The food samples were tested at the laboratory of SGS (General Society of Surveillance), an international food quality testing organisation. The samples were collected from Jatrabari, Khilgaon, New Market, Sadarghat, Karwan Bazar, Hatirjheel, Dhanmondi, Dhaka University, Gabtoli, Mirpur, Mohammadpur, Gulistan, Bhashantek, Basila and Mitford area.
Monirul Islam, the head of the food and nutrition department, led the research. The study revealed that almost 70 per cent of Dhaka's residents consume street foods. A total of 140 types of food are sold on streets. The bacteria are mainly carried through water. Food containers, serving utensils and dust are also the sources of bacteria. Bacteria also come from the hands of the seller.
Monirul Islam told Prothom Alo that the entire procedure is unhealthy, from preparing the street food to consumption. At every step there are chances of germs including the bacteria to get mixed with the foods.
A search of the Dhaka North and South City Corporation revealed that there was no system to register or approve these food shops. Neither of these two organisations or the Food Safety Authority have any list of them. No government agency monitors the quality of food.
Food experts say that street food is very popular in many countries. Separate arrangements have been made for the sale of street food in the major cities of the countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and China. Quality control is regularly supervised. There has also been a system to provide fresh water for keeping the food healthy in those cities.
Member of the food safety authority, Rezaul Karim, told Prothom Alo that they have made a policy to make street food safe. Other initiatives will be taken including demarcating the area for selling street food.
Research has shown that from 2014 to 2017, the City Corporation in Dhaka provided vans surrounded by glass to 400 hawkers to sell healthy food. It was funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). But within a year of the project's expiration, most of the hawkers had removed the glass enclosure around the van.
In this regard, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) mayor Atiqul Islam told Prothom Alo that they were worried about the selling unhealthy food on the streets of Dhaka. They have taken initiatives to launch 12 quality food carts or caravans in the large residential areas of the capital. He hopes that this would inspire entrepreneurs to take such initiative.
Chief executive officer of the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), Aminullah Nuri said that most of these food shops are illegal. They have a plan to remove these shops.
Nutritionists say that a large percentage of the of the residents of the capital are dependent on street foods, especially the rickshaw pullers, day labourers, workers and low income people. Street food is and readily available. If prices of foods are high or the shops are removed, these people will have problems.
Professor Nazma Shaheen of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, Dhaka University, told Prothom Alo that low-income people do not get expensive and nutritious food due to financial reasons. To make the foods they eat healthier and more nutritious, it is needed to make a list of the foods first. Instead of doing this, if the food is brought in expensive caravans or the shops are removed, the danger will increase. Vendors need training and other assistance to give them an idea about pathogens and nutrition.
This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu