Saturday, July 6, 2013


What are the chances of one getting sick after consuming foods from vendors who serve their "mouth watering" products under the open air without worrying too much about hygiene and sanitation or the likely chance of the same to be vitiated by hundreds of smoke emitting automotive vehicles passing in front of them? Obviously there does not appear to be any major food poisoning episodes in India during the last three decades putting to rest the speculation in this regard by the western educated food scientists based on their perception of science! Could this be due to the extraordinarily tough stomachs Indians possess or is there any other strong reason? Probably these vendors are not as irresponsible as being made out by "scientific" surveys undertaken from time to time by scientists! One of the major reasons could be that most foods offered are cooked on the spot and served hot leaving very little chance of contamination from pathogenic microbes. Those which are not served hot are either sour tasting or salt laden or laced with sour curds that, here also there is very little chance of the customers getting sick. Against this background the recent proposal from Delhi to initiate a "certifying" scheme for these small players, purveyors of tasty local foods, may be somewhat out of place and it will likely to end up as an harassment tool that might be deployed by petty officials to extract extortion from them. Here is a take on this new "awakening" in Delhi about the safety of street foods, after doing nothing for ages!  

"Vendors wearing gloves while serving up plates of pani puri or donning a chef's hat while stirring spicy bhel may soon be a regular sighting to Mumbai's street food culture. Street food is set to become certifiably safer with the central government kicking off their Safe Street Food project across fifteen cities in India including Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ahmadabad, Kolkata, Patna, Lucknow, Varanasi, Dehradun, Bhubaneshwar, Agartala, Jammu, Trivandrum and Chennai. The project will take off in November this year. Food Safety and Standard Authority of India's (FSSAI) that launched the Safe Street Food project plans to use officials from the state Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) to narrow down food stalls at Juhu and Girgaon Chowpatty as a part of the pilot project. Prior to the implementation, a detailed project report has been sought by FSSAI from all states. FDA officials are currently seeking information on 80 food stalls in Juhu and 28 stall in Girgaon about their working practices. "We are closely studying the cooks to see if they maintain hygiene while cooking. We are also observing how they store food and dispose garbage," said Kamlesh Sankhe, joint commissioner (food), FDA. Apart from training the street vendors on handling preparation, storage and presentation of food, the central government has instructed the state and BMC to develop an infrastructure at street food hotspots to make them more tourist-friendly. "We have repeatedly requested the civic and state authorities to provide sheds as protection from the rain and winds. Toilet facilities, waste disposal and drainage facilities should be provided as well," said Atul Gupta, treasurer, Girgaon Bhelpuri Khadya Peey Vikreta Industrial Products Co-operative Society Limited".

The response from the organization that represents street vendors is logical and correct. In stead of a window dressing approach, what the government must do is to relocate these vendors to food complexes with complimentary facilities like safe water supply, access to clean toilet and clean environment. Every city in this country should have a few such infrastructure set ups immediately for shifting the existing vendors and establishing new players with minimum hassles. The street food lovers in this country, millions in number will owe a debt of gratitude to the government, if it thinks in this direction. Of course in a country where every exercise by the government has more publicity value than substance, it may be too much to expect such progressive measures to be implemented in the foreseeable future! 


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