What Is Safe and How Much Does It Matter? Food Vendors’ and Consumers’ Views on Food Safety in Urban Nigeria


This study examines the food safety beliefs of vendors and consumers in a mid-sized Nigerian city using data from in-depth interviews and cognitive mapping techniques drawn from ethnography. We examine vendors’ and consumers’ perspectives on which foods are safe, which are not, and why; the place of foodborne illness among other health concerns and motivators of food choice; and how salient food safety is as a concern for vendors. The main perceived causes of unsafe food were found to be chemicals and insects; while bacterial illnesses were widely mentioned as a cause of gastrointestinal symptoms, these were not necessarily linked to food in consumers’ minds. Respondents agreed strongly that certain foods (e.g., cowpea, beef, green leafy vegetables, and local rice) were less safe than others. The importance of food safety as a choice motivator among consumers varies depending on framing: when asked directly, it was prominent and closely related to visible cleanliness, but concerns about food safety competed in consumers’ minds against other salient motivators of food and vendor choice, such as price. Most vendors did not see food safety, cleanliness, or hygiene as a key trait of a successful vendor, and just over half of vendors had any concern about the safety of their food. In conclusion, we note the implications for intervention designs, particularly the need to build upon consumers’ and vendors’ current beliefs and practices related to food safety in order to make foodborne disease prevention a more salient concern in food choice. 

This article, and its companion piece, was adapted from a GAIN EatSafe program report.

This article is summarized in an Agrilinks blog post.