Last summer I spent a few days doing food safety audits at various festivals around the country and many of the mobile traders were offering vegan food from Chinese dumplings, smoothies and vegan juices to vegan noodles and salads.
Food Safety Checks
These were generally the same regardless of the food being produced paying particular attention to hand washing facilities, temperature control, staff cleanliness, use of sanitiser etc but there seemed to be a general feeling that I got from the traders and organisers whilst doing the food safety checks, that vegan food was safer to eat as there was no risk of food poisoning from animal products including meat, fish etc which are commonly linked to salmonella, campylobacter and other food poisoning bacteria.
“I mean how risky can it be eating vegan phad thai?”
So this got me thinking in the month of Veganuary, is vegan food safer to eat out at festivals and events in terms of food safety, than non vegan foods?
Of course there is always the risk that a member of staff doesn’t wash their hands properly or at all when preparing any food, so that food safety risk still remains, particularly with ready-to-eat vegan foods.
There is also the risk of cross contamination from soil from unwashed fruit and vegetables which could cause salmonella, E-Coli or listeria food poisoning, and dirty cloths and service equipment etc.
Food poisoning outbreaks
Most alarmingly there are some well documented cases of food poisoning linked to foods used in vegan cooking such as beansprouts in Germany which resulted in an E-Coli outbreak (Guardian 2011); unpasteurized apple juice which again caused an E-Coli 0157 outbreak which killed a 16 month old girl and made 66 people ill in America (Wikipedia 1996); a botulism outbreak from fresh bulk tofu in New York in 2012 (CDC 2012); and a current outbreak which is linked to Romaine lettuce grown in the Salinas area of California that has affected 138 people of whom 72 have been hospitalized.(CDC 2019)
Although these products are not solely used by vegan caterers it highlights that there is still a significant risk of causing food poisoning when producing veganfood, and these hazards must be identified and controls put in place as part of a food safety management system to ensure that vegan food is safe to eat.
Safer or not?
So in my opinion I would say that vegan food is not necessarily safer to eat at festivals and events than non vegan food but the food safety risks may be different, although it may not be necessary to check that vegan food meets the recommended cooking temperature as is required for a caterer cooking, for example jerk BBQ chicken; if vegetables are not washed properly or staff do not wash their hands then it may still be possible to make customers ill