Street food is more than just a convenient food source in Thailand; it is an integral part of the landscape and culture. Bangkok is known all around the world for having some of the most delicious, inexpensive and accessible street food in S.E. Asia, and tourist and locals flock to the many stalls throughout the city. But how safe is the street food you eat? This is a question that is being addressed by local Thai authorities and NGO’s in a pilot program called the “Bangkok Street Food Project”. For full details of this project please visit the website at fao.org/docrep.
A report conducted called “Street foods in Bangkok the nutritional contribution and the contaminants content of street foods” by LSR Hutabarat of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was published in 1994. It stated that there are more than 213 different types of street food being sold in Bangkok by approximately 20,000 vendors throughout the city. The report also indicated that random samples of food from Bangkok street vendors revealed the presence of salmonella in up to 10% of food samples and the presence of clostridium perfringens and staphylococcus in up to 30% of food samples taken between the years of 1991-1993. The study also noted that street food accounted for up to 40% of total energy intake, 39% of total protein intake and 44% of the total iron intake for residents under the age on 40 in Bangkok. With statistics like that, this report became a catalyst for the Bangkok Street Food Project which began with a pilot program in 1994.
What Is The Bangkok Street Food Project?
The goal of the Bangkok Street Food Project is to improve the overall safety and quality of street food in Bangkok. Consumers and public officials in Thailand have had concerns about overall food safety and wanted to develop a program to standardize sanitation and food handing of street food. The pilot program focused on the main areas of:
• Storage & Handling of Ice for Human Consumption
• Storage & Display of Food
• Food Handling
• Cleaning of Utensils
The Thailand Department of Health (DOH) also developed a 10-Step code of practice called “Thailand Department of Health Code of Practice for Street Foods”. The full code is listed at the end of the article.
Who Is Doing the Bangkok Street Food Project?
This project is a joint venture between the local Thai authorities and the Non-Government Organizations (NGO) listed below:
• Food and Agriculture Organization Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAORAP)
• Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)
• Department of Health (DOH)
Where is the Bangkok Street Food Project Operating?
Four main areas in Bangkok where selected for this pilot project with plans to expand into 16 more Bangkok districts in the future. The areas that participated in the project are listed below:
• Central, Dusit Zoo
• Lad Prao Road
How It Works:
Several geographical areas in Bangkok were identified to try the program. Participants in the pilot program were given training and assistance on how to comply with the new codes in the 4 main areas listed below.
Storage & Handling of Ice for Human Consumption: Participants were trained to have separate containers for the ice they use for cooling purposes and ice they use for human consumption. This way they can avoid cross contamination.
Storage & Display of Food: Participants were trained in how to clean, separate and properly store raw and pre-cooked ingredients, and how to properly store spices and seasonings in separate containers. Also there was training on how to package food once it has been cooked and is ready to be sold or served.
Food Handling: Participants were given guidelines and protocols for hand washing as well as training on re-organization of duties for workers to avoid cross contamination as much as possible.
Cleaning of Utensils: Participants were trained in a 3-strep washing process (soap, rinse, then rinse again) that utilizes 3 different sinks.
The Bangkok Street Food Project is a fantastic program because everyone benefits. Vendors benefit because they have the confidence of knowing that the food that they are selling is more hygienic and that they are not risking the health of their customers. This will ultimately lead to more repeat business and stimulate profits. Bangkok residents and tourists benefit because they have access to convenient and delicious street food, without risking their health. Thailand benefits because it earns a global reputation for providing safe street food that both residents and tourist can enjoy.
Thailand Department of Health Code of Practice for Street Foods
(as listed on the website)
1. Vending units should be designed and constructed so that they are strong and easy to clean. They should be kept clean, and food preparation surfaces should be at least at 60 cm above the ground.
2. Foods and drinks should be protected from contamination (microorganisms, toxic chemicals, dirt, etc.). Food displayed for sale should be protected by suitable coverings which can be made of glass, clear plastic or any clean material.
3. Seasonings and ingredients should be of a quality approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
4. Ice for human consumption and drinking-water should be clean and safe. Ice for human consumption should be kept in a clean container and covered. Nothing else should be stored in this container. Handling of ice for human consumption by hands is not permitted. A separate container should be used for the storage of ice used for purposes other than human consumption.
5. Utensils such as bowls, dishes, spoons, forks and chopsticks should be clean, in good condition and made of materials that do not release toxic or hazardous substances into food and drinks. They should be designed for sanitation and kept clean. Utensils with colour decoration on inner surfaces are prohibited.
6. Utensils should be washed in three steps in suitable sinks maintained at least at 60 cm above the ground.
7. Utensils should be kept in a clean place at least at 60 cm above the ground. Bowls, dishes and glasses should be stored in upside-down position. Spoons, forks or chopsticks should be stored with the handles up.
8. Containers and spoons used for seasonings such as vinegar, soy sauce or hot sauce should be made of glass, stainless steel or white porcelain (with no colour decorations), and covers should always be used for protection from contamination.
9. Refuse containers should be of suitable size and designed with a cover. Containers should be emptied and cleaned routinely.
10. Food handlers should be trained specifically on the subjects of personal hygiene and food preparation. They should follow appropriate hygienic food handling practices. The cook should always wear a clean white apron, and hair should be covered.