STREET FOOD: Blessing or curse?

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MAGGIE sells nshima with Zambian traditional vegetables such as cassava leaves, pumpkin leaves and okra, alongside fish and village chicken, a delicacy most Zambians love.

She sells her food on the street adjacent to the popular Buseko Market in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka.

The spot is an open space whose only shade is a torn white umbrella that can barely cover the benches where customers sit.

Flies perch and fly around as Maggie serves her customers with nshima from an old silver pot.

She then makes a delicacy with pumpkin leaves (chibwabwa) and roasted fish from a grill over a smouldering fire using charcoal as fuel.

“Ba tata (father), here is your food,” she says politely as she places a dish before a hungry man sitting on a bench, who has patiently been waiting for his order.

The man is seen struggling to swat flies as he slowly eats the food unbothered by the smoke and dust from passing vehicles.

Roadside food stands such as Maggie’s have become a common sight in almost every part of Lusaka and other cities across the country.

Why Zambians Love Street Food

Street food refers to ready-to-eat edibles and beverages prepared or sold by vendors or hawkers, especially on the streets and other similar places such as bus stations, markets and road sides.

There is no specific category of patrons but middle and low income earners are the major consumers.

They often eat such foods because of its quantity and affordable price. The major concern for many, however, is the health implications.

Continued consumption without medical checks can lead to serious food poisoning and diseases such as cholera, health experts say.

Mark Zulu, a taxi driver at Buseko Market, says he eats at home only once in a while.

This, he said, is because of the nature of his work as he sometimes works at night.

Brian Kaleya, a timber trader at the same market, said he could not remember the last time he ate food prepared in his house.

“Nshima with boiled eggs and any traditional vegetables is my favourite, all for just K15 per plate.

“During lunch, I also go to eat nshima at a stand which is just a few minutes’ walk from where I work,” he said.

Source of Income

In developing countries like Zambia, street food preparation and sale provides a regular source of income for thousands of men and women with limited education or skills like Maggie.

“My customers don’t complain of any stomach issue, I keep my food stand clean,” Maggie said. But the stench from trash cans across the street seems to tell a different story.

The food is susceptible to dust and exhaust smoke from moving vehicles because of the frequent opening of the container while serving customers.

Also, the woman sells her food close to an area where open defecation is common.

Inherent Dangers

According to a 2007 study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2.5 billion people globally eat street food every day.

Today, local authorities, international organisations and consumer associations are increasingly aware of the socio-economic importance of street food, but also of their associated risks. The major concern is related to food safety.

The health challenges include sanitation (waste accumulation in the streets and the congestion of waste water drains), traffic congestion in the city also for pedestrians (occupation of sidewalks by street vendors and traffic accidents), illegal occupation of public or private space, and social problems (child labour, unfair competition to formal trade, etc).

However, the risk of serious food poisoning outbreaks linked to street food remains the greatest threat.

A lack of knowledge among street food vendors, many of whom are uneducated, about the causes of food-borne diseases is a major risk factor.

Make Zambia Clean, Green and Healthy Campaign ambassador Simon Mwewa says selling of food on the street has become a serious health hazard that needs to be addressed.

Mr Mwewa, who is Simson Business Complex proprietor noted that the interaction of the food with dust and vehicle exhausts caused great health risks to consumers.

He called on the local authority to regularly inspect street food stands Lusaka and see how untidy food was been prepared.

“The same people who are selling these food stuffs, for example, just next to my office at Simson Building don’t even have toilets.

“There is need for the council to should ensure existing laws are being imposed on food production and packaging. We need to get people abide by these laws,” Mr Mwewa said.

Nonde Chisanga, a nutritionist, said the major challenge of street food arise mainly due to inadequate infrastructure and urban growth.

“Food venders are always on the streets and most of these streets have no public taps or reticulated water. They lack basic hygiene. Issues of sanitation and food safety are also part of the challenges and the vendors themselves, one cannot be too sure of their health status,” Chisanga said.

“They are sources of what we refer to as microbial contaminations. We have seen in the past where people consumed food bought from the street and ended up having cholera. I think as a country, we need to have a national policy on street vended foods.”

Mr Chisanga says environmental health officials and the council are often responsible for inspecting.

“That is why you see the council trying to go round the city to confiscate and collect some of the foods that are been sold on the street. It is for the good health of the nation,” Mr Chisanga said.


Lusaka Mayor Miles Sampa says the local authority is regulating the activities of these food vendors in Lusaka.

“Food vendors most times don’t sell in approved places. They just find any convenient place and set up their table for business. We disapprove that. We try as much as possible to remove them wherever we find them.

Street food vendors undoubtedly contribute to the economy as part of the informal sector, but there must be some regulation to protect members of the public and the environment.

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