Chandigarh ‘Diesel Paratha’ gets toxic Indian street food under scrutiny

The Indian street food scene is witnessing a major upheaval. For better or for worse, you decide. While the trend started with street vendors adding lots of butter, cheese and mayonnaise to various dishes in their quest to create something new, something different, it now seems that they will stop at nothing to go viral with their “innovative dishes.” And if it means at the expense of the customers’ health, there is no shaking.

Earlier this week, a video was recorded at dhaba in Chandigarh caused quite a stir on social media because of the parathas they served to their customers. The reason, you ask? A blogger, Amanpreet Singh, who captured the video, suggested that the parathas sold at the roadside eatery were made with diesel.

While the video was later removed and the blogger posted an apology for its “offensive content”, it had already gone viral and raised many questions in the minds of viewers, the main one being – “How safe is Indian street food?”

India today spoke to health experts who shed light on the same and the “toxic” roadside fusion food culture. They also highlighted a few precautions to keep in mind before consuming street food.

Food hygiene and how it can affect your health

Where do we even start? Last week, a headline that worried many food enthusiasts read: “Mumbai teenager dies after eating shawarma”. The 19-year-old boy’s death was caused by food poisoning, and two illegal sellers were arrested in connection with his death.

So you realize that not consuming hygienic food can lead to the death of a person at worst.

We cannot even begin to emphasize how important food hygiene is, and Dr. Seema Dhir, senior consultant-internal medicine, Artemis Hospital Gurgaon, agrees.

“Neglecting hygiene in cooking can lead to serious health consequences. Contaminated food can harbor harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli or norovirus, leading to food borne diseases like diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal painsand in severe cases, hospitalization or even death,” she says.

In the worst case, consuming unhygienic food can lead to a person’s death. (Photo: Getty Images)

“Poor hygiene practices, such as inadequate hand washing or user dirty utensils, can introduce pathogens into food, increasing the risk of transmission to consumers. Additionally, lack of proper sanitation in food handling areas can facilitate the spread of disease,” she adds.

Fish ingredients

Doctors and health experts mention that not only the way the food is prepared but also the substandard ingredients used while preparing these dishes can adversely affect our health. In some eateries, the frying oil may be as old as the establishment itself, as they continually add new stock to the existing oil without ever changing it.

Experts have said that the use of harmful ingredients such as unhealthy refined oils by street vendors is a cause for concern. (Photo: Getty Images)

Dr. Roohi Pirzada, senior physician and critical care specialist, Mumbai, says, “Food vendors use branded bottles of unlabeled purchased ingredients to deceive customers and maximize profits. In some cases, this has proved fatal. Shawarma joints freeze the leftover chicken in the fridge and use the next day or maybe days later, which can lead to E.coli contamination, resulting in serious health consequences. The chances of food poisoning are high in uncooked or raw foods.”

Dr. Rakesh Gupta, senior consultant, internal medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, says the use of harmful ingredients like unhealthy refined oils by street vendors is a cause for concern. “Excessive use of refined oils high in trans fatty acids can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular problems. Street vendors should prioritize the use of safe, high-quality ingredients,” he says.

If this wasn’t enough to scare you, what you’re about to read will probably make you shudder. A study by the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering and Nutrition, Pusa, published in 2015, found high faecal contamination in fast food and street food, particularly in several west and central Delhi localities.

The toxic culture of fusion street food

We all want to do something different and groundbreaking to gain attention. But street vendors have taken this challenge to the next level. They will do anything to increase their sales and guess what? They have come up with a million dollar plan to do it – fusion food.

You will find vendors whipping up strange food combinations from their carts like Maggi pakora, Oreo pakora, golgappa ice cream and the list goes on.

Food bloggers, who have a big role in putting them in the spotlight and starting this trend, promote these eateries and customers come by. Therefore, more and more vendors are enticing to copy this model to gain popularity and support.

But how safe is this?

“The trend of mixing random ingredients like Maggi with ice cream among street vendors for popularity can have serious health consequences. This strange combination can lead to a imbalance of essential nutrients, increased intake of unhealthy fats, sugarsand additivesand potential pollution risks. Such practices can contribute to digestive problems, weight gain, cardiovascular problemsand other health concerns“, says Dr. Dhir.

“Such combinations can introducing harmful bacteria, allergensand potentially toxic substances for the system, especially if the ingredients are not stored, handled or combined properly. This practice can result in food borne diseases, allergic reactionsand even long-term health consequences,” adds Dr. Gupta.

What is the solution?

The way sellers have let customers’ health take a back seat in their quest for more profit and popularity is just appalling. So what is the solution? Should we stop eating out altogether?

No, this does not necessarily put an end to our exploration of street food, but some precautions must be remembered.

Dr. Rakesh Gupta advises people to follow these parameters while consuming street food:

  • Maintain the cleanliness of the vendor’s stall and food preparation areas
  • Make sure the food is prepared thoroughly and served hot
  • Avoid consuming raw or undercooked products
  • Stay away from vendors who handle food and money at the same time without washing their hands
  • Choose suppliers that use fresh, high-quality ingredients
  • Be careful with street food that has been left out for long periods or exposed to potential contamination
Avoid visiting retailers that do not use gloves before touching the food. (Image: Getty Images)

Bottom line

In case you weren’t aware, street food culture in India dates back to ancient times. It has its mention in Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Even our parents’ generation enjoyed it when the café and restaurant culture came in much later or was not very popular.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that it is a legacy that needs to be carried on.

So who takes responsibility?

The responsibility rests on the shoulders of the sellers themselves and the government who should take strict action against people who flout the hygiene rules.

And for the customers, you have to be a little aware of what you consume and where you consume it from.

Published by:

Can Bhowal

Released on:

15 May 2024

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