Thursday, April 21, 2011


Street vending is a phenomenon that is here to stay and almost all countries in the world have some or the other form of open air eating on the sides of many roads in most of the urban areas. The transformation of the street vendor who is a humble and low income entrepreneur into modern business man is remarkable in a country like the US where Food Trucks are taking over the functions of providing open air foods to customers with some loyalty to fresh foods cooked in front of them. Even in the case of modern food trucks there are issues concerning quality and safety of food offered by them though the chances of any epidemic of food poisoning is relatively less. In the traditional road side vending hygiene and sanitation become a casualty because of many reasons which include low awareness and high illiteracy amongst many of these vendors. Unless safety authorities exercise effective vigilance, the unsuspecting customers can become a prey for food borne diseases. The sudden interest by the Mumbai food safety agency in announcing stricter monitoring regime is note worthy but whether this will be translated into practice is a million dollar question!

"In a bid to crack down on unauthorised roadside vendors selling food in unhygienic conditions, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will now form special ward-level squads. These squads will carry out regular surprise visits in their areas to ensure quality of food items. The decision was taken after a pani puri vendor in Thane was caught on camera while urinating in a vessel which he was using to store pani. After the news reports, MNS workers had vandalised food stalls across the city, thereby pressuring the civic body to take immediate measures. Officials had said that a meeting of top health department officials of the BMC was called to chalk out an action plan. Civic officials said instructions regarding the formation of special ward-level squads have been issued. The official also said the quality of the food served by these vendors will now be under scanner. Additional Municipal Commissioner Manisha Mhaiskar said these squads will also keep a check on those vendors having BMC's licences too. On Tuesday itself, surprise visits were conducted in and around the city".

Is it not a wonder that only very few cases of food borne diseases are reported in the country in spite of the sad state of affairs vis-a-vis safety enforcement environment? Could it be that the effect of daily prayers by the God-fearing population is manifested in the form of protection to them from food related disorders? Or does an average Indians possess an extra ordinary GI system that is immune to most food borne infectious vectors prevalent in the country? According to some reports most of those affected by minor symptoms of stomach upset caused by food do not bother about it, managing the same with over the counter anti-bacterial drugs available cheap in the country. One always wonders as to how populations in countries like the US or in Europe suffer from serious food poisoning incidences in spite of the operation of a supposedly modern food industry and most exacting hygiene environment that exists in those countries. Probably an agency like WHO can study this peculiar phenomenon to unravel the mystery!


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