Sustaining food security from the streets

Mass training of street food vendors on food safety and hygiene

New Delhi - More than 500 street food vendors on Monday joined the consultation and mass training program on food safety and hygiene and vowed to build their capacities towards ensuring sustainability of food security, health and nutrition. A large number of livelihood, health, nutrition and development experts including the representatives of World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, Delhi Food Safety Department and the municipal executives and health officers of Delhi government also participated in the consultation to emphasize on the critical significance of sustaining food security from streets in a systematic and professionalised way.

The consultation passed a resolution which reads, “Social determinants of health, such as employment and descent work, housing and sanitation, education and social protection, must be addressed adequately while undertaking regulatory programs for the capacity development of working poor like street food vendors. India needs to have a transparent and participatory model of policy development to address the social determinants of health. Once such determinants are addressed, the street entrepreneurs would have the capabilities to build their enterprise and contribute to the sustainability of food security, health and nutrition programs.”

The consultation and training was organized by the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) with support from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on the occasion of World Food Day, the foundation day of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Inaugurating the consultation and training, the FSSAI chairperson K. Chandramouli called for multi sectoral synergy for achieving the results in the required areas of food safety, hygiene and health. Mr. Chandramouli said, “The unorganized food operators constitute approximately ninety per cent of the total food business operators of the country and coordinated efforts should be made to protect their rights. We have to ensure administrative sensitivity and responsiveness towards street food vendors as they also have equal stakes in overall mission of food safety and security.” He stressed on the importance of registration and training of street food vendors and said that the food safety department of every state should have simple Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Manual and trained food vendors must adhere to it.

The FSSAI chairperson said that the FSSAI had notified the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations under which food and beverage firms, manufacturers and vendors including companies in the unorganised sector had to be registered and licensed and the regulations had helped street food vendors get legitimacy in several cities. He, however, added, “a lot still have to be done. We admit that the implementation is a huge challenge and multi sectoral synergies are needed to professionalise the street vended foods.”

Mr. Chandramouli said that food and health are very much related to each other. “The taste of food prepared by street food vendors is unbeatable and if it gets accompanied by hygienic practices, then it has no match, even 5 star hotels cannot beat it”, he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) expert on health promotion, social determinants of health and development Dr. Suvajee Good said that organisation like NASVI should strengthen capacity of communities of street food vendors towards getting right to health and access to information. Reiterating the WHO perspective, she said, “The unequal distribution of health damaging experiences is not in any sense a natural phenomenon, but is the result of a toxic combination of poor social policies, unfair economic arrangements and bad politics.” Dr Good said that the street food vendors had a big responsibility of providing hygienic food to all. We have millions of street vendors and each vendor provides food to at least 200 people daily, so there is a huge population whose responsibility is on the food vendors.

The joint secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Sujaya Krishnan said that the Ministry of Health was committed to address the occupational health issues of large sections of informal workers, which also include street vendors. She said that inter ministerial and multi sectoral convergence on health and nutrition security had been the hard pressed need of the country.

Ms Krishnan said, “The whole food chain needs to be understood in order to prevent the diseases. Food vendors should get proper knowledge of better food hygiene practices including knowledge of raw materials. Food handlers should keep proper precautions so that they themselves don’t lead to contamination. The organisation must be very sensitive towards this and work regularly in these directions. To do this a lot of awareness building is required. I congratulate NASVI to bring forward the issues of street vendors as a whole. The process of organizing and capacity building should go on.”

The India country director of the ILO Tine Staermose said that the street vendors are an integral part of the economy in India and in other countries. The space is an important part of the livelihood of vendors. She quoted a report that says each weekly market provides daily transaction of twenty lakh rupees.

Earlier in the day, speaking on the perspective and purpose of the consultation and training NASVI national coordinator Arbind Singh said that building commitment among key stakeholders to capacitate and professionalise street food in an era of high marketisation, shrinking formal food distribution system and growing concerns for hygiene and health is the need of the hour. He emphasized on organising the disorganised street food vendors, training them on hygiene and health and providing them legitimate urban space to vend.

Mr. Singh said, “ though late, but in recent years a great churning has begun in India on how to professionalise the age old street foods and tap their potentials in mitigating poverty, creating employment, ensuring food security and health standards, and boosting economy and tourism.” “Though the taste of street foods rules the cities representing multi cultural fabric of traditional and ethnic culinary traditions, but the conditions under which the street food vendors operate are unsuitable for the preparation and selling of foods. The place of preparation is not always clean, well lit and with proper sanitation facilities. This is a major reason behind street food vending considered as important public health issue. These circumstances cause microbial contamination leading to food poisoning and other food and water borne diseases and badly impact not just health of consumers, but also livelihood of street food vendors. Hence, a comprehensive strategy is needed to tackle the issue of safe food”, NASVI coordinator remarked.

Post- consultation, the training of street food vendors progressed in three sessions. The sessions witnessed three groups of street food vendors taking hands on training on health and hygiene as well as tips on how to make and serve delicious, healthy and nutritious foods to the consumers and demonstrating the training to the other participating food vendors. The themes of the training include personal hygiene practices, unit hygiene, water treatment and use, cooking, storing, displaying, wrapping and serving of foods, washing utensils and maintaining equipment, use of towels and knowledge of health hazards and food risks.

Noted food and nutrition expert Professor Salila Thomas presided over the training sessions and interacted with the street food vendors. The sessions were conducted and moderated by NASVI street food program coordinator Shashank Pandey.

Several development experts, health and hygiene officials, municipal executives and rights activists including FSSAI director Dr. Vinod Kotwal and assistant director Dr. Manisha Narayan joined the consultation and training.

A presentation on NASVI Street Food Advocacy Campaign was also made in the program.

NASVI has long been championing the causes of street food vendors. Organising the food vendors, developing their capacities, advocating their issues with the government authorities and celebrating the street food festivals have been major activities of NASVI in recent years. Currently NASVI is engaging with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Ministry of Health, Government of India, for getting street food vendors registered, developing street food zones and training food vendors on hygiene and health.

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StreetNet International is an alliance of street vendors. It was launched in Durban, South Africa, in November 2002.

Membership-based organizations (unions, co-operatives or associations) directly organizing street vendors, market vendors and/or hawkers among their members, are entitled to affiliate to StreetNet International.

The aim of StreetNet is to promote the exchange of information and ideas on critical issues facing street vendors, market vendors and hawkers (i.e. mobile vendors) and on practical organizing and advocacy strategies