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New York Food Trucks Will Now Get Letter Grades Like Restaurants

The NYC Department of Health recently revealed that it would soon begin giving out letter grades for food trucks the way they do for restaurants. The letter grading system has been fraught in the restaurant business, as restaurants are often at the victim of a food inspector’s individual bias. It is often people of color, like Ahmad Ali from ‘The Halal Guys,’ who run food trucks because it is cheaper than the prohibitive cost of opening an establishment. Will it give food inspectors more of an ability to discriminate against people they dislike? Or will having letter grades on food trucks encourage more people concerned about hygiene to eat from food trucks?

Yair Isner, of Schnitzi, is now a stationary chicken sandwich joint, but it used to be a mobile schnitzel bar. “When we did have the truck, we wanted to have [those letter grades] because our truck was spot on regarding Department Of Health,” he said in an email. “I am pretty sure that cart and food truck owners dread that!”

Mohammed Attia, co-director of the Street Vendor Project, said that many members of SVP are excited about the letter grading system, because they are already inspected by the Health Department many more times than their restaurants, but with no public benefit. “Food vendors believe it’s a great idea to have the letter (hopefully A) grade on their carts and trucks to show their customers that they’re complying with the rules and being inspected all the time, that will drive more business to them,” wrote Attia.

“That all sounds ridiculous,” said Ari White, of barbecue food popup The Wandering Que. “If you’re going to serve food in New York City, you have to fall under the Department of Health. And yes, it’s grown into a gross tax on restaurants, where if a health inspector walks in and sees someone without a hairnet, that’s an $800 violation.”

White pointed out that after the 2007 Taco Bell Fiasco, where rats were videoed scurrying around the tables of a Taco Bell the day after that Taco Bell had passed a food inspection with flying colors, the food inspection industry changed. There was a regime change and health inspection supervisors were installed, so the era of health inspectors favoring certain restaurants over others may be long gone. “To say they’re hitting food carts that are predominantly minority-owned in an industry that is predominantly composed of minorities is ridiculous,” said White.

In response to the Department of Health’s announcement, David Botbol of the New York Food Truck Association issued this statement: “The NYFTA fully supports the letter grades on carts/trucks in order to ensure that our standards are held in parallel with those of restaurants. However, the NYFTA does not support any legislation that would enhance the difficulty of procuring, or operating a mobile food vending solution beyond what is required by any restaurant standard.”

Shira Feder is a writer. She’s at [email protected] and @shirafeder

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