Food carts may get letter grades


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com |

THE COURIER/Photos by Michael Pantelidis
THE COURIER/Photos by Michael Pantelidis

One Queens politician is aiming to make choosing the right food cart as easy as “A, B, C.”

Senator Jose Peralta, who represents Jackson Heights, Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst and Woodside, recently introduced a bill that would require local health departments across the state to evaluate and assign a letter grade to mobile food carts. The legislation, which is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks, would invoke a similar rating system to the one performed on restaurants.

“The idea is that whether buying a meal in a restaurant or from a mobile food vendor, consumers should know that what they are eating has met certain food standards,” said Peralta. “Food carts already have to undergo inspections, and this would be bringing some transparency to it and bring a powerful incentive to vendors to make sure that their operation is neat and clean. Being able to post on ‘A’ on your cart is an awfully good marketing tool, so at the end of the day, it is good for consumers and it is good for businesses.”

If the bill passes, mobile food units will be given an “A,” “B” or “C” – with all lower grades considered failing marks – and vendors will be required to post their grades in front of their carts. All units that receive lower than an “A” will also be re-examined no less than seven and no more than 21 days from their initial inspection. Carts that receive an “A” will be evaluated at least once a year, with a “B” leading to an inspection at least once every nine months, and a “C” requiring a check-up every three months.

“I think the bill is a good idea,” said Giovanni Pucha, a Flushing resident who regularly visits food carts. “I’ve seen vendors when they serve food, and sometimes they handle money and then they touch the food without gloves and without washing. That kind of stuff is unsanitary and I wouldn’t want to buy food from a cart like that. Hopefully this law will implement cleanliness and vendors will be better about it. If I saw an ‘A’ on a vendor, I would feel more comfortable going there.”

According to a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), inspection records of carts are available to the public by calling 3-1-1 and providing the mobile unit’s permit number or the vendor’s license number.

“The Health Department inspects mobile food carts and trucks to promote compliance with food safety regulations,” said the spokesperson. “These inspections check for virtually the same food safety requirements as those required of restaurants and carts and trucks are issued violations for not meeting regulations. Letter grading of mobile food vendors would require a number of considerations that are quite different than restaurants. A corresponding scoring system for food safety and sanitary violations that carts receive is not in place at this time. The Health Department is a considering ways to better let the public know that a cart or truck has been inspected.”

As part of the legislation, a vendor who is displeased with their grade can request another inspection for a fee of up to $250.

Despite the possibility of increased fees, vendors appear supportive of the bill.

“Most mobile food vendors want letter grades, just like restaurants receive,” read a statement by the Street Vendor Project, a membership-based group with more than 750 active vendor members. “The vast majority of them sell clean, delicious food and they want to be recognized for that.”