Like Aadhar card, relishing street food is unofficially a mandatory need for the most Indians. Each state has its own signature street-authentic like momo, jalebi, khaman, vada pav, kachori, bajji, steamed peanuts, and cutlet. Beyond this follows an unending list of traditional and novel fusion street foods. Traditional street foods are still the biggest unorganized sector of India. In a typical scenario, when one visits a Kirana shop and request for a vada pav or food of your interest, immediately shopkeeper wraps the food hygienically in a two-year-old printed newspaper (the language of newspaper can be neglected).
Immediately the hygienically (thought so) newspaper wrapped food is served, these three characteristics are common for most:
1. The newspaper will be used to squeeze out the excess oil As if one is so conscious of diet and safe food,
2. Post eating, national newspapers are used as cleaning tissues to wipe hand and mouth,
3. Exclusively, newspapers may be the first known packaging material to carry food to home or office still.
Unfortunately, this unhealthy practice is very ubiquitous in India. The inks used for newspaper printing are not safe for consumption and when consumed causes negative health implications. These inks contain multiple bioactive that causes cancer like naphthylamine and aromatic hydrocarbons. Evidence has indicated newspaper printing workers has been diagnosed with a risk of lung cancer and bladder cancer on repeated exposure to these harmful chemicals - naphthylamine, benzidine, and4-aminobiphenyl. Further consumption of foods with harmful inks may risk one's health with harmful effects equivalent to a seldom cigarette smoker. It is so unfortunate that there is less awareness of ink adherence to the food.
Understanding the efficacy of this practice, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has released a restriction note (December 2016) to discourage use of newspapers for packing and storage of all forms of street foods. The released FSSAI advisory note also added a penalty for non-compliance. It also stated newspapers materials contain harmful colours, pigments, chemical contaminants and pathogenic microbes that may increase potential health risk. This is the first time FSSAI has released a serious implication advisory statement for the unorganized food segment of India which is going to be a Himalayan task for the involved functionaries for implementation.
Awareness for use of food grade papers, dried leaves, banana leaves can be encouraged. Regulation should also monitor the type of polyethene papers used for packing and storage. Individuals may inform the roadside vendors and Kirana shopkeepers about the serious health implications about this practice. It a joint effort to overcome this unhealthy tradition, hence look the material before you eat!