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Visiting Roadside Mama put And Its Health Implication


A woman selling food by the roadside PHOTO: Courtesy of

A woman selling food by the roadside PHOTO: Courtesy of

OFFERING food for sales takes different shapes. While some make it available in packs, others offer it bare. Those who fall in the later group are people who usually sell by the roadside or are hawkers. In local parlance, many of them are called mama put. In Lagos, there are many food sellers who operate by the roadsides or are hawkers. The growing patronage many of these food sellers enjoy in Lagos and other big cities may be due to the peculiarity of such environment where offering food for sale by roadside or through hawking thrive. In these cities and communities, many who visit these joints do so because the pricing is friendly to the lower cadre of the members of the society. Also, many who patronize these food vendors are people on the move and operate within the locality of these roadside food sellers.

When The Guardian spoke to Mrs. Fatima Adetunji, a food vendor in Mushin, who said due to the high cost of renting a shop, she resorted to hawking.

Adetunji is doing well as she is her family breadwinner, paying the school fees of her children. According to her, on the average, she takes home between N8,000 to N10,000 daily as profit. If she however has her way, she would prefer renting a shop because hawking is quite tasking. “We need government to help us to reduce the cost of renting a shop, especially in Lagos,” she said.

Mr. Henry Edward, enjoys eating by the roadside canteens, saying it has become part of his life. He explained that one of the reasons is because the foods are cheaper compared with standard restaurants.

“In a standard restaurant, one is likely to spend about N500 for a good meal. But N200 is more than enough for a meal at the mama put’s place.”

However, health experts have warned that eating food prepared by roadsides or hawked could be unhygienic and unsafe, especially if they are exposed to flies that bear disease-carrying germs. “People, who patronise roadside food vendors, are to be educated on the dangers of eating from roadside spots.”

Former President, Association of Resident Doctors, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Omojowolo Olubunmi, said roadside prepared foods are ready to eat and relatively inexpensive.

Olubunmi said: “A lot of Nigerians patronise street food vendors for various reasons such as pressure of waking up very early for work, poverty, habit and socialization. Others do it to experience ethnic cuisines, specially flavoured food, but many consume them because they are cheap and provide quantity, rather than quality”.

“According to a 2007 study from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), about 2.5 billion people eat street food every day worldwide. So this phenomenon is not peculiar in Nigeria. Differences in culture, social stratification and history have resulted in different patterns for how street food vendor enterprises are traditionally created and run in different areas of the world. For example, few women are street food vendors in Bangladesh, but women predominate the trade in Nigeria and Thailand.

Olubunmi stated that people who patronise street food vendors need be aware of the dangers of eating or buying foods prepared in an unclean environment because such foods could be contaminated with microorganisms, which are present in the air, water and the hands of those who sell them.

“Basically, food or waterborne diseases with predominant feco-oral transmission are the main source of concern. Food poisoning caused by Staphylococcus aureus or bacillus cereus, are two of the most common types of bacteria food poisoning. Diseases such as typhoid fever, dysentery, and cholera could be contacted through foods bought by the roadside. Another major public health concern is the use of adulterated, low quality or unsafe ingredients to cook these meals in order to maximise profit”.

Olubunmi disclosed that the major challenge of street food vendors; do not adhere to basic rules of hygiene in the preparation of their foods and if places where the foods are sold are very unhygienic. There are flies, carbon fumes and dusts in the air, which settle on these foods and make them unsafe for human consumption.

“Regardless of the attendant health risks, it has remained popular, especially among youths, not just in Nigeria, but in many other developing countries. It requires low initial capital to start the business. They are inexpensive, convenient and relatively nutritious food centers for urban and rural people.

“It is also a major source of income for a large number of persons, particularly women and a chance for self-employment,” he said.

National President, Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives, Mr. Abdulrafiu Alani Adeniji said eating in the open market, road side, and other public places may fall short of hygienic condition that is expected to safeguard food contamination or food poison. “There are ways of rendering food unfit for consumption and hazardous, like the food preparation process, storage, dishing and consumption.”.

Adeniji noted that because public places like motor parks; roadside shops are not well planned, there are chances of pollution from refuse, sewage and dumpsites.

“The health implication of eating in an unhygienic area includes food contamination, food poison, gastroenteritis, cholera, typhoid fevers, acute abdominal pains, worm infestation and other communicable diseases. The burden of this ill-health condition is of grievous implication to man, animal and the entire living and non-living things. The implication is not limited to health domain. The impact of unhealthy food hygiene extends to decreased productivity, loss of man hour, and absentism on duty”.

Adeniji advised food handlers and vendors to adhere to public health guidelines for food handling preparations. He therefore suggested educating street food vendors on food handling and healthy techniques of preparing foods. Often, the food vendor requires good personal hygiene and standard environmental hygiene to successfully prevent hazard from food.

“All food handlers and consumers should master the usefulness of proper hand washing hygiene as a good measure to curtail or break the chain of transmission of disease agents. They need to undergo chest X-ray to check tuberculosis that can be spread through coughing and droplet infections to susceptible persons.

“There are many reasons people buy and eat food from an unhealthy environment. Though poverty can be a factor, but not limited to it. Ignorance of the concept of what food hygiene constitute and what constitute healthy eating habit can also make people to eat from anywhere, or eat anything they come across”.

“The proximity and accessibility to the source of food is another vital reason. Poverty however, can affect the affordability of the cost of food and therefore can be an overriding factor in the choice of where you get the food to eat”, he said.

Olubunmi explained that government needs to embark on massive health education campaign to sensitise both the public and food handlers on necessary steps to prevent food and water borne diseases. “There should be a collaboration of stakeholders like the Federal Ministries of Health, Education, Environment, Agriculture and Rural development, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), and Consumer Protection Council.
There should also be a framework to monitor, screen, sensitise, enforce and prosecute food handlers who do not keep to the minimum standards of hygiene.”

Medical Director, Igando General Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Bolaji Adebiyi said advocacy on the associated dangers would help, alongside educating the vendors on appropriate space for edible food production.

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