Setting up safer and healthier street food systems in Bangladesh

FAO project provides new street food carts and trains vendors in good hygiene.

Key facts

Consumers in the city of Khulna, the gateway to the Sunderbans delta, in south-west Bangladesh now have access to hygienic street food, thanks to FAO’s ‘Improving Food Safety in Bangladesh’ programme. In partnership with the Khulna City Corporation (KCC), 500 street food vendors received new street food carts, licensed by the KCC, designed to minimize food contamination during preparation. Vendors were trained in Good Hygiene Practices (GHP) and continuously monitored by the KCC food safety team trained by FAO. The KCC team is further supported by a watchful group of students and teachers from 20 schools who have been trained to monitor street carts in their vicinity. The efforts have significantly lifted consumer confidence and raised vendors’ incomes. Due to its success, the model is now being extended to Dhaka, a city of 16 million inhabitants, where 600 street carts are currently being distributed as part of this initiative. The street food initiative is part of a comprehensive capacity building programme in food safety in Bangladesh that started in 2009 to strengthen technical and managerial capacity in multiple sectors of the national food control system. Besides street food, the project supports food analysis laboratories, food standards and risk assessment, consumer awareness and education, food-borne-illness surveillance, risk-based food inspection and enhancing food safety along agriculture value chains. The aim is to strengthen the key building blocks of food safety and contribute to an efficient food control system that protects public health and enhances trade in food commodities.

The Bangladeshi street food tradition
Street food represents a big, yet highly disorganized industry in Bangladesh. Street foods are cheap and an attractive alternative to home-cooked meals. They are an essential source of food and nutrition for people with low income and a source of livelihood for many. With the rapid increase in Khulna’s population, the street food business has also been expanding rapidly, including the rise of the unregulated street food sector.

In this context, when FAO proposed the idea of a street food assistance programme for the city, the mayor of Khulna immediately agreed and appointed a KCC task force. Two veterinary officers were charged with steering the implementation on the ground. 500 vendors were enlisted and trained in Good Hygiene Practices (GHP) using materials prepared by FAO. Street food carts with utensils and clean water jars, procured by FAO, were distributed to participants.

‘The FAO-KCC training enabled me to prepare food in a hygienic way and the street cart is providing me a livelihood. I am very popular with the local university students who are my main customers,’ says Taslima Begum, one of the many KCC street cart vendors.

FAO also introduced to the KCC team the concept of licensing of carts to facilitate monitoring and data recording. A core group of 31 food safety monitors, who visit vendors regularly, was established.

Volunteer student forces help ensure food safety rules
In Bangladesh, street food carts converge in public areas and particularly around schools. Most school children buy their snacks and lunches from these carts. Therefore, a volunteer force of 50 children and their teachers from 10 schools was constituted by the KCC education department with training from FAO.

‘Vendors around our school are careful to ensure cleanliness and hygiene. I feel very proud that I contribute to ensuring safe street food in Khulna,’ says Aneesha Shahani, high school student and food safety monitor. This initiative proved very popular with 10 more schools joining the volunteer force in 2015.

The outcomes have been a ‘win-win-win’ for all involved. In interviews and responses to questionnaires, most vendors have reported an increase of income of 100% or more with the new hygienic street carts. Good hygiene and safe food practices are now taking root as routine practices. Interviewed customers have expressed their satisfaction at the falling incidences of illness after eating street foods.

The KCC has enhanced its technical capacity and is uniquely poised to lead on food safety in urban areas in Bangladesh and provide lessons to their counterparts in the capital city, Dhaka. Last but not least, the school volunteer programme marks the beginning of a mass food safety education movement that starts with the youngest generations.

“We want to make Khulna the street food capital of Bangladesh. The vendors selling hygienic food earn more and the message is spreading to others fast. We are actively working to train more and more vendors in GHP,’ conclude Rezaul Karim and Peru Biswas, KCC Veterinary Surgeons.

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