieving the prevention of street food quality and safety problems: government must support training programmes for improving the food handling practices of street food traders. 

The work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) is also highly relevant to street food.  Notably, in 1997, the CAC adopted revised regional guidelines for the design of control measures for street-vended foods in Africa.  These guidelines were revised to take into account the new approach reflected in the revised General Principles of Food Hygiene, including the HACCP Guidelines.  The revised guidelines were adopted in July 1999.  In 1995 the CAC adopted a recommended code of practice for the preparation and sale of street-vended foods in Latin America and the Caribbean.  The coordinating Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean is currently discussing the revision of the Regional Code of Hygienic Practice in accordance with the recommendations of the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene.


Largely through the work of FAO great strides have been made in understanding the street food phenomenon, and significant progress has been made in the prevention and control of food safety problems associated with this trade. 

According to all projections based on such parameters as population growth, employment opportunities, local habits, urbanization and levels of urban poverty, the street food industry will continue to grow.  In the face of this governments have two options: one is to discourage street food activity and the other is to accept it while making sure that it operates within limits established by relevant authorities.  The latter option is the one that governments are more likely to choose and FAO will continue to provide assistance in helping them achieve the desired improvements to the street food sector.


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