An international multicenter study of ready-to-eat foods, sandwiches, and ice creams or sorbets sold in the streets and their vendors was carried out to assess the microbiological quality of these foods and to identify characteristics of the vendors possibly associated with pathogens. Thirteen towns in Africa, America, Asia, and Oceania were involved in the study. A single protocol was used in all 13 centers: representative sampling was by random selection of vendors and a sample of foods bought from each of these vendors at a time and date selected at random. Microbiological analyses were carried out using standardized Association Française de Normalisation methods, and the use of a standardized questionnaire to collect data concerning the characteristics of the vendors. Fifteen surveys were carried out, with 3,003 food samples from 1,268 vendors. The proportion of unsatisfactory food samples was between 12.7 and 82.9% for ice creams and sorbets and between 11.3 and 92% for sandwiches. For ice creams and sorbets, the sale of a large number of units (>80 per day) increased the risk of unsatisfactory food by a factor of 2.8 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.5 to 5.1), lack of training in food hygiene by 6.6 (95% CI: 1.1 to 50), and by a factor of 2.8 (95% CI: 1.4 to 5.4) for mobile vendors. These risk factors were not identified for sandwiches, this difference may be due to the presence of a cooking step in their preparation. These results show that the poor microbiological quality of these street foods constitutes a potential hazard to public health, that the extent of this hazard varies between the cities studied, and that vendors' health education in food safety is a crucial factor in the prevention of foodborne infections.

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Author notes

Present address: Pasteur Institute in Tananarive, Madagascar.

Present address: Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Republic of Senegal.

§Present address: Pasteur Institute in Tananarive, Madagascar.