Photo Courtesy of Edwin Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
The new law would require food carts and trucks to post a letter grade that is based on their most recent health inspection by the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
By Michael V. Cusenza
The letter-grade signs that New Yorkers see displayed in the windows of their favorite brick-and-mortar eateries are on their way to mobile food vendors after the City Council voted last week in favor of a bill that would require food carts and trucks to post a letter grade that is based on their most recent health inspection by the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“I cannot imagine someone not looking for a restaurant’s letter grade from our city’s Health Department before deciding whether or not to patronize a restaurant,” said Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), the legislation’s sponsor. “The ‘A, B, C or GRADE PENDING’ carries with it real significance. The letter grade has become absolutely essential as it relates to restaurants. Yet, every day, countless numbers of people in New York are expected to purchase food from a street vendor without knowing to a general degree the cart’s compliance with the NYC Health Code. The customers who buy food from a street vendor deserve to have the same ability to make an informed decision as patrons of restaurants. Intro 1456 would mandate that the Health Dept. expand letter grading to street food vendors and that it should mirror the restaurant grading system as closely as possible.”
In Albany last week, as the State Senate prepared to vote on a bill sponsored by Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) to assign letter grades to pushcarts and food trucks, the Senator and members of the Independent Democratic Conference issued a report, “Grades-on-the-go: An Inside Look into the Dirtiest Pushcarts & Food Trucks in New York City,” that analyzed inspection data from 2016.
According to Peralta, while mobile food vendors are inspected the City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, the results of said inspections are not made public. Peralta’s legislation would assign letter grades to pushcarts and food trucks just like restaurants and make it easier for DOHMH to obtain locations for inspections.
“A vast majority of street vendors support a letter grading system, since it brings increased legitimacy to their businesses,” Peralta added. “With this more transparent system in place, consumers will have fewer worries about their food being unsafe when they pick up a falafel, a hot dog or a taco on the go. This investigation illustrates the need for transparency.”
The report indicated that the six dirtiest food trucks in the city where inspectors issued violations could have resulted in a “C” grade, including one Queens cart posted on 71st Avenue in Forest Hills.
Peralta said that in order to improve the sanitary conditions of these trucks and to provide consumers with easy access to information on the cleanliness of these establishments, his legislation would require that DOHMH convert the existing health inspections into the letter-grade equivalent.
“At the New York Food Truck Association, we think food trucks should be held to the same food safety regulations as brick-and-mortar restaurants, not only including letter grades, but also addressing the onerous food safety permitting process for food truck employees,” said Ben Goldberg, founder and CEO, New York Food Truck Association.