Rethink Before You Drink: Bacteriological Water Quality Assessment of Street Vendors

Graph-2

Popularity of street foods is a global phenomenon. Similarly, with Kathmandu Valley’s population on the rise, incremental street food popularity is tangible with vendors and hawkers occupying every nook and cranny of the city. However, health problems associated with street food consumption is a year round looming threat in the valley. Through personal experience many can attest to the fact that an admission of stomach problems is typically seconded by someone suspecting street foods. The scarcity of safe water for drinking and adequate hygiene deems the logic plausible. ENPHO, attempting to gather some evidence regarding the suspicion, set out to sample and analyze water supplied to patrons by street vendors at various locations throughout the valley.

 

Panipuri, a popular street food, mostly sold in temporary and mobile vending stations, used to be typically found in areas of high pedestrian movement. However, vendors currently reach almost the entirety of the valley. During the study ENPHO volunteers targeted bus and tempo stands, street markets and areas proximal to educational institutions in Kathmandu Valley and collected samples from Newroad, Jamal, Ratnapark, Bhotebahal, Bhrikutimandap, Bagbazzar, Old Buspark, Lainchaur, Chhetrapati, Gongabu, Samakhusi, and Baneshwor. A total of 103 samples, one per vendor, of ‘ready-to-drink’ water – i.e., the water provided by vendors when people requested for drinking water, were collected and brought back for a cursory microbiological analysis. Total coliform and Escherichia coli (E. coli) counts were assessed and tabulated at ENPHO’s laboratory under standard laboratory protocol.

 

Graph-1Amongst the 103 samples, 97% were contaminated with total coliform, while 92% were contaminated with E. coli. It is quite alarming to note that only 10 and 8 samples were found to have no E. coli and total coliform contamination, respectively. Furthermore, 55 of the total samples came from jars and 39, 6, and 3 samples came from the tap, tankers and other water sources, respectively. A majority of the contaminated samples fell in the very high risk category, i.e., total coliform and E. coli counts that are above 100 Colony Forming Units/100ml.

 

Despite laymen suspicions and scientific evidence, it is evident that Kathmandu Valley residents continue to consume street foods. ENPHO’s cursory study highlights the immediate necessity of authoritative quality monitoring of drinking water provided by panipuri vendors and, on a larger scheme of things, of all street food vendors. Furthermore, abstinence from unhygienic street food is by far the most effective method to avoid water borne illnesses contracted through street food. However, under the pretenses of the popularity of street food, cautionary measures like avoiding drinking the water provided by the vendors, being aware of the vendors’ hygiene conditions, questioning vendors on their sources of water, and looking for alternative and relatively safer vendors exhibiting good hygiene are some advised practices. Moreover, ENPHO strongly advocates for caution regarding indulgence into street foods.
 
(The study was conducted in March 2016 during  World Water Week)
 
Related information: