There are a startling number of street traders in the UK. Every festival, industrial estate, farmer’s market and shopping centre seems to have a stall, van or kiosk selling everything from sandwiches to sushi. It is a multi-million pound industry and employs people from just about every culture in the UK and beyond. If you have ever been to one of the numerous food festivals around the country, you will have seen the amazing variety of produce that is available.
Street food is subject to legal constraints in much the same way as any other food-related area, and everyone involved in serving and preparing food should be trained to Level 2 food hygiene standard. However, there are some quite unique problems faced by street vendors.
- No hot water supply
You must have hot water for washing, but mobile food preparation and hot water can sometimes be a difficult mix. Gas-powered water heaters can be notoriously picky about when they will choose to work, particularly as they start to age. However, you must have access to hot water for washing and unfortunately there is no leeway in this, so if you don’t have it, you shouldn’t be serving.
- Invasion of the insects
Wasps and flies are a particular problem. If you haven’t been stung a couple of times by the end of any summer weekend then you have been lucky. An ultraviolet zapper will help, but it will need emptying regularly. ‘Cover everything that can be covered,’ is probably the safest option. Fridge it, cling film it, mesh cover it, or seal it in tubs is the best approach to your ingredients.
- Keeping your cool
One common cause of food poisoning is a lack of adequate temperature control. When you store food above refrigeration temperature, it will soon perish and, worse still, develop harmful bacteria. Add humidity in the mix and you have a very short safety margin. If you have a fridge, then make a habit of returning food to it as fast as possible. Cool boxes and insulated storage will work, but only as a temporary option. For safety, you are supposed to keep anything that needs refrigeration at below 5c.
- Keeping it warm
Once the temperature of hot food drops below 63c, it enters the danger zone and bacteria will start to multiply. Keeping food warm is difficult for the street food business because customers do not usually want to wait for service. Pre-cooking is the obvious solution, but you also want to avoid wastage. Sadly, there is no magic formula here, but if you cannot guarantee to keep food at the right temperature then you simply must not sell it – it is the law.
- Lack of space
In a cramped environment, cross-contamination is an ever present issue. No matter how difficult it is logistically, though, keeping raw meet away from other foods during preparation is vital. Remember, never wash chicken before it is cooked because you can spread campylobacter in the splashed water. On the other hand, do make sure that all green leafy veg and other ingredients are washed. As healthy as they look, green leaves are one of the most common ways to spread food poisoning.
It’s difficult being a street vendor, but the Level 2 food hygiene training should cover all you need to comply with the law.
One last thought – you may wish to consider gloves when handling money, then discarding them before you handle food. In a recent study, a large percentage of bank notes were found to have a significant presence of human faeces, so handling the money and then handling the food does not seem such a good idea.