Dhaka, Bangladesh
Street food, iftar items pose health risks

Street food, iftar items pose health risks

Mazharul Islam Mitchel The department of health in the city seems to be almost negligent of monitoring the unhealthy preparation and selling process of traditional iftar items such as chhola, piyaju, beguni, alur chop etc in unhygienic condition, such cook may result in germination of food-borne diseases affecting public health in the city. Younger generation and marginal people love to consume these crisp and low-priced foods. Many fasting people are suffering from stomach upset and diarrhoea caused by unhygienic iftar items bought from the street-vendors. During my visit to different parts of the capital, many street-vendors admitted that they prepared different iftar items using loose soybean oil sold in drums at Tk 48 to Tk 52 per litre. They buy turmeric, chilli and cumin powder at Tk 10-12 per 100 grammes. These are of cheap quality and 60 percent of the spices are usually rotten. The places where the food is cooked are filled with germs that cause diarrhoea and typhoid. These microorganisms contaminate the foods through air, dust, flies, dirty hands of the cooks. Renowned public health expert and nutritionist Dr Nazma Shaheen said chhola (gram fry) is a popular iftar item and this food is quite safe, depending on the quality of cooking oil with which it is fried and the level of hygiene maintained. "Beguni (fried eggplants), another popular iftar item, often has harmful colour pigment applied to attract consumers and different dyes are often mixed to brighten this item. These artificial colours are very harmful to health," she added. Ruhul Amin, assistant professor of the Institute of Food and Nutrition Science of Dhaka University, has expressed concern over the use of toxic chemicals in iftar items. He said street iftar items become popular in the city as a seasonal business. To make the food items crispy, it is alleged that burnt engine oil is used for frying foods in many iftar shops and restaurants. The use of toxic chemicals as colouring agents is also rampant. "Besides, puffed rice tainted with urea, used for a whiter look, is available not only at these stalls but all shops throughout the city," Ruhul Amin said. "Majority of these food items sold on the streets are not good for health, especially on an empty stomach after fasting," he said, adding that most of the food items have very little nutrition value as these are prepared with only 'besan', onion and spices. He also noted that the cooking oil, which is substandard in the first place, is used several times for frying different iftar items. "Reheating the oil gradually increases its acidity and it eventually becomes toxic." A consultant physician at Dhaka Medical College Hospital said, "One of our favourite items, Haleem, is also not free of contamination. Low quality meat is being used in 'haleem', exposes the consumers to various health risks." He also urged the government to operate regular drives against unhygienic street foods, especially during Ramadan. When contacted, Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Mayor Sayeed Khokon said they have been conducting intensive drives against the use of formalin and toxic chemicals in food items. "We will intensify the drive against unhygienic street foods," he added. All those common iftar items are sold in markets of Old Dhaka, Chawk Bazar, New Market intersection, Lalbagh, Chittagong Road, Green Road, Karwan Bazar, Stadium area and Motijheel area in the city. Most of the iftar markets are lacking in basic health related infrastructure such as worst sanitary quality. Trapa Chowdhury, a student of Dhaka College, who lives in Chawk Bazar, had suffered from diarrhoea for two days after having 'fuchhka' from a street vendor at Parade Maidan area. Like Trapa, many consume food purchased from street vendors, who lack knowledge in food-handling. The vendors also often do not wash hands between food and money transactions and restroom breaks. Sanitary and food safety inspectors are appointed under the health department to ensure people's right to safe food, yet the practice of selling unsafe foods are going on at large. A vendor was seen mixing ice, mint leaves, salt and sugar with bare hands. He then added water from a container to prepare the drink -- exposed to flies and dust. Vendors usually add artificial colours to the drinks as well to make them appear more attractive. Contacted, SN Nazer Hossain, vice president of Consumers Association of Bangladesh, said although food safety inspectors are appointed under the DoH, they are practically invisible. "We do not see them conduct any drives against the sale of unsafe foods and drinks," he said.

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