A health study has revealed that 98 percent of salad samples prepared by street food vendors were contaminated with bacteria known as Escherichia coli which cause food poisoning.
Researchers also found that 90 percent of the salad sampled were considered unsatisfactory for consumption based on the Ghana Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) food safety standards.
“Apart from food contamination, we wanted to know how awareness of health risk of irrigated wastewater influence purchases and consumption of food prepared with hygiene practices,” Dr. Prince Antwi-Agyei, lead researcher with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, said.
“We, therefore, interviewed 160 consumers of street food in two neighbourhoods in Accra and also 160 customers who buy salad vegetables at three central markets, also in Accra,” he added.
The group recommends that public health workers would have to intensify food safety education as research reveals people who eat outside pay little attention to hygiene.
Results of a study suggest only two percent of street food patrons consider health in making decision on where to eat or buy food.
The report by a team of international scientists is published in the international peer-reviewed journal (PLOS) one and also in the Journal of Science and Technology.
Researchers undertook separate exercises in Accra between September and December 2012 as well as June to August 2013.
They collected lettuce, soil and water samples from three wastewater irrigated fields.
The team also sampled salad vegetables from three central markets and also processed ready-to-eat salad from 80 street vending stalls (“check-check” sellers) and restaurants.
All collected samples were tested for the presence and levels of Escherichia coli (E. coli) at the laboratory.
Interestingly, the researchers found 46 percent of people who eat outside buy food for taste, and 19 percent because of convenience or proximity to the vending site.
Even for domestic cooking, the choice of foodstuffs and items are influenced by factors other than health.
While 28 percent were based on friendship and 20 percent on good price, only 1.5 percent considered the clean environment of the vending site.
Surprisingly, the level of contamination of street food was even more than contamination of raw produce directly irrigated with wastewater such as drain water.
Less contaminated salad was found in restaurants with valid hygiene certificate, though 60 percent of salads sold at these restaurants were also unsatisfactory for consumption based on the FDA food safety standards.
For regulators, the research team recommends intensified hygiene inspection and monitoring.
The study also prescribes certification and improved environmental and food hygiene practices.
At hotels and restaurants, the researchers recommend that salad is prepared based on customer request or be refrigerated until ready to use.
Street food vendors should also prepare the salad in small quantities based on customer inflow.
They are urged to use disinfectants, avoid mixing left-over salad with freshly prepared ones and cover prepared salad to avoid contamination.
Lastly, consumers can also contribute significantly to restoring food safety by buying food only from those who adhere to hygienic practices.