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Be wary of neighborhood food vendors
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 25 - 04 - 2013

Amal Al-Sibai
Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — Jeddah residents have been complaining of the food vendors circling the neighborhood streets offering a quick snack for hungry passers-by at cheap prices.
A wagon with a pungent smell emanating from the vendor's stall has been regularly noticed in the Faisaliyah District, and its owner alternates between selling French fries, barbecued corn on the cob, chickpeas, or sweets at cheap prices.
Exposed to air, the heat of the sun, exhaust fumes from cars, flies and insects, these food stalls make an unhealthy environment for preparing and serving, not to mention the lack of personal hygiene exhibited by the person pushing the food stall around.
Doubting the safety of such foods is not a mere paranoia, but it is imperative for a number of reasons. Reheating vegetable oil again and again at high temperatures and re-using the oil changes the chemical structure of the fatty acids in the oil into a new compound, called 4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal (HNE). This compound is highly toxic and uninformed residents fall prey to these food vendors on their way to or from the neighborhood mosque, and children are often found crowding around the vendor to buy a quick snack with their pocket money.
Numerous studies have linked HNE consumption to increased risks for cardiovascular disease, stroke, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Huntington's disease, liver ailments and even cancer.
The same rule applies for fast food restaurants that reheat the oils for deep-frying again and again before discarding it and using new oil.
“To avoid the risks associated with HNE, my recommendations would be to never heat any oil to the point of smoking, and as far as cooking at home goes, just use the oil once.
“I'm more concerned about fried foods in restaurants where the oil may be used over and over. Avoid eating fried foods in restaurants,” said Jeannie Moloo, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Countless times while strolling in a park in the Balad area, or our very own neighborhood, we have heard the inviting call: Baleela! Baleela!
Boiled chickpeas are absolutely delicious especially if they are sprinkled salt, freshly ground cumin powder and a drizzle of olive oil, but these food stalls are definitely not the place to enjoy this mini-meal.
“The ‘Baleela' food stall stationed just outside the shopping center I work at creates tremendous traffic congestion as shoppers stop to buy the hot ‘Baleela.' Unfortunately, I have heard of several instances of food poisoning after consuming these foods, most probably due to the poor quality of oils, old spices, or the spicy tobacco sauces used to flavor the ‘Baleela'.
“I have seen some vendors making and selling fruit juices without adhering to the most basic cleanliness practices or proper storage of fresh fruits,” said Omar Al-Baghdadi.
Equally frustrating are the scores of men waiting at the traffic lights at major intersections who flaunt their bags of attractive, pink clouds of fluffy, sugary cotton candy to lure young children.
It is hard to say ‘no' to a stubborn toddler if he spots the dreamy pink clouds of sweetness float by and demands that he wants some.
The cotton candy sold on the streets is unhealthy for a number of reasons.
We have no idea of the source of these candies, and some residents claim that they are made in unhygienic circumstances, using dirty pots and machines. In addition the heat from the sun may cause harmful chemicals from the plastic bags to leach into the cotton candy that our children love so much.
In any case, cotton candy is full of artificial colorings, sugar, and empty calories with no nutrient value.
It is everyone's responsibility to voice these concerns and contact the Jeddah Municipality to report the exact location of these food vendors because it is illegal to sell foods under such conditions and without conforming to the strict regulations specified by the municipality to ensure protection of the consumer's safety and health: contact the municipality at 614-9999 or e-mail at [email protected].
Another way to protect youngsters from these unhealthy foods is education. Parents and teachers should warn kids about the health dangers of such foods sold on the street.

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