Roadside food vendors have been a key part of our social life. They are nearly everywhere, in virtually all the streets across the country. They cater for clientele that sometimes cut across class and social status, despite the fact that most of them operate from outlets that are unbefitting. It must be admitted though that most of their customers are middle and low income earners.
Some roadside food vendors have shanty stalls. Some ply their trade under giant umbrellas, while others operate in open spaces that are at the mercy of inclement weather. The common thing to them however is that while some operate in fairly clean environments, most of them operate in very filthy environments. Some even have their stalls either on or close to very dirty gutters. And it is baffling how many Nigerians jettison rules of hygiene while procuring foods from these vendors.
I had an experience with a roadside bread vendor some years back concerning poor hygiene culture which made me realize that many people care little for hygiene while dealing with these food vendors. I had gone to a woman’s stall in my neighbourhood to buy bread and on getting there I found her breastfeeding her baby. On sighting me, she abruptly interrupted what she was doing and asked me how much bread I needed. I told her the amount.
However, what really shocked me was that after pulling the breast from the baby’s mouth with her hand and covering up, she removed the polythene nylon covering all the bread and made to grab a loaf of bread that was unwrapped to sell to me. She did not even bother to glove her hand. I instinctively told her to stop and told her not to worry about the bread. I told her I was not buying again.
The vendor asked why I changed my mind and I was initially surprised by her question. But when I realised that she was sincerely ignorant, I told her that the reason I decided not to buy the bread was because of her trying to grab an unwrapped bread with an ungloved hand that still had traces of breast milk. I went further to educate her a little about hygiene and why it was wrong for her to do that.
Unsurprisingly, she was unwilling to take correction but rather wanted an argument. She said her hands were clean and that she usually washed her hands. While I was still trying to enlighten her, one young man that was beside me listening to our conversation spoke up and said: “Madam, please give me N100 bread; I am not interested in this your argument.” As she made arrangement to sell to the man, I left her stall, shaking my head.
The irony of it is that what I experienced was not an isolated incident. Many cases of poor hygiene like this and even more distasteful ones are everyday occurrence in most of the roadside food vendors’ shops.
I know that the major reason most Nigerians patronise these ubiquitous food vendors is because the foods are usually more affordable and convenient to procure on the go, but it is high time Nigerians began to pay attention to how hygienic these vendors’ environments and how healthy their foods are.
Continued consumption of these foods put consumers at serious risk of food poisoning. Many consumers of the foods who have ended up with diarrhoea and other health problems can avoid a recurrence by simply avoiding such inedible foods.
Research has also shown that continuous ingestion of bad food can lead to more serious health conditions like cancer. And while it is expedient to call on the government to be stricter in ensuring those selling foods comply with basic rules of hygiene by regulating their trade, I must emphasize that the ultimate decision of safeguarding personal health lies with individuals. People must avoid the health risks associated with eating just anything they can buy on the road. Health and hygiene must be the primary consideration at all times.