Like many cities across the world, Amritsar is also busy celebrating the World Food Week by organising seminars to create awareness about hygienic food, but the reality is something else.
Stalls and small shops in various nooks and corners of the city, especially near tourist attractions like the Golden Temple, Jallianwala Bagh, Durgiana Temple, Attari border, Lawrence Road, Queens Road and Mall Road, continue to serve unhygienic food, which is relished by all, no matter what their level of education and awareness is. The question then arises if the district health officer is performing his role actively, and who should be blamed for this gross health hazard.
Locals say that though they know that the kind of food they eat affects their health and know the difference between hygienic and unhygienic food, and their consequences, they are still attracted to the food, uncovered and unclean, being served on the roadside. While the hygiene level of the food can be gauged through the preparation method, which is quite visible, they say that the lure of gol gappas, chat, tikkis and kulfis is too strong to be resisted.
"Most of the street food available in the city is really harmful to health as health checks are not done on a regular basis. Every day, we see many cases of abdominal infections, followed by hepatitis, which leads to liver cancer," said Dr Rani Sodhi, who runs a clinic in Ranjeet Avenue.
Parneet Kahlon, who holds a degree in food science and technology said, "Street vendors are not aware about the importance of health and hygiene, so they use contaminated raw material and unclean water, which leads to water and food-borne diseases.
"Utensils used for cooking and storing food are not washed properly with clean, filtered water, and they do not use gloves or hair nets while preparing food. Authorities should awaken from their slumber now," she added.
Hyatt Amritsar's chef de cuisine Manohar Singh Devandi said, "maintaining hygiene, which is quite possible, is the only way to make street food clean. Besides, health officials must conduct regular checks."
While district health officer Yogesh Arora could not be contacted in spite of repeated attempts, municipal commissioner DPS Kharbanda claimed, "We are serious about the street food issue, and our health officials regularly conduct quality checks."
With just a few days to go for Diwali, the problem gets more serious, with adulterated sweets flooding the market.