One of the biggest food safety problems in India is street food, or rather the poor safety standards of street food vendors.
From a food safety perspective, there is no denying that street food sickens millions and kills hundreds of thousands of people every year in India.
On the other hand, the Prime Minister’s much maligned “Pakoda” statement is not at all funny in my opinion. Selling street food is one of the largest employers in India, and many of yesteryear street food vendors are today, some of our most famous national, regional and city food brands. Both packaged food and restaurants.
Street food directly and indirectly employs millions and creates some of tomorrow’s millionaires and billionaires.
I want to suggest a simple solution that the FSSAI could adopt (in cooperation with city and town governments) to reduce this risk without damaging the livelihoods of street food vendors.
The FSSAI is trying hard to solve this problem. It is coming up with education programs, standards and certificates and more.
This is FSSAI barking up the wrong tree.
The FSSAI must recognise its limitations and work to solve the problem within those limitations.
Addressing the problem at the level of an individual street food vendor is not possible. The FSSAI does not have the manpower or control to do this for restaurants. How on earth will it do this for the hundred times more street food vendors?
The simpler solution is for the FSSAI to co-opt the city and town governments to consolidate street food vendors into an elegant and scalable solution.
- City governments to mandate open air Food Centers in every neighbourhood for street food vendors to either establish permanent stalls or bring in their push carts. No need to build permanent structures
- City governments to disallow street food outside of these Food Centers
- Water supply to the open air Food Centers is centrally filtered, purified and frequently checked for contamination
- All carts or food supplies that enter the Food Center are checked for safety at the point of entry
- Food handling and hygiene standards are enforced across the Food Center
Consolidation is the only way to solve the problem. The resources of the FSSAI do not allow for management of a highly fragmented, high volume, distributed problem.