As any junk food lover will tell you, nothing beats a plate of steaming hot chole bhature, tunde kabab, dabeli, or Chinese, especially when you’re huddled under an umbrella with the rain coming down and the cold monsoon winds whipping at your face. Of course we know that we should not eat roadside food during the monsoons, but who can resist the temptation! But maybe if you know just what was in that junk food you’re savoring, you’d find it a lot easier to put down your spoon.
What’s In Your Street Food?
No one eats street food for its nutritional value, so we don’t expect it to be healthy; however, the problem with street food is that it can be contaminated and the chances of this are so much higher in the monsoons. Even the CSE (Centre for Science and Environment) has issued a warning saying that, “Contamination is the greatest challenge for food safety in India”.
Particle Contamination…including FECAL matter!!
“Food tests revealed that some of our street food contains high levels of fecal matter”
A study conducted in our capital found that the street food you pig out on is likely to contain high levels of fecal matter. The high humidity levels in the monsoon provide a conducive environment for fungi to thrive and propagate. The spores from some of these fungi are toxic to humans and can cause serious health problems.
According to India’s Food Safety & Standards Act of 2006, vendors who prepare food in unhygienic or unsanitary conditions are liable to a penalty up to 1 lakh rupees, but clearly this rule serves no practical purpose. Remember, if you insist on eating street food, you are quite literally eating sh*t!
“Water-borne diseases are more common in the monsoons and often result in food poisoning, diarrhea, and vomiting”
Every street food vendor has that bucket of water that resembles watery soup! Every plate is wiped down and then “rinsed” in this water before being used to serve the next person. Water-borne diseases are more common in the monsoons and a street vendor’s bucket serves as a petri dish for a wide range of bacteria. Some of the most common bacterial contaminants in street food include bacillus cerus, which causes diarrhea and vomiting, E. coli which causes food poisoning, and Salmonella typhi which causes typhoid fever.
“Unwashed or improperly washed vegetables contain pesticides & fungicides that make their way into our street food”
Processed junk food is high in chemical additives, but we often think of street food as being “chemical free”. However, this isn’t the case; street vendors give their vegetables only a cursory rinse before using them, which means that a lot of our street food contains pesticides and fungicides. These chemicals have been linked to long-term health problems such as endocrine disruption, birth defects, and cancer.
Furthermore, cleaning solutions are added to the bucket of water in which the plates and spoons are cleaned and since the dishes are not rinsed, these utensils contain traces of chemical cleaning agents.
If You Must Indulge, Here’s What You Should Do…
Avoid chaat items like gol gappas, as there is a higher risk of getting ill due to contaminated water. Many vendors now sell sliced fruit, but this is not a healthy food option in the monsoons. This is because the pre-cut fruit attract flies and scientists have found that flies transmit at least 65 diseases to humans, including dysentery and cholera. When drinking juice from a roadside vendor, do not ask for ice, as the water used to make the ice is likely to be contaminated and you will fall ill. Freshly cooked food is always a better option as heat kills bacteria and so you are less likely to get sick, you should also use wipes to clean the utensils before using them.
Your best bet would be to avoid street food altogether, we know that it’s not easy, but if you remind yourself of just what your food is likely to contain, it gets a whole lot easier! A recent study found that only 53% of Indians wash their hands before preparing food after they’ve defecated – what are the odds that your vendor is one of them??
August 3, 2018