By Theophilus Franklyn, Environmental Health Officer, Environmental Health Division
They are prevalent on the sidewalk, under trees, at the back of vehicles and even on beaches. Whether they are selling clothing, food, non-perishable items, fruits or vegetables, they are vendors plying their trade.
But who is a vendor? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a vendor is “someone who is selling something.” It goes on to specify that it is a person who “sells food or goods on the street.”
In the capital city of Kingstown alone, it is estimated that there are over 1,000 vendors who can be categorised as progressive entrepreneurs who are doing their best to make a living.
Many of them are food vendors who make it convenient for Vincentians and visitors to enjoy cooked meals, snack boxes, fruits and other delicacies. However, there are some negligent vendors whose operations are less than hygienic, spreading detrimental food-borne diseases.
So it’s important to look out for red flags in food vending.
Cleanliness: One of the first things to look out for when it comes to food sale is storage. Food that is left open to the elements, where dust, buzzing flies and human cough particles can come into contact are recipes for food poisoning.
Watch the location where the business is established. Is it near a dumpsite where rodents and other pests frequent? Is it close to washrooms facilities where bio waste and pungent odour are given off? Or is it where a vagrant or stray animals sleeps and the area is not clean? Where a vendor sets up shop, truly says a lot about them as a businessperson.
Be vigilant and observe how the vendor operates. Where are they placing their utensils? Are they properly washed? Where does the water come from? Ensure that the water being used is not taken from stagnant streams or rivers.
How are the persons selling dressed? Food vendors and their assistants must not wear sleeveless tops, have long unkempt hair and slippers — to name a few. The last thing customers want is for the perspiration from a street vendor’s arm pit to drip into ones food or be choked by a long strand of hair.
Uncooked Food: Food that is not properly cooked is just as dangerous as unhygienic food handling. Salmonella is one bacterium that causes severe food poisoning.
According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), persons can develop diarrhoea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days and most persons recover without treatment. However, the diarrhoea may be so severe that the patient may need to be hospitalised.
The transmissions of Escherichia coli or E.coli is found in the environment, foods and intestines of people and animals. CDC warns that although most strains of E.coli are harmless, others can cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, vomiting, diarrhoea and pneumonia. Some meats, fruits, lettuce and other green leafy vegetable that have been in contact with human or animal faecal residue can cause E. coli poisoning.
Leptospirosis: The urine from animals such as rats is one of the main ways that leptospirosis is spread in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The four-legged creatures could be seen scurrying from gutter to drains and have been known to run over a foot or two. But vendors who own pets must also be aware that they their furry companions can spread the disease. They must ensure that they wash clothing, upholstery and bedding where their cats and dogs snuggle.
Right Temperature: Bacteria grow every two hours when it is left at room temperature. So it is important that vendors have sufficient heating apparatus to keep food warm for extend hours at 5-60 degreesCelsius or 40-141 degreesFahrenheit.
Food should be piping hot after it has been reheated in the microwave and reheating used food is generally a “no-go” as this further encourages bacterial growth.
Additionally, cold food should be stored at their correct temperature. For example fresh salad with mayonnaise/salad dressing should be kept on ice to prevent food poisoning from occurring.
Checks & Balances: In St. Vincent and the Grenadines there are quality assurance systems that can be adhered to, such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Points (HACCP) or International Organisation Standard (ISO) 2000.
In instances such as a outbreak of food-borne illnesses, they help to record, trace, analyse and review how hazards may occurred and what corrective measures may be needed annually.
Although this country is not HACCP certified, the Health Department seeks to be at least compliant to the provision of such systems.
As a precautionary measure the Public Health Department mandates that food handlers must be trained and medically certified twice as a year. And with 10 health districts throughout St. Vincent and two in the Grenadines, resident environmental health officers or sanitary officers ensure that the Public Health Act of 1977 and Environmental Services Act 1977 are enforced.
In conclusion, vendors must not view the daily inspections for compliance as a nuisance, but realise that it is a preventative act to ensure that safety measures are adhered. This protects the customers from food borne diseases, vendors from being penalised and ensures that lives are saved.