A bill to bring Department of Health letter grades to street food vendors made it through the NY Senate Cities Committee last week, but has yet to make it out of committee in the Assembly. If it comes through, NYC food trucks and carts will be required to display letter grades and pay fines for violations, reports New York Daily News.

food trucks gathering nyc

Photo: Midtown Lunch

The bill is sponsored by Senator Jose Peralta (D-Queens) and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo (D-Bronx). Under the bill as currently written, the following would happen:

  • A nine-member commission (with four members appointed by the Mayor) would develop recommendations on several issues that affect the food truck and cart vendor community—including health department letter grades.
  • Reconsideration of the current vendor cap that limits licenses to 4,000, which many feel should be raised.
  • Relatedly, addressing the current black market in food vendor licenses, where some sell or rent their legally-obtained licenses to other vendors illegally to make tons of money above what they actually cost.

Dora Golminopoulos, owner and operator of Mama’s Food Cart for 16 years, thinks it’s a great idea. She told WABC-TV, “I think it’s the right way to do it because you know people they like it when it’s ‘A’ in the window they feel safe.”

Elise Goldin of the Street Vendor Project was also enthusiastic. She told NYDN, “Our members want to be seen as legitimate, and if a letter grade helps bring that legitimacy, our members would be supportive.”

The NYC Food Truck Association has publicly stated that they back the idea since at least 2012. Their webpage currently says, “We run clean operations and we want credit! We are so confident in the cleanliness of all 42 of our food trucks and our staff that we welcome and encourage implementing letter grades like those you see in the windows of restaurants. We will show ours off proudly!”

Don’t Worry, Inspections Already Happen

nyc eatery hygiene grade

Photo: Flickr/Mike Licht

If you’re reading this and wondering about standards for the food you’ve blissfully been chowing on from your favorite cart or truck, you shouldn’t worry. The topic of letter grades for street food vendors in NYC is nothing new; Mayor Bloomberg was talking about it to WSJ back in 2011. The NYC Department of Health Commissioner at the time, Thomas Farley, said: 

“To do a letter-grading system for carts is more complicated than it is for restaurants because they’re not always out there. We inspect food trucks right now with a system that is very, very similar to what we do for restaurants.”

It’s Not Easy, Though—Just Ask L.A.

LA food trucks

Photo: Roaming Hunger

NYC wouldn’t be the first city to implement visible health department grades for street food vendors—or even the first major metropolitan area. San Francisco food trucks currently display numeric health department scores (out of 100). The Alameda County Environmental Health Department announced in 2013 that it would become the first Bay Area county to require any food truck operating there to display its health department scores.

Since food trucks move from place to place by nature, it can be difficult to keep track of them—whether they’re legit or not. In L.A. County, where food trucks also display letter grades from the health department, the Los Angeles Daily News reports that there simply aren’t enough inspectors to keep up with demand.

In 2013, Dr. Jonathan Fielding was the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. He said that new food trucks that don’t yet have established routes make it more difficult for inspectors to efficiently do their jobs. Assistant director Terri Williams added, “By the time we find the trucks, the routes are outdated and we’re just spinning our wheels.”

While Fielding retired in 2014, the problems he noted then are problems that NYC will have to address as well. We don’t know how Senator Peralta and Assemblyman Crespo plan to address them, but we do know that they’ll need more than a nine-person committee to keep up with all the street food vendors in the city in a meaningful way.

[via New York Daily News, WABC-TV New York]