NYC food trucks required to post sanitation grades (Part 1)
Photo courtesy of iStock.
New York City has pushed the sanitation bar up a notch for food trucks. The city will require food trucks and carts to get letter grades based on sanitation inspections and to post their grades, similar to what restaurants are required to do. The law is intended to give consumers more information about a vendor's sanitation status.
The requirement, which does not take effect until 270 days after its May 30 signing, calls on the city department of health and hygiene to develop a system to grade inspection results.
"The public just doesn't know the results of the inspection," Mike Cohen, legislative director for Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, the lawmaker who introduced the bill, told Food Truck Operator. Unless a truck is forced to close, the consumer has no way to know how the truck scored on its last inspection.
Cohen said he expects the grading system will be similar to the one used for restaurants.
"I suspect it'll be slightly different because it's a slightly different mode of operation," he said.
Under existing requirements, each vehicle or cart is required to have a permit, and every operator has to be licensed. Inspections for permits are required every year while operator licenses are good for two years.
A random phone survey of New York City food truck owners indicated many are aware of the new requirement and are not especially concerned about getting letter grades for sanitation.
|Born & Raised NYC, a new food truck, passed its inspection in flying colors and the owner, Rich Cruz, welcomes a grade.|
Food truck owner voices support
"I welcome it," Rich Cruz, who recently launched Born & Raised NYC after working on other food trucks, told Food Truck Operator. "I will take that 'A' letter grade with pride. I actually look forward to getting a letter grade."
Cruz has already had his first inspection and claims he passed it with flying colors. He said trucks that get good inspections are usually only inspected once a year. Some of the ones he worked on in the past got inspected every three or six months because there were areas of concern.
"It really just depends on how your inspections go," Cruz said. "It fully depends on what condition your truck is in."
The inspectors just show up out of the blue, he said, but they let the truck continue to serve customers while inspecting the temperatures of the food and the sanitation requirements.
"They do it thoroughly and efficiently," he said. "I have no complaints."
Food truck association supports rule
Ben Goldberg, president of the New York Food Truck Association. believes the new requirement will strengthen the food truck industry's reputation, considering the fact that brick and mortar establishments are already required to have a letter grade.
"We support anything that will bring restaurants, brick and mortar locations and food trucks on parity," Goldberg told Food Truck Operator. "If you're a customer, you really want to know that you're having a clean, safe experience."
Food truck association members are supportive of the rule and do not anticipate any problem complying with it, said Goldberg, himself a former truck operator. The association has 31 members, all of which Goldberg classifies as "gourmet." He estimated there are 50 to 55 artisanal food trucks in New York City, with another 20 to 25 trucks that are not gourmet.
"They realize that this is what customers want and it's the right thing to do," he said. "It's going to give the vendors that really work hard at it the recognition. I think it's going to help the industry in the long run."
When the city first mandated letter grades for restaurants, many did not welcome it, Goldberg said. But they eventually supported it.
Inspectors sometimes target certain parts of the city for truck inspections, he said. In other instances, they go on Twitter to see what trucks are close to where they happen to be at a given time, then inspect those vehicles.
"I think they (the department) do a pretty good job overall," Goldberg said for the inspectors.
While food truck operators are generally not as alarmed about the letter grades and support the need for sanitation inspections, some operators have concerns about other aspects of the way the city regulates their industry. One of the benefits of the new letter grade law is that it gave the association a chance to dialogue with state officials since there is a similar law proposed in the state legislature.
Part 2 of this two-part series will explore regulatory changes New York City food truck operators would like to see.
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.