The Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is expressing concern on food safety in many of the world’s countries and has suggested improvements on two major fronts: street food and food additives.

On street food, the agency says: “Originally derided as unhygienic and often discouraged, the convenience and rapid spread of street vending has helped institutionalise it.” While exact numbers are not known, there are millions of vendors worldwide and an estimated two and a half billion people worldwide consume street foods.

“A faster pace of life and the migration of villagers to the city are making ‘street foods’ an increasingly important part of the daily diet,” according to FAO. “Unfortunately, lack of attention to hygiene and poor access to clean water and waste disposal can turn a quick meal into a nasty bout of food poisoning.”

In South Africa, a series of educational products have been created to help vendors, food inspectors and consumers. A manual gives health officers essential information on safe food preparation and handling. A video showed vendors how producing safe food results in profitable business.

Senegal is implementing projects including the construction of a market area where street vendors will have access to fresh water, waste disposal and toilets.

On chemicals in food, FAO said: “All countries need access to reliable information on the risks associated with various chemicals in food, but relatively few have the expertise and funds needed to carry out separate risk assessments on large numbers of chemicals.” The FAO has recently launched a searchable online compendium of identity and purity specifications of more than 1 000 food additives.

By Hilmi Toros, correspondent