IT IS worrying that the government and city authorities have not yet taken the issue of hygiene and health impact of street foods. Street foods are popular for their availability, low cost and their tastes. But in developed countries, there are specific agencies that regulate street foods and train vendors to ensure food safety. Bangladesh lags behind in this area and as a result, tens of thousands, mainly children and school students, contract diseases that unhygienic street foods can cause. Sold in open places amidst dirty surroundings and with little attention to hygiene, street foods pose high risks of enteric and other diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. Vendors often, moreover, use unsafe water in food preparation and even reuse water in cleaning dishes, exposing consumers to water-borne diseases. An International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease and Research, Bangladesh study conducted with the US-based Emory University found a high concentration of pathogens in drinking water and food items up for sales on Dhaka streets.
More than 6 million people, a 2017 tourism department study shows, in Dhaka eat street foods from several thousand vendors a day. School students are one of the most vulnerable groups as schools in Dhaka are surrounded by street vendors offering unsafe food items. Most of these foods are, as a study of the Institute of Public Health says, contain Escherichia coli and faecal pathogens that cause diarrhoea. The study, based on street food samples collected from around 46 schools in 49 Dhaka neighbourhoods, reveals that 85–90 per cent of bhelpuri, fuchka and jhalmuri contain Escherichia coli and faecal bacteria, 32.25 per cent of bhelpuri and 6.5 per cent of jhalmuri contain both Escherichia coli and salmonella while many items have unacceptable levels of yeast and mould. Lack of awareness among the vendors of cleanliness also adds to the risk. The National Hygiene Survey reveals that only 2 per cent of food vendors wash their hands with soap after cutting fish, meat or raw vegetable and 3 per cent after cleaning human or animal faeces. The city authorities have so far failed to take legal action against the street food vendors in the absence of any licensing mechanism for food vendors.
The government, the Food Safety Authority and the city authorities must, under the circumstances, work out an effective plan to ensure food hygiene and safety. They must train street food vendors and bring them under a legal purview. And a regular oversight, above all, is a must to ensure street food standards.
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