Food Safety in Informal Urban Settlements in Kenya

July 6, 2021

Food safety is an important component of food security that is often overlooked. Yet, approximately 600 million people globally fall ill after consuming food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical substances, and 420, 000 die every year. Fresh foods are responsible for a significant number of illnesses. In Kenya, for example, contamination of meat, fruits, and vegetables is relatively common. There have been reports of kale contamination with fecal bacteria attributed to unsafe water for cleaning produce and meat contamination caused by poor hygiene practices, extensive manual handling of meat, limited worker skills, poor infrastructure, and inadequate supply of safe water. Other factors associated with food contamination include lack of structures to display food, planting foods in unsafe water, and food preparation in unhygienic environments.

In Kenya, residents of informal urban settlements face extreme poverty levels, poor access to basic hygiene and sanitation facilities, and food insecurity. Research by APHRC shows that 80% of slum residents are food insecure which partly explains the high malnutrition rates of close to 50% among children. To survive, slum residents resort to different coping strategies: purchasing cheap, low-quality foods such as stale fruits and vegetables, scavenging for food in dumpsites, and dependence on street foods, often prepared in unhygienic conditions. 

“This situation is not unique in the slum where you find food being sold near a sewer that has burst. The sewage [pipes] here are always bursting and the vendors continue selling their food near them without knowing that it contaminates the food they are selling” – Resident, Mukuru slum.

This raises concerns about food safety, especially among food vendors who tend to have suboptimal hygiene standards. There is a need for effective and sustainable food safety interventions in such environments. Through The Healthy Food Africa Project, APHRC aims to promote food security in informal urban settlements by implementing food safety interventions among food vendors and promoting urban farming among slum residents, specifically women and youth, to promote economic empowerment. 

The project will work with food vendors in Korogocho and Viwandani slums to assess their hygiene and food handling practices, knowledge and attitudes, and after train them on food handling and support them in coming up with innovative solutions through creative capacity building (CCB). CCB is a community-driven initiative that aims to develop the skills and competencies of disadvantaged communities to take greater control of their lives. We will also engage Nairobi City County Government officials to advocate for proper infrastructure to be put in place to enhance 1) access to safe potable water, 2) access to sanitation facilities such as toilets, and 3) proper waste disposal. We hope to contribute to improving access to healthy and safe food in Nairobi through this initiative.