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close this bookFOOD CHAIN No. 14 - March 1995 (ITDG, 1995, 16 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentGreetings
View the documentA mouldy old business spawns some money
View the documentTraining for the Tropics
View the documentTomato concentrate - further developments from India
View the documentSafety of street foods in Calcutta
View the documentQuality of honey for export
View the documentImproving standards of hygiene
View the documentBook Lines
View the documentQuality control and quality assurance
View the documentGhee - adding value to milk
View the documentAcknowledgments

Safety of street foods in Calcutta

This article by Dr Indiri Chakravaty looks at a very important, although little considered aspect of food quality and safety - street foods. These foods are often of great socio-economic importance in large cities of developing countries. They provide income for large numbers of vendors and a high proportion of the daily nutritional needs of millions of people, including the very poor. Studies by the Institute have shown that many poor people elect to survive on convenient street foods as this is cheaper than cooking at home and does not waste time, allowing them work longer each day. Simply driving vendors from the streets could cause great hardship. What is needed is an approach that fosters the sale of safe street foods.

Ready-to eat-foods and beverages are sold by approximately 150,000 vendors in Calcutta to an estimated 9,000,000 consumers. The clientele is not restricted to low income groups but includes middle to high middle class office workers, students and shoppers. A typical stall serves about 60 customers a day with up to 50 different products being sold, the most popular being tea, coffee and snacks.

India has a fairly comprehensive range of food regulations (Indian Penal Code, Municipal Acts and Prevention of Food Adulteration Acts). Street foods, despite being consumed by so many people, tend to be considered a passing phase and somewhat despised, so they have not received sufficient attention from enforcement agencies and have not been controlled or regulated. The indications are that regulation is needed.

The emergence and growth of the street food sector is related to the convenient site, the price and the fresh preparation of savoury products. Although customers were from different socio-economic groups, they selected where to buy, not, as might be expected on price (indeed prices vary little with 50 types of food ranging from Rs0.5 to Rs8 per serving), but on convenience. Few vendors had proper facilities and frequently complained of harassment from various quarters. Those that were licensed welcomed the fact as it meant they could access water, fuel etc.


Studies tested samples from four areas and found that the foods did not have excessive amounts of filth, dust or dirt. They were also organoleptically satisfactory (taste, smell and appearance). Adulterants were not detected neither was aflatoxin. The presence of saccharin was only detected in some samples of sherbet. The use of artificial colours was however, widespread.

While chemical and physical tests were generally acceptable, the micro-biological quality was less than satisfactory, with coliforms, moulds, salmonella and shigella found The poor micro-biological quality is caused by unhygienic preparation conditions, poor handling and the lack of clean, potable water.

From the nutritional point of view, street foods are good value. A snack meal providing 1000 calories (about one third of the daily requirement) can be bought for the equivalent of 16 20 Us cents.

Considering their socio-economic importance, it is clear that street food vendors cannot simply be removed from the streets. However, some control is urgently needed to prevent any further increase in their numbers. While the general quality of foods bought on the street is comparable to that sold by small hotels, there is a strong need to improve their micro-biological quality. As much of the micro-biological contamination is due to the use of non-potable water the local authority is urged to improve the quality of water available to vendors and provide guidance on its use and storage.

Essentially we believe that the quality of street foods will be most improved by increasing awareness, both of vendors and consumers through the mass media, vendor group meetings, NGOs working with women (many vendors are women) and special training for municipal workers. Some form of vendors license should be brought in and the promotion of mobile stalls or kiosks could be a most effective way to ensure cleaner food.