- Avoid street food vendors in areas with heavy traffic, as consumption of food contaminated with carbon monoxide in large quantities on a regular basis can adversely affect lung functions and the respiratory system. It can cause dizziness, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting. Additionally, exhaust fumes contain carbon powder and lead, which are classified as carcinogens.
- Choose vendors that serve freshly cooked food over already cooked, ready-to-serve food, which may even be leftover food that has been reheated and served again. Such food carries the risk of contamination from harmful and dangerous bacteria.
Thailand truly is a foodie’s paradise, especially when it comes to Thai street food, which has become famous throughout the world. Even CNN, the well-known news agency, has praised Bangkok as the number 1 best city for street food in the world out of 23 cities worldwide. Thailand has kept this position for two consecutive years, beating out cities like Tokyo and Hawaii, which were number 2 and 3 respectively.
Thai people themselves have a long history and close relationship with street food, whether it’s a quick on-the-go morning meal of soybean milk, grilled pork, rice porridge, then for lunch with coworkers a plate of rice with pork leg, fried noodles or a wide variety of egg noodles both dry and with soup, and ending the day with a bag of curry or a get-together with friends for some spicy roadside papaya salad or a delicious local dessert, only to return home for the evening to rest and prepare for another new day of delicious foods ahead.
Sometimes, however, roadside eateries can be a matter of concern, particularly because most street food vendors are located on busy sidewalks where crowds of people walk by and cars pass all throughout the day, inevitably contaminating food with germs and dust. In other cases, it’s the raw materials themselves that are a concern, since they have not been stored or cleaned properly. Then there’s the cooking, where food is sometimes not cooked evenly or thoroughly, or is incorrectly or overly seasoned. So before eating street food, make sure you observe and take proper precautions to ensure that you don’t end up having to go to hospital after eating your favorite Thai street food.
Choose Wisely, Both for Taste and Safety
- Location: The first thing you must pay attention to is the location. Most street food vendors are located along the footpath for the convenience and easy access of commuters and travelers. These are locations where hungry people will walk by and can easily find something to fill up on. At the same time, however, food found at footpath vendors is at high risk of contamination from dust or smoke from car exhaust pipes. This is particularly true when located in areas of heavy traffic or frequent traffic jams. If you must eat from roadside vendors, you should choose those in well-ventilated areas or those that are far from the footpath itself and not constantly exposed to fumes and smoke from car exhaust pipes.
- Cleanliness: You should always take the time to use your eyes to look around. Look a bit deeper at things like cabinets, where materials and ingredients are kept, the dishwashing area, tables, chairs and table condiments. They don’t have to be cleaned to the same standard as larger, more expensive restaurants, but rather there should be a level of general cleanliness that can be easily seen and observed.
- Freshly Cooked Food: Choose vendors that serve freshly cooked food over already cooked, ready-to-serve food that does not allow you the privilege of knowing how long it has been cooked and sitting out, or even whether it’s leftover food from a previous meal that has been reheated and served again. Already cooked food carries the risk of contamination from harmful and dangerous bacteria. Also, be aware that certain foods containing coconut milk can be easily spoiled during hot weather, and that some shops use preservatives in their cooking that can adversely affect the body as well.
Street Food You Should Be Wary Of
- Fried Foods: This is always a favorite, popular with young children, adults and the elderly alike, as fried foods are easy to eat, delicious and inexpensive. But the deliciousness that comes with the deep frying process can be harmful due to carcinogens and trans fats. Although some shops change their cooking oil frequently, eating greasy and high-fat foods can still cause a number of serious diseases, such as obesity, hyperlipidemia, diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Grilled or Roasted Pork, Chicken and Seafood: Grilled or roasted food has been cooked using direct contact with the grill. Smoke from the cooker poses a risk of increased carcinogens due to charring and burning. The cleanliness levels of cooking equipment and raw materials pose other risks. This is especially true for seafood, which is often contaminated with formalin in order to extend its freshness and keep it from decaying too quickly. You should also be aware that some meats, as well as dipping sauces, often contain a lot of artificial seasoning to add taste and flavor to the food.
- Color, Sweetness and Crunchiness of the Food: Whether crunchy snacks, baked goods or preserved foods: to make them more attractive, especially to younger children, colorful foods sometimes contain synthetic coloring which is not intended to be used in food. Additionally, added sweeteners may contain saccharin, while borax may be used to increase crunchiness. If eaten frequently or in large amounts, such additives are harmful to the body.
- Very Spicy Foods, Various Spicy Salads: These types of food require a lot of seasonings and raw ingredients, particularly fresh vegetables, onions, garlic, peanuts, dried shrimp and dried chili powder, which are often contaminated due to mold. Also, artificial lemon flavors or vinegar that are added to increase the sourness of these salads may cause indigestion and diarrhea.
Unexpected Diseases That Accompany Street Food
Black smoke from the exhaust pipe of a car is caused by incomplete combustion of fuel, which produces carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbon, nitric oxide and nitrogen oxide as well as other hydrocarbon compounds that are toxic to the environment and human body.
Consumption of food contaminated with carbon monoxide in large quantities on a regular basis can adversely affect lung functions and the respiratory system, causing dizziness, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting. Additionally, exhaust fumes also contain carbon powder and lead, which are classified as carcinogens. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set standard levels of lead content in food at no more than 1 microgram of lead per 1 gram of food. Eating foods contaminated with lead over a long period of time can cause brain damage and even death.
Contamination of raw materials and ingredients by germs, bacteria, fungi or mold is another danger that can affect your health. This is because many roadside vendors have very limited space to properly clean raw materials. Containers and utensils must be used repeatedly throughout the day, and ce used in drinks and desserts poses another risk. If you eat food contaminated with bacteria for any of these or other reasons, it can cause food poisoning, cholera or severe diarrhea.
Chemicals, such as preservatives, saccharin, borax and artificial lime derived from synthetic citric acid, are not harmful to the body when consumed in small amounts. When consumed regularly they will accumulate in the body and can eventually be a cause of cancer.
Although street food can be delicious, tasty, convenient and easy on the wallet, if consumed haphazardly and without care and attentiveness, it can negatively affect your health, both now and in the future. Carefully choosing roadside vendors with attention to cleanliness and ingredients is imperative for consumers. Moderate consumption along with regular exercise can provide you with good health and the opportunity to enjoy the delicious street food of Thailand for many years to come.