Street food has always become an integral part of the urban food culture and an important way to appease the appetite of the multitude in Dhaka. However, what experts and food buffs are concerned about is the daily intake of harmful street-vended food.
Lack of hygiene and adulterated food ingredients in the recipes cast a long shadow over the patterns of food habit Dhaka’s urban middle class and the poor have developed over the years.
While availability of delicious food items has led to an increase then popularity of the street-vended food, on the question of hygiene, experts are concerned since the authority seems indifferent to take measures to make them safe.
The popularity of such food items among the people living in other urban areas in Bangladesh is due to their comparatively cheap price and good taste.
A tourism department study in 2017, unveiled that 60 lakh people of the city daily eat street foods from several thousand vendors.
The consumers comprising rickshaw-pullers, labourers and school students to the people enjoy outing occasionally or at weekend. They are from different age and sex groups too.
Urban planners said that street food was popular in all countries but the problem here in Bangladesh was ensuring safe food.
They said that street foods in Bangladesh were not prepared with due attention to hygiene. Sold in open air in a dirty city, both during preparation and servicing customers, the likelihood of street food picking up germs is worrisome, experts believed.
The vendors are using unsafe water to prepare street food and they are also reusing water when serving consumers, thereby exposing them to many diseases.
A joint study by scientists of the ICDDR,B and Emory University, USA, unveiled that the resident of Dhaka were at high risks of contracting enteric diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid for reasons including unhygienic street foods.
They found high concentration of pathogens like Escherichia coli, norovirus, vibrio cholerae, shigella, salmonella typhi and giardia in drinking water and food items.
The studies — done between April 2017 to January 2018 and April to October 2019 — showed that vegetable products likes carrot, brinjal, red amaranth and tomatoes available in the capital are highly contaminated with faecal pathogens.
Physicians said that the street foods, which are being produced in unhygienic state, may increase risk of typhoid, hepatitis A and E and other waterborne diseases like cholera and diarrhoea.
ICDDR,B scientist Mahbubur Rahman said that there was serious oversight regarding vegetables and street foods consumption in the government policy, also lacking in the risk mitigation factors.
He said that street foods like sliced fruits, jhalmuri, chotpoti, vajavuji, achar, sharbat and ice cream in Dhaka are highly contaminated with Escherichia coli.
National Hygiene Survey of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics found that only 63 per cent service staff and 68 per cent cooks of different restaurants and street shops wash their hand with soap at business hours.
Of them, only 2 per cent food vendors wash their hands by soap after cutting fish, meat or raw vegetable, 3 per cent after cleaning human or animal faeces.
The report also found that 15 per cent food vendors wash their hands after cleaning bench, table, chair and floor, 32 per cent after cleaning utensils, 12 per cent after removing wastage, 34 per cent wash their hands by soap before food preparation.
Member of Bangladesh Food Safety Authority Manzur Morshed Ahmed told New Age that the authority was alerting street food vendors to improve food safety but yet to take legal actions against them.
He said that BFSA on priority basis is taking actions against the restaurants and it would take actions against the street vendors too.
‘With the shortage of manpower we are working phase by phase to ensure safe food for all groups of people living in the city,’ he said.
Dhaka South City Corporation food inspector Kamrul Hasan, who filed 105 cases against adulterated food producers in 2019, said that food inspector could not take regular legal actions against the street food vendors as they have no trade licence and permanent address.
Sometimes mobile court filed cases or punished them but it was difficult as they escape the spot with their moving shops, he said.
He said that in every Ramadan the street vendors cooked delicious Ifter items using harmful ingredients and prepared them in unhealthy environments.
Several thousand vendors cooked 130 types of street food items, which included kebabs, khichuri, tehari, jolpuri, telpuri, belpuri, chitoypitha, vapapitha, bot vaji, halim, aluchap, beguni, dalpuri, piyajo, peties, chicken fry, French fry, roll and burger, which always attract the foodies.
Food experts may also raise the issue of food value found in their wide range of varieties, including all sorts of fried items, Jhalmuri, a spicy mixture of puffed rice, chanachur, are often mixed with gravy and mustard oil, which are the most popular street food items in Bangladesh. But, the issue of hygiene is the most pressing one, since maintaining nutrition is an altogether different issue.
Besides, Dhaka’s street food lovers are fond of the combination of spicy, sour and sweet taste of crunchy fuchka and mouth-watering chotpoti at any time of the day.
Halim is another preferred choice for many of them at the evening. This traditional dish that originated in the Middle East is cooked and served in our own style.
Street food lovers of this mega city enjoy delicious taste of small-shaped kebabs made of beef or mutton, which are displayed with egg chops, roll and parathas in the street-side food cart. When these items are presented with a few pieces of raw or fried onions and a plate of mixed salad or sauce, Dhaka’s foodies cannot resist their temptation and devour them after a busy day.
26-year-old Sadia Afrin, a resident of Mohamamdpur in Dhaka, said that she liked to enjoy street food anytime she went out of the house as the food items were delicious.
She said that knowing the health hazards she could not avoid the items since they offered a different taste.
Experts said that street food items that are available in front of school gates in the capital pose serious health concern affecting the school children.
The Institute of Public Health conducted a study during July 2016 and June 2017, collecting street food samples sold in front of the capital’s 46 schools, located in 49 neighbourhoods, having students from high-, middle- as well as low-income groups.
According to the study, 85 to 90 per cent of velpuri, fuchka and jhalmuri sold at school gates are contaminated with diarrhea causing e coli and faecal bacteria.
It found 32.25 per cent of bhelpuri and 6.5 per cent of jhalmuri contaminated with both E coli and salmonella which cause diarrhoea, fever and abdominal cramps.
It found 75 per cent of bhelpuri and 99 per cent of fuchka and jhalmuri and 10 per cent of pickles had unacceptable levels of yeast and mould, responsible for causing allergic reactions as well as poisoning and fungal infections.
Food inspectors said that the main problems of the street vendors that they openly serve food, cook in unhealthy environment and use low quality ingredients in recipes.
Both Dhaka South City Corporation and Dhaka North City Corporation initiated programmes to make street food safe but their attempt went vain.
In 2016, the city corporations had distributed 383 food vans in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for ensuring safe food but the initiative failed to meet the target.
Hasan Talukder, vendor at Town Hall area of Dhaka’s Mohammadpur, an area reputed for kebab and other street vended food, used to sale kebab, roti and sometimes luchi for the last three years.
Hasan said that he want to cook healthy food for his customers, which would increase the cost a bit but consumers first of all want cheap food from him, which compelled him to compromise on quality.
He said that despite the problem, like other street vendors, he paid extortion of around Tk 300 to local leaders and police as he do business occupying the street and a part of the footpath illegally.
Bangladesh Institute of Planners general secretary Adil Mohammad Khan said that the developed countries allow street vendors in specific areas and ensure healthy food, which Bangladesh could do easily if the authorities and all involved in the businesses honestly wanted.
He said after evening many pocket roads including Motijheel become vacant where government could allow street food vendors and monitor them.
In Bangladesh, street food fully depends on informal entrepreneurs without any professional skills or training.
When unemployed persons couldn’t manage any job compelled to do the business.
At different streets of the city, a number of female street vendors were seen serving taste foods with local nature.
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