The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) initiated the largest Food Safety Training & Certification (FoSTaC) programme in July 2017, aimed at creating a pool of food safety supervisors (FSS). A total of 950000 above FSS have been trained in over 32000 trainings in the first five years throughout the country after the initiation of the FoSTaC. Development of such a large training capacity is an evidence to the fact that the country is undergoing major transformation as far as food safety is concerned. FoSTaC trainings are expected to bring in a culture of self-compliance on food safety measures amongst the food business mainly the street food vendors and raise the bar for food safety and hygiene in the country.
Street foods have long been an integral part of Indian society, representing the rich local culinary traditions found throughout the country. These street food stalls not only offer affordable daily meals to millions of people but also provide employment opportunities to large numbers and support the tourism industry. However, ensuring food safety and hygiene at street food outlets and hubs have remained a matter of concern.
With rapid urbanisation, the proliferation of street food hubs has made food easily accessible, but it has also exacerbated issues of food contamination and associated health risks due to unhygienic and unsafe food practices.
To address this challenge, a comprehensive food safety training programme that includes both theoretical and practical activities is crucial for food handlers to translate their knowledge into practical applications. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has initiated the largest Food Safety Training & Certification (FoSTaC) programme in July 2017, aimed at creating a pool of FSS. Training has been conducted in a cascading mode. First, the empanelled National Resource Persons (NRPs) train the trainers and then the trained trainers train hundreds of FSS. These FSS in turn train food handlers in their food business premises. So far over 950000 FSS have been trained in over 32000 trainings in the first five years after the initiation of the FoSTaC. These trainings are expected to bring in a culture of self-compliance on food safety measures amongst the food business, mainly the street food vendors and raise the bar for food safety and hygiene in the country.
Talking about the training programme for street vendors, Prof. Sunita Mishra, Head of the Department of Food and Nutrition at SHS, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University said, “Vendor training programmes are needed to educate vendors on food safety and sanitary practices and to match their needs to their circumstances. The government should implement essential measures and appropriate food hygiene rules and regulations to encourage safe food handling knowledge and attitudes. As the level of knowledge and attitude increases, so does the level of practice among the vendors. Vendors could then be introduced to the benefits of food safety knowledge, attitudes, and practices through training to maintain the food quality of street food and help to protect the public from microbes and communicable diseases.”
Recognising the significance of this issue, the Union Health Ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, has recently urged states and Union Territories (UTs) to develop 100 food streets in 100 districts across the country. This initiative serves as a pilot project, setting an example for the establishment of similar hygienic and safe food practices in other areas. The project aims to promote safe and healthy food practices among food businesses and community members, ultimately reducing foodborne illnesses and improving overall health outcomes.
The significance of hygiene in street food
The government’s Clean Street Food Hub initiative not only aims to promote the “eat right campaign” and ensure food safety but also seeks to enhance the hygiene credibility of local food businesses, stimulate local employment, boost tourism, and ultimately strengthen the economy.
This unique initiative will be implemented through the National Health Mission (NHM) in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, with technical support from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). To address critical gaps, financial assistance of Rs 1 crore per food street/district will be provided to the states and UTs. The plan is to establish 100 such food streets in 100 districts across the country. This assistance will be granted under the NHM, with a funding ratio of 60:40 or 90:10, on the condition that the food streets adhere to FSSAI guidelines for standard branding.
Highlighting the significance of this initiative, Pawan Agarwal, CEO of the Food Future Foundation and Former CEO of FSSAI, emphasised its transformative impact on informal markets in terms of food safety and hygiene. He stated that by setting a strong example of safe food practices, the project would inspire wider adoption, ensuring public health for all. Through collaboration and comprehensive measures, India is establishing a sustainable framework that nurtures hygienic and safe food practices, benefiting both consumers and businesses. By leveraging the expertise and resources of various departments, a comprehensive framework will ensure the proliferation of hygienic and safe food practices throughout the nation.
Agarwal further said “To elevate food safety standards, this initiative would include training programmes for food handlers equipping them with the knowledge of best practices, fostering hygiene maintenance, and responsible waste disposal. Convergence with ongoing schemes, such as the Support to Urban Street Vendors (SUSV), amplifies its impact. This holistic approach stimulates sustainable development, empowering local communities and fuels economic growth. Opportunities for employment soar, while the tourism industry flourishes under the banner of safe and hygienic street food experiences.”
Benefits from the initiative
Street food plays a crucial role in the Indian economy, and the collaboration between food producers, the government, and street vendors can have positive implications for the overall food industry in India.
Several FMCG companies have positively welcomed this initiative and anticipate growth in the country’s food industry as a whole. Dr Prabodh Halde, Head, Regulatory Affairs at Marico Ltd and Chairman of Confederation of All India Small and Medium Bakers (CASMB), congratulated the government, NHM, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and FSSAI for their collective commitment to ensuring the well-being of consumers and street food vendors. He stated, “I applaud FSSAI’s dedication over the past seven years in promoting and enforcing food safety practices. Their steadfast efforts have contributed to a safer and healthier street food culture. This initiative not only ensures convenient access to affordable and hygienic meals for millions but also generates employment opportunities and supports the tourism industry. We, as stakeholders, have been supporting this initiative since its inception because food safety is a shared responsibility. With this collaboration, I am confident that the standard branding of these food streets, as per FSSAI guidelines will further enhance food safety practices, making street food a trusted and enjoyable culinary experience.”
The role of labelling
Food labelling regulations have the potential to play a significant role in supporting street food vendors and food streets in India by ensuring transparency, safety, and consumer trust. Enabling effective food labelling regulations for the operationalisation of 100 Food Streets across the country can yield several benefits. Successful implementation of labelling regulations relies on effective awareness campaigns and education programmes targeting both vendors and consumers.
However, there are challenges associated with implementing labelling regulations for street food vendors. Rashida Vapiwala, Founder at LabelBlind highlighted the roadblocks involved, stating that the small-scale street food vendors might face challenges in understanding and adhering to complex labelling requirements. Language barriers, limited resources, and technical knowledge can hinder compliance. Simplified guidelines and support programmes can help address this concern. For vendors with limited resources, implementing labelling regulations can lead to additional costs. The expense of purchasing labels, printers, or packaging materials might pose financial burdens, particularly for street food vendors operating on a small scale. Policymakers should consider cost-effective alternatives and support mechanisms to minimise the impact. Street food is often celebrated for its cultural authenticity and uniqueness. Overly strict labelling regulations could potentially limit the flexibility and creativity of street food vendors, leading to a loss of traditional flavours and culinary diversity. Balancing regulatory requirements with cultural preservation is essential to maintain the vibrancy of food streets.
While food labelling regulations have the potential to support street food vendors and food streets in India, by ensuring transparency and consumer trust, it is essential to address concerns related to compliance challenges, costs, cultural authenticity, and awareness. Achieving the right balance between regulation and flexibility can create a thriving street food ecosystem that meets customer expectations while accommodating vendor needs.
India’s tireless efforts to establish food safety in informal markets through the creation of vibrant food streets exemplify the nation’s proactive spirit. By championing safe food practices, this initiative not only safeguards public health but also drives employment, tourism, and the overall economy forward. With the dedicated collaboration of ministries and stakeholders, this comprehensive approach builds a sustainable framework that ensures hygienic and safe food practices thrive nationwide, benefiting both consumers and food businesses alike. Together, street food can become synonymous with excellence, nourishing the nation with confidence and delectable experiences.
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