A study carried out revealed that most street food vendors source their pots and other utensils from both formal and informal manufacturers/retailers. Some of the street food samples had higher levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and copper than average food samples suggesting possible leaching from the utensils. Further tests showed that lead from the pots obtained from informal manufacturers could leach into the food. These pots are manufactured using scrap metal that could come from diverse sources such as derelict cars, car batteries and industrial machinery, which are obviously not suitable for use with foods. Their continued use must be discouraged.
The hygienic aspects of street food vending are a major concern for food control officers. Vending stands are often crude structures, and running water, washing facilities, and toilets may not be available.
Improved safety of street foods can be achieved through awareness-raising programmes and training involving several partners such as local authorities, the food vendors, government departments, consumer organizations, standard setting bodies and some non-governmental organizations
The major concern with street foods is their microbiological safety, mainly because vending is done in places that may have poor sanitation. Street foods have been tested for various microorganisms of public health concern, including fecal coliforms, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella SPP and Bacillus cereus. E. coli and S. aureus was recovered in a significant proportion of the food, water, hand and surface swabs tested in some street vending stands. It was observed that over 26% of street food samples analyzed in Nigeria contained Bacillus. cereus, while 16% contained Staphylococcus. aureus. These observations indicate that although street foods are a major source of nutritious food, they are also a possible source of food poisoning microorganisms.
Due to the conditions under which street foods are sold, there is concern that food may be contaminated by heavy metals and pesticide residues. These contaminants may come from the utensils, raw materials, or transport methods used and may also occur due to the lack of appropriate storage facilities.
Purchasing ready-to-eat foods and ingredients from street/market vendors pose a considerable risk to public health, especially due to the observed poor hygienic practices. In most cases where studies of street food vending have been done, the vendors do not have adequate washing facilities, and some vendors started their duties without taking a proper bath. Some of the vendors sleep at the vending sites in order to protect their wares. Foods and ingredients are also subjected to repeated contamination from unwashed hands and the materials used for wrappings, such as leaves, old newspapers and reusable polyethylene bags.
However, many vendors are aware of the need to wear clean and appropriate clothes. Some of the female vendors wear headgear and aprons. Some food handlers at markets wash their hands in the same bucket used for cleaning utensils, which may lead to the contamination of food with fecal matter. Street food vendors find it cheaper to use bar soap than liquid soap, which may be more effective, to clean their utensils. They also use cold water, resulting in inefficient cleaning. Washed plates are often stored in an unclean corner, plastic bowl or cardboard box, leading to re-contamination of the plates.