Street foods are prepared, sold and consumed in open places exposed to dust, motor vehicle exhaust fumes and flies.
Personal hygiene is not regularly observed, as many hawkers do not cover their heads or wear overalls/aprons.
Many hawking places do not have adequate basic facilities such as toilets, hand-washing facilities and good drainage, which increase the risk of transmission of disease. Some street food vendors reuse perishable food leftovers, which could result in health risks to consumers. Poor storage of food at inappropriate temperatures is another risk to human health.
But street food vendors add colour and vibrancy to urban life. However, the street food industry operates in an informal and unregulated environment.
There is a need to incorporate the street food sector into urban planning for better economic governance.
Therefore, urban policy regimes and legislative approaches should include the role of street food in achieving the food and nutrition needs of the growing urban population.
There is a need for coordinated institutional interventions to balance regulatory and incentive-based approaches in the street food industry. There is a considerable amount of energy and water that is saved by households, which would otherwise be used for cooking and cleaning.
There are reduced risks as fire or explosion of gas cylinders or stoves, which is beneficial to the greater society in terms of cost and trauma.
In many cities around the world, eating indigenous street food is part of the visitor experience.
Improving food safety and public hygiene would go a long way in making street food a matter of national pride and brand image (such as nyama choma na kachumbari).
The role of the government and the private sector cannot be over-emphasised.
There is a need for the national and county authorities to institute appropriate and inclusive policies to ensure that street food is safe, hygienic and wholesome for human consumption.
This would include securing the environment for trading, and enforcement of food safety.
Dr Kakonge is the president of the Association of Former International Civil Servants and a former ambassador to the United Nations ([email protected]), while Dr Omiti is a former executive director of the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis ( [email protected]). Mutuma Mathiu’s column resumes next week.