DH Exclusive | E. coli lurks in Bengaluru street food

DH Exclusive | E. coli lurking in Bengaluru street food, hotels no better

Many popular snacks sold by street vendors failed to clear safety tests, with lab reports of 50 samples showing the presence of harmful bacteria.

Your favourite chicken momos and pani puri are teeming with harmful bacteria, including E.coli.

As per a study, many popular snacks sold by street vendors in Bengaluru failed to clear safety tests, with lab reports of 50 samples showing the presence of harmful bacteria.

The results highlight the crisis in the unorganised sector that has faced government apathy for decades, while hotels — which are equally unhygienic — have remained impenetrable, thanks to a legal wrangle.

The study was the result of a collaboration between Mount Carmel Autonomous College and Ramaiah Advanced Testing Laboratory which highlighted the need for positive government intervention instead of periodical crackdown.

One sample each was collected as per FSSAI guidelines from 50 vendors spread across Koramangala, Vijayanagar, RT Nagar, Palace Guttahalli, Rajajingar, Wilson Garden, Shanti Nagar, Thippasandra, Vasanthnagar, Vyalikaval, Sudhama Nagar and Indiranagar.

Of the 25 samples of bhel puri, pani puri, masala puri and sukha puri, 14 had E.coli. Even cooked food like chicken was found to be contaminated. Of the six samples of chicken kebab and chicken momo, three had E.coli. The bacteria was also found in three of the five samosa samples.

Jubin Joseph, COO at Ramaiah Lab, said the presence of E.coli indicates water contamination. “The source is likely to be the water supplied to street vendors or the raw materials for the food they prepare, especially vegetables and chicken,” he said. 

The public trusts darshinis and star hotels as there is no one testing their food. A senior official in the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) said they have not checked the kitchens nor tested food from restaurants ever since the hotel owners’ association managed to get a stay from the court.

“We have two food safety officers for the entire city of Bengaluru and most of their time goes in checking food at VIP events and religious festivals,” he said.

Public health doctor and researcher Sylvia Karpagam said restaurants pay hefty amounts to labs to get favourable reports. “I have personally seen the pathetic condition of kitchens at five-star hotels. The government has a responsibility to inform people that they are eating at these restaurants at their own risk,” she said.

Before collecting the samples, Shafin Ammara, an MSc (Food Science and Nutrition) student from the Mount Carmel Autonomous College, began a study in December to understand the problems faced by street vendors. “Many vendors were not aware of food safety rules or FSSAI. They did have basic knowledge of hygiene but were not aware of the complexities like E.coli contamination in water or vegetables. I wanted to highlight the gaps in the system,” Shafin said.

Mary Regi, the lecturer who guided Shafin, said that through the study, they hope to create awareness among street vendors as well as officials. “Shafin is coming up with a set of recommendations which will be submitted to the BBMP and FSSAI officials to improve the condition of street vendors,” she said.

District Street Vendor Federation president S Babu said the government was least bothered about street vendors or food safety. “It is only after we moved the high court that they initiated the process to set up a street vending committee,” he said, adding that lack of money and muscle power makes street vendors easy targets.

FSSAI crisis

The FSSAI is crippled due to the high number of vacancies. Against the sanctioned number of over 220 food safety officers in the state, FSSAI has only 53.

Karnataka Food Safety Commissioner Manjushree N said steps were being taken to fill vacancies. She also said the department held an awareness programme in December to train about 800 street vendors. “We are taking steps to create awareness on hygiene and will continue the programmes in future.”

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