KATHMANDU, Feb 7: A month ago, Kusum Bhandari, 21, ate momos at a stall in Khichapokhari, Kathmandu. Soon after reaching home, Kusum started vomiting, which was followed by a bout of diarrhea.
Kusum, a higher secondary student who lives in Dhumbarahi with her elder sister, was rushed to a hospital. The doctor who examined her declared that she had contracted food poisoning. Avoid street foods at all cost, the doctor had advised her.
Kusum has not eaten anything from the streets since then. Although her mouth still waters at the sight of sizzling and seemingly delicious food items at roadside stalls, Kusum abstains from eating them. "I try to resist the temptation," She said.
But Kusum´s experience stands as an exception, as it is common to see people standing around roadside stalls and enjoying the foods.
PHOTO: BHASWOR OJHA
Most people are aware that food served by street food stands tend to be unhygienic but choose to ignore the risks.
Every day, hundreds of people are seen hanging around street food carts in New Road, Ratna Park, Bhirkuti Mandap and Chabahil areas. Street foods are popular, especially, among middle class people. Momos, chowmiens, panipuris, chaats, samosas and fried chicken are among the popular street food items in Kathmandu.
On of the reason that people like street foods could be that they are cheap. However, in absence of a strong government mechanism to monitor the stalls and enforce best practices, most of the street food vendors do not take enough precautions to ensure that the food they offer are hygienic.
Mohan Maharjan, a food inspector at Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC), feels that the quality of food at roadside stalls in the valley has remarkably improved over the last few years. "But the condition is still not satisfactory," said Maharjan.
Pramod Koirala, spokesperson for the DFTQC, said, "We are serious about the quality of street foods. But, we do not have concrete programs.”
The problem also stems from the lack of awareness on the part of street food vendors. Most street food vendors think whatever they sell are hygienic.
PHOTO: BHASWOR OJHA
Baiju Shah, 24, who owns a food cart and earns around Rs 350 every day, says he does not know anything about quality of food. "People love my panipuri and chatpate," said Shah, adding, "No one has come to me saying they fell ill after eating my panipuri and chatpate.”
Like Shah, Devendra Basnet, 25, who sells momo at a roadside stall, claims the food items he sells are totally safe despite the fact that his stall is virtually blanketed by dust and smoke.
"I am obviously worried about the dust particles,” Basnet said. "But the foods I sell are not unhealthy.”
A couple of weeks ago, the DFTQC started operating a Mobile Test Van (MTV) to examine the quality of street foods in the valley. According to Maharjan, the MTV examines the quality of street foods every Thursday.
“We are happy that the van has not found any stall selling inedible food so far,” said Maharjan.
Maharjan said the MTV has tested quality of street foods only in some parts of the Valley like Chabahil, Koteshwor and Gaushala and will soon visit other areas.
Before running the MTV in the Valley, the DFTQC had launched another campaign to test the quality of foods sold at hotels and restaurants along the East-West Highway. During the campaign, the DFTQC had carried out tests at 48 hotels in Muglin area. Of them, only five hotels received green stickers, meaning that their food items were safe. But, 43 hotels got yellow stickers, meaning that their foods were not hygienic.
"The Mobile Test Van is an extension of the campaign in Muglin,” said Maharjan. "We will provide stickers in the valley as well.”
Not enough budget for monitoring Jiwan Prava Lama
Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC)
Would advise people to feel free to eat at roadside stalls in the valley?
It is not good to tar all street food stalls with the same brush. Some street food stalls are good, while many others are not. We have to keep certain things in mind before eating street foods. We should see how neat and clean the people who serve the foods are. We should look at their nails and clothes. We should see whether they are wearing gloves and aprons. We should also look at the utensils they use.
Is there any plan to monitor the quality of street foods?
There is no plan as of now. But we will come up with a plan to regulate the quality of street foods soon.
. What are the obstacles faced by DFTQC in monitoring the quality of street foods?
Budget crunch is our major problem. We do not have sufficient budget to monitor the quality of food items. The best we can do at this stage is to prepare guidelines for street food vendors.
Is there a provision of punishing people who sell unhygienic food, thereby, causing harm to the people?
Yes. An act passed in 1967 states that only good quality food should be served to the people and those doing otherwise are liable to be punished. But, we are helpless. The local body (Kathmandu Metropolitan City) should investigate before granting permission to the food stalls.