Street Food at Mumbai’s Chowpatty, Ahmedabad’s Kankaria Is Safe To Eat

Now, having a plate of Bhel Puri or that lip-smacking Pani Puri at Mumbai’s legendary Chowpatty is safe as can be. Mumbai’s Chowpatty at Girgaum and Juhu procured India’s ‘Clean Street Food Hub’ certification on March 5 2019. This, within a month of the Food and Drug Administration cracked down on 27 restaurants across Mumbai, suspended their licenses and issued show-cause notices for violating basic food and safety guidelines. Eating at a roadside eatery is as safe as dining at a restaurant, if not safer.

In all, 80 stalls at Juhu Chowpatty and 30 stalls at Girgaum Chowpatty that offers pani puri, pav bhaji, golas and sodas were observed closely by the Food and Drug Administration officials over the last six months before earning the tag that “is a seal of assurance that the food has been cooked in clean conditions following hygiene standards and is absolutely safe to eat,” according to FDA Commissioner Pallavi Darade. And now, all the stall workers use clean water, gloves, uniforms, caps and have waste-bins lined up at regular intervals. Staying safe is serious business for the stall owners. After all, they get audited by FDA every three months.

The FDA clean tag that Mumbai’s Chowpatty earned were on the lines of Ahmedabad’s Kankaria Zone, the nation’s first ‘Clean Street Food Hub’ certification earned in September 2018 after the zone’s personnel received intensive training in cooking and hygiene standards laid down and ascertained by officials of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and Gujarat Food and Drug Control Administration.

The 15th century lake Kankaria houses around 66 street food vendors who cater to around 12 million people per year. The zone successfully met FSSAI-framed guidelines to upgrade the infrastructure for existing street food clusters, to make it more safe and hygienic.

So, the guidelines met successfully included garbage disposal practices; maintenance of personal hygiene; demarcating of cooking and non-cooking areas; working street lights; pest control and overall cleanliness.

A pre-audit was carried out by FSSAI along with Gujarat Food and Drug Control Administration and other agencies. Street food vendors were trained and only after being satisfied with the changes made by the vendors, the authorities gave it the tag of being India’s first ‘clean street food hub’.

On the raids on the 27 restaurants in December 2018 following the stop-work notices to over a 100 outlets selling food through food delivery apps, FDA Joint Commissioner (Food) Shailesh Adhao said, “We conduct regular raids on restaurants across Mumbai and issue show-cause notices to them if they are found violating food and safety guidelines. The idea isn’t to force them to shut shop but to comply with safety norms to ensure that they do not put public health at risk.”

So, in keeping with the trend, FDA had, a while earlier, clamped down on more than 500 popular restaurants and finding hygiene and food safety violations in more than 74 per cent of them. A large number of restaurants across Mumbai had ignored mandatory health checks of staff.

The issue of staff shortage also plagues FDA which is manned by less than 300 food inspectors who have to monitor lakhs of restaurants. “Owing to acute staff shortage that plagues this industry, most of us cannot retain staff for too long. Maintaining records and ensuring they meet hygiene standards is a tough task,” says Tea-stall owner Mahesh Trivedi.

“I have been here since childhood and seen two generations work here before me,” says Chetan Sharma owner of Milky Kulfi at Chowpatty. “Now, everything is so professional, unlike in the past. The change is there for everyone to see. FDA has done some brilliant work by training our staff in conjunction with the civic officials,” he says. “We have been taking due care of hygiene standards over the years but the training we have received by their personnel has been exemplary and professional,” adds Sharma who says that the zone needed this ‘professional’ tag to help boost business.

“I swear by the quality of the food here,” says 26-year-old copywriter Anshu Goel who has been “binging on Pav Bhaji at a fave stall regularly for over two years now,” and “hasn’t fallen sick even once.” And, now with the ‘Clean Street Food Hub’ tag, Anshu says, “her mother will stop nagging her about the risks of eating out.”