Very recently I suffered from a series of recurring stomach problems. More than twice I have found myself going to the hospital only to be told that maybe it was this or maybe that.
That was until the feather that broke the camel’s back hit me and I was received in the hospital on a stretcher and hooked on fluids due to severe dehydration and severe stomach pain. .
After a series of tests and vials of blood leaving my veins already weak, my doctor decided to treat me on a hunch.
What started out as a little stomachache later turned out to be a severe case of invading intestinal worms.
If you walk around wherever you live, you are bound to find outlets and food vendors at almost every turn.
If you live in Dar and many African cities, you are certainly used to street food and food vendors coming from all directions.
The economy is tough and many have ventured into different activities to earn money. Street food vendors make some of the most amazing foods and snacks.
In Tanzania we have everything from fast food restaurants to roadside fries and chicken and our beloved moms.
After my fear of health, I did the one thing many of us comfortably and happily overlook. I began to observe and question the severity of food hygiene in our societies and how complacent we have become.
Early in the morning, women and men are seen in the streets buying all kinds of snacks to accompany their morning tea, in homes and offices. The food stall that sells maandazi, chapatti, mihogo and more is near a busy road.
The woman or man who bites these bites is multitasking between preparing and fulfilling those multiple orders, collecting money from already filled orders, adding charcoal or wood to the fire, and attempting to clean up. the dishes suddenly released.
The money bills they receive are crumpled and discolored. A bus arrives and the conductor or driver calls her to the window to give her a few bites too, which she happily does and after getting the money from him, puts it in her bra and fixes her a times a day. kitenge green which is now a color that is not part of the color spectrum.
During lunch, again, we order fries and chicken or beef kebabs and our local kachumbari. The glass container in which these foods are stored is cleaned once a day and not as thoroughly as you would expect and the crisps come in and the crisps come out. Oil comes into play, as do the raw tomatoes, onions, and carrots that come with your fries.
There might be a trench with still and dirty water nearby that we can’t all smell or be disturbed about. Others like me have been deluded into the belief that if I can’t see how this is prepared, it won’t really affect me.
It does not end there, however. Recently I went to a certain cafeteria to buy myself a drink. While I was waiting to be served, a waitress came by, having collected dishes from satisfied customers, accompanying a bowl of leftover vegetables and returning them to the serving dish with the food intact. I was horrified to say the least.
How wrong have I been? When did we get so complacent about what’s going on in our bodies? Why have we allowed ourselves and our society to come to this? Should food service providers be held to a certain standard of food hygiene? Should there be regulatory authorities for this?
When I started researching and asking questions, I learned that there are countries in the world that take food security very seriously and that restaurants and other food vendors of all capacities are classified according to the hygiene standards of their workspaces, storage places, staff members and even the chain through which a meal passes to reach the consumer.
What exactly is food hygiene?
According to chef Hazel Chiyungi, food hygiene covers the entire process of food preparation until consumption, but not only covers food, surfaces and utensils, it also covers the chef and anyone who may come in. contact with food.
“As chefs, we have to maintain high hygienic standards not only with regard to the environment in which we prepare food, but also personal hygiene, because contamination can occur at any time, so we must minimize the chances of serving contaminated food. In a professional kitchen we don’t have windows but we have adequate ventilation, excluding windows is to keep out pests such as flies and other insects that can land in the food, ”says Hazel.
We need to keep our bodies clean, free from strong odors which are unpleasant. Keep the hair tidy and not loose to avoid biological contamination such as hair.
Keep the fingernails short to avoid collecting dirt in our fingernails and then touching the food. No makeup to avoid chemical contamination that can fall into food due to high temperatures which can melt makeup.
When it comes to the environment, there are many factors that need to be taken into account. Such as cross contamination which is the process of transmitting bacteria between different foods.
For example, it is not advisable to use the same board to cut vegetables and raw meat or to put cooked food on a board intended for raw food, such small tasks can lead to food poisoning if the we are not strict. Different bacteria cause different types of food poisoning, from mild to severe.
“Another factor would be to keep the environment you are working in clean at all times. When you have completed a task, disinfect and clean before starting another. This helps reduce the risk of food contamination. In addition to having food stored at the correct temperatures which reduces the spread and multiplication of bacteria. Never put “naked” food in the freezer, for example, to prevent spores from forming which are quite difficult to kill even when you cook your food, ”she explains.
Healthy and nutritious food is essential for a healthy lifestyle. However, foodborne pathogens can lead to short-term infections like acute gastroenteritis or even more serious and debilitating conditions like meningitis.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 600 million, or nearly 1 in 10 people worldwide, fall ill from eating contaminated food and 420,000 die each year.
Although restaurant kitchens should undergo quality control assessments by government officials, street vendors are generally not held against such assessment.
This then leaves the general public at the mercy of the vendor to ensure the cleanliness and safety of the food produced.
“I was a victim of listeriosis in 2017, when there was an epidemic in South Africa, where I live. This led to a five-day hospitalization where I received antibiotics and a failed intravenous rehydration in which I may have lost my life, ”says Dr Sheila Nyandiko.
“Campylobacter, Salmonella and Escherichia coli are some of the most common foodborne pathogens that affect millions of people each year around the world. They can lead to symptoms of acute gastroenteritis such as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain, ”she says.
“Listeria can cause miscarriage in pregnant women. Copious watery diarrhea due to the cholera vibrio can cause dehydration which can lead to death. Simple things like using different surfaces for the preparation of meat and vegetables may then not necessarily be observed and this may have a negative impact on health.
Why the complacency?
Consumers who then buy the food can then ingest the food without washing their hands, which poses an additional risk; are left at the mercy of their own immune system to eliminate any pathogen.
The gold standard would then be to prepare your own food at home, but in cases where, like me, your appetite pushes you and you are drawn to that mahindi choma, samosa or mandazi on the street, it is important to wash your hands before you eat the food, even money can contain pathogens so after the transaction it is important that you wash your hands before touching your food or better yet, eat the food in its envelope if possible .
“I think what mainly drives people to eat off the street is just hunger, they don’t consider the risks when buying food on the street like the conditions in which it was prepared. , if the ingredients were fresh and at their best. Just to kill the hunger pangs, they’ll take a bite. However, it would not be wise given that food poisoning can be life threatening if we are careful in our choices, ”explains Chef Hazel.
On the other hand, vendors must be educated about food safety to such an extent that even if it is street food, they comply with regulatory policies regarding the hygiene standards they must have. to be able to sell their food. It is certainly something that can be controlled with the right measures in place.
It would also be helpful to have a regulatory body that oversees hygiene and food preparation standards.