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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 66  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 421-426  

Conformance of the food vendor carts design to the prescribed standards as per food safety and standards regulations: Assessment from an urban area of North India


1 Associate Professor, Department of Community Medicine, Armed Forces Medical Services, Pune, Maharashtra, India
2 PhD Candidate, Department of Community Medicine, School of Public Health, PGIMER, Chandigarh, India
3 Madhur Verma, Department of Community/Family Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Punjab, India
4 Professor, Department of Community Medicine, School of Public Health, PGIMER, Chandigarh, India

Date of Submission15-Nov-2021
Date of Decision02-May-2022
Date of Acceptance19-May-2022
Date of Web Publication31-Dec-2022

Correspondence Address:
Kumar Pushkar
Armed Forces Medical Services, Pune, Maharashtra
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijph.ijph_2051_21

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   Abstract 


Background: Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, established under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, is mandated with disseminating evidence-based standards, regulating the manufacture, storage, distribution, sale, and import of street food, for ensuring the availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption and matters connected in addition to that or incidental to that. Hence, this study was conducted to ascertain the conformance of the design of street food vendor's carts to the prescribed standards. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study in Chandigarh between July 2017 and March 2018 among 400 street food vendors. The primary dependent variable of the study was conformance. The carts were evaluated for their conformance to the standard recommended design based upon a checklist designed using the guidelines of Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011. Results: Almost half of the respondents had an experience of 6–15 years (48.5%) and were earning between Rs. 500 and 1000/day (56.3%). The majority of them (95%) were migrants from other states. Only 26.3% were using mobile vending sites. On regression analysis, better cart score was predicted by age, education, increasing experience, higher income, when food was prepared at home only, and with assistance in the form of helpers. Conclusions: This study indicates that although the policy was formulated 8 years back, the standards of street food carts were still below par in Chandigarh. The government should give technical specifications and ensure uniformity at the national level.

Keywords: Cart, conformance, Food Safety and Standards Regulations, India, street food, vendor


How to cite this article:
Pushkar K, Bhatt G, Verma M, Goel S, Singh A. Conformance of the food vendor carts design to the prescribed standards as per food safety and standards regulations: Assessment from an urban area of North India. Indian J Public Health 2022;66:421-6

How to cite this URL:
Pushkar K, Bhatt G, Verma M, Goel S, Singh A. Conformance of the food vendor carts design to the prescribed standards as per food safety and standards regulations: Assessment from an urban area of North India. Indian J Public Health [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 4];66:421-6. Available from: https://www.ijph.in/text.asp?2022/66/4/421/366584




   Introduction Top


With the advent of urbanization, more opportunities available in the cities have attracted mass migration. This has created an enormous scope for street foods.[1] Street foods are “ready to eat foods and beverages, prepared and sold by vendors and hawkers, especially in streets and similar public places.”[2] Street food vending is a common business practice in India, as 20% of the 100 lakh street vendors are food vendors.[3] Street food is a weak link in food safety supervision. Contamination may occur at any point during its journey through production, processing, distribution, and preparation, related by the concept of “farm to plate.”[4],[5] Mishandling of food results in food-borne illness and has been implicated in 97% of the outbreaks.[6] In India, aggregate analysis of IDSP reports between 2011 and 2016 shows that food-borne diseases together with acute diarrheal diseases constituted nearly half of outbreaks.[7] The high proportion can be attributed to the lack of proper infrastructure, poor sanitary environment, poor access to water, and waste disposal facilities. Street food vendors often lack an appreciation for safe food handling because of a lack of awareness regarding personal and food hygiene.[8]

Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, established under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (FSSA, 2006), is mandated to lay down evidence-based standards for street food to ensure the availability of safe and wholesome food.[9] The Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulation (FSSR), 2011 notified under the FSSA, 2006 lays down the criteria for licensing and registration of the food business operators, including the sanitary and hygiene practices to be followed by them. Street food vendors are obligated to be registered and comply with Schedule IV Part I (A) about the sanitary and hygiene requirements to ensure the safety of street vendor's food.[10] These requirements can easily be categorized into controllable and noncontrollable variables based upon the control of street food vendors. It is easy to address some of the controllable variables relating to hygienic practices, and thus, there has been much emphasis on training, capacity building, and awareness generation of the street food vendors. However, one of the pertinent controllable variables is the food-cart design, which is often missed by many, considering it to be nonmodifiable.[11]

Street food-cart design is an essential component of regulatory compliance and can help ensure the food safety of the street vendor food.[12] The basic requirements of a food cart have been summed up in [Figure 1]. Available literature in design presents various approaches to assessing the food carts. Solving design problems involves breaking the problem into smaller parts for scrutiny (analysis of the problem). Using this principle, food-carts can be objectively compared with the prescribed standard and offered solutions (synthesis of the problem).[13] Hence, the primary objective of the present study was to ascertain the conformance of the design of street food vendors' carts to the prescribed standards. The secondary objective was to explore the predictors that favor conformance of the design to the prescribed standard.
Figure 1: Basic requirements in a food cart.

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   Materials and Methods Top


We conducted a cross-sectional study between July 2017 and March 2018 in Chandigarh, which is a union territory of North India. The city has a population of 1.1 million, and nearly 97% of the area is urban. The city tops the per capita income of the Indian States and Union Territories list. Being the capital of the Indian states of Haryana and Punjab and an educational and business hub in North India, Chandigarh attracts a lot of students and migrant workers. Most of these migrants rely on street foods for their daily meals.

Specific program settings

There are approximately 4000 street food vendors under the administrative control of Municipal Corporation Chandigarh (local urban body). The present study has been carried out among these street food vendors selling street food on a cart. We only included those vendors who owned a valid license from the municipal corporation and also owned a street cart in their name. The implementation of food safety guidelines is under the ambit of the food safety department.[14]

Sample size

Assuming the population to be normally distributed, at 95% confidence interval level, a margin of error as 0.05%, the proportion of street food vendors as 50%, the sample size for the study was estimated as 384. A total of 400 vendors selling street food on a cart were surveyed.

Sampling techniques and data collection

We followed a multi-stage stratified random sampling technique. A sampling frame of street food vendors sector-wise was obtained from the street vendor cell, Municipal Corporation Chandigarh. In the first stage of randomization, the sites where food vendors were highly concentrated were selected. In the next stage, four such sites from every zone (East, West, North, South) of Chandigarh were randomly selected. In the last stage, vendors from each of the 16 sites were chosen by a simple random sampling technique. The vendors were explained about the study's aim and objectives and provided an option to opt-out of the study at any point in time. Their informed consent was obtained, and they were assured of their anonymity and confidentiality. Data were collected using a pretested structure questionnaire filled out by the principal investigator. The street vendors' cart design was evaluated based on the checklist described in the study tool.

Study variables

Dependent variable

The primary dependent variable of the study was “conformance” and was meant as certification or confirmation that a good, service, or conduct meets the requirements of legislation, accepted practices, prescribed rules and regulations, specified standards, or terms of a contract. The street food vendors' carts were evaluated for conformance to the standard recommended design based on a checklist designed using the FSSR 2011 and expert consultations. The checklist enlisted a total of 32 parameters such as type of material used for making cart, internal surfaces of the cart, presence of self-draining gradient slope, inbuilt drain pipe for sullage disposal, lighting, type of brake system, food preparation surface, a place for keeping stove/gas cylinder, presence of refrigeration facility, space to keep raw material, foldable rack to stack utensils, clothing, facility of regular cleaning/drying of clothes, utensils, waste disposal mechanism, facility for hand washing, display of health education material and license. The checklist was pretested and validated through a pilot study, and these street food carts were not included in the present study. Each item in the checklist was given a score. Based on the maximum score and score attained, the status of conformance of each street food cart concerning FSSR 2011 was graded as very poor, poor, satisfactory, good, very good, and excellent.

The independent variables

The variables such as the age of the vendor, gender, education, religion, marital status, years of experience in the vending business, daily income, and place of origin were chosen following a literature review and have depicted a significant effect on the dependent variables in previous studies.

Data analysis

The data were coded and entered into Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (IBM Corp. Released 2015. IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 23.0. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp). Discrete data have been presented as proportions. Statistical analysis of the difference between proportions has been carried out using the Chi-square test. Statistical significance was set at P < 0.05%. Multivariate binary logistic regression was used to explore the conformance score factors.

Ethical considerations

The research ethics were followed. The Ethical Clearance was sought from the Institutional Ethical Review Committee (Vide Letter No.INT/IEC/2017/1357). After ensuring anonymity and confidentiality, written informed consent was taken from the study participants.


   Results Top


We interviewed 400 street food vendors. Majority of them were males (90.2%), more than 20 years old (97%), illiterate (63.8%), married (84.3%), and migrants from other states (95.0%). Four-fifths of them (78.7%) had vending experience between 6 and 30 years, and one-third was in vending operation for more than 15 years. About half (56.3%) of the vendors earned between 500 and 1000/day. All the street-food vendors were selling street food on the carts, and 26.3% were using mobile vending sites [Table 1]. Almost two-fifths of the study participants (39%) worked for more than 8 h/day. In half of the carts (53%), food was being prepared at the point of sale. [Table 2] depicts the assessment of the street food carts based on six major domains:
Table 1: General information about street vending operation in Chandigarh

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Table 2: Status of the street food carts as per Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) regulation 2011 guidelines

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The general design of the cart

Only 0.5% of the street food carts had fully covered the internal and external surfaces with steel, and merely 9.8% of the carts were quickly cleanable. Slopes for self-draining and prevent water accumulation were present on 14.5% cart. More than one-fourth of carts (26.4%) had holes/crevices on the internal and external surface. Sharp edges and corners were present on more than one-third (35.7%) of the carts. Very few carts (7%) were covered by glass or transparent material from all three sides. A canopy fully covered only one-sixth (16.5%) of the street food carts.

Safety features

Provision for adequate lighting was present in only 55.3% of the carts. The lead-based battery was used as a source of lighting and was placed near the food preparation area in almost most of the carts (93.2%). The place for keeping stove for cooking and refrigeration facility were present in 83.8%, and 40% of the carts, respectively. Most carts had a working space at adequate height (95.3%). Solar energy-based appliances and fire safety equipment were nonexistent on either cart.

Storage facility

About 80.5% and 76.7% of the carts had adequate space to store raw materials and utensils. Glass shield for food storage was absent on most (84.5%) of the carts. The place for keeping drinking water containers on the cart was present in only 38.8% of the carts.

Cleaning facility

The provision of cleaning the utensils was present only in 13.5% of the carts. Only two carts had a proper hand washing facility available on the cart. Cleaning equipment like cloth for mopping, broom and designated space for keeping soap/detergent were present in 72.3% and 5% of the carts, respectively.

Waste disposal

Dedicated slot for dustbin was present only on a few street food carts (2.3%). In-built pipe for wastewater disposal from the cart was present only in 2% of the carts.

Display

None of the carts had displayed health education material related to food safety. At the same time, the vendor's license was exhibited on only 41% of the carts.

On adding up the scores per various domains, one-third of street food carts (31.5%) were rated as very poor (scores between 0 and 30). Very few (1.5%) scored a rating of satisfactory. None of the street food carts could fall into the very good and excellent category. [Table 3] depicts results from a bivariate analysis and bivariate logistic regression analysis. On regression analysis, better cart scores were predicted by age, education, years of experience of street food vending, higher income, when food was prepared at home only, and with assistance in the form of helpers.
Table 3: Factors predicting conformance of cart score with different sociodemographic characteristics and personal attributes of the vendors

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   Discussion Top


Food is the basic need of life. It is of utmost importance that food safety is maintained at all stages of food preparation based on farm to fork concept. Urbanization and development have led to the food industry's flourishing, which has resulted in the blooming of street food.[8] Street food vendor plays a pivotal role in ensuring food safety being food handler. However, several concerns are associated with street food safety, as the food is usually prepared and sold under unhygienic conditions, with very little access to safe water, sanitary services, or garbage disposal facilities.[15],[16] Food cart stays among the primary cause of concern, and hence, we assessed the status carts for their compliance to prescribed safety regulations as per FSSR.

Mobile street food vendors selling street food carts were included in the study. Almost two-thirds were vending at a fixed place to provide easy accessibility to their customers. The vendors mostly operationalize in the main markets and on the pavements. They had prolonged working hours, and the majority never took any holiday off and worked all days.

FSSR (2011) has enumerated the minimum basic parameters in food carts to ensure food safety. We observed no standard design being followed for the food cart in our study area. Based on the overall conformance score, most carts were categorized as poor, and only a few could score within the satisfactory category.

Food safety features of carts were examined for various parameters. The study covered all types of mobile carts, i.e., two-wheelers, three-wheelers, and four-wheelers. The majority of the carts were fabricated locally. We found that only a few carts had physical structures of stainless steel (including food preparation surface) under general design, and maximum carts were wooden, covered with a colored plastic sheet. Self-gradient slope to drain excess water and fluids was present only in one-fifth of carts. The majority of the carts had no inbuilt pipe to drain wastewater from the cart. Some carts had rough, sharp edges, which could harm customers and street vendors. A few carts were fully covered canopy to protect food from external contaminations such as dust, bird droppings, and other airborne contaminants.

Most of the carts were using the stove for cooking at the point of sale. However, few street vendors had placed the stove on the ground near the cart as they did not have a dedicated place to keep it. Interestingly, most vendors were using coal/kerosene oil as a fuel source. On a few carts, it was observed that oil from the stove was found near the food preparation area leading to contamination of food being sold. Vendors should be educated to use Liquefied Petroleum Gas as an alternative fuel source.[17]

Refrigeration facility was available in a small share of carts. The cart selling ice creams had a proper icebox, while juice stalls had bare ice wrapped in gummy bags, further compromising food safety.[18] Alternative options with proven effectiveness like frozen gel packs to maintain the temperature below standard temperature norms can be promoted if the cost of the refrigerator is beyond the purchasing capacity of the vendors.[19] More than half of the carts had lighting provision; however, it was observed that lead battery was being used as a source of power. The lead battery was kept near the food preparation area on almost all the carts. The use of solar-based light-emitting diode lights could be a better alternative. Fire safety extinguishers were found only on two carts. The most common answer for not having an extinguisher was the fire safety helpline number. Emergency numbers like ambulances police were not displayed on either cart.

Very few carts had dedicated areas to store raw materials on the cart. At most locations, raw materials were found wrapped in gunny bags and kept on the ground. On many carts, raw materials and cooked found were found lying adjacent/together on the carts, leading to cross-contamination. The slot for keeping drinking water equipment was present on only one-third of the cart. Others were storing water in plastic containers near the cart. The use of a safe and wholesome water source on the cart improves hygiene and significantly decreases the incidence of food-borne diseases. We could not find dedicated space for storing utensils and safety logistics such as glass shields to store cooked food and keep personal protective types of equipment such as aprons, gloves, and caps in the majority of the carts. In general, the absence of dedicated space leads to storage of raw material, cooked food, and water on the ground, which might compromise food safety.[20]

In the present study, all the carts scored poorly on parameters concerning cleaning facilities. washbasin, hand washing facility, and place for keeping soap were absent in the majority. Only a few vendors could produce separate mopping cloths for cleaning the cart. Previous studies have also reported that vending carts were not scientifically designed, and adequate food washing utensil cleaning facilities were also not available.[21],[22] A simple, inexpensive system of hand washing basin and provision of soap on the cart can reduce bacterial contamination and thus the probability of food-borne diseases.[23]

Another important gray area was proper waste disposal, and slots for dustbin were found only in 2.3% of the carts. The absence of covered dustbins leads to waste disposal near carts and further attracts flies and other animal nuisance. Poor waste disposal practices reported in our study align with previous studies.[21] In India, waste disposal is important postSwachh Bharat Mission, but the concept needs constant reinforcement. The availability of a dedicated slot for dustbins on the cart might prove to be the right step towards this mission.

Our study also observed that the degree of conformance had a significant association with educational status, income, and numbers of years in the street food vending business. The statistical analysis pointed out that the vendors' carts with higher educational status, income, and more numbers of years in the street food vending business depicted better conformance to the prescribed standard.

Educated vendors probably had better food safety knowledge and kept the food cart in a better condition vendors earning more could buy and maintain carts with more food safety features than other vendors. However, Maung et al., in their study, reported that the number of years of experience in street food vending was not associated with the level of food safety knowledge and hygiene.[24] Therefore, regardless of years of experience, all vendors should be educated about food safety.


   Conclusions Top


To conclude, the evaluation undertaken in this study demonstrates the low conformance of street food carts that can directly or indirectly affect the health of many people. We stress that despite a formal policy in place for 8 years, the standards of street food carts are still undesirable even in a developed city of India like Chandigarh. The problem may mount up in less developed regions of the country due to a lack of food-safety awareness that is exponentiated by the high maintenance cost of the cart. It is recommended that the government prioritize this neglected aspect of the food-safety domain by enforcing technical specifications until the last village and disseminating cost-effective ways to standardize the food carts. This will contribute to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals within a stipulated time frame.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
   References Top

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