They're convenient and often delicious, but the NYC Department of Health says food carts can be dangerous. In the past year the DOH has issued 2,517 violations to these transportable eateries. One Manhattan councilman thinks the carts should have letter grades much like the ones adorning city restaurants.
Street food is part of New York City’s culture. But for every food cart fan, there is a detractor who cringes at the mere thought of “street meat.”
As it turns out, just like any restaurant, the quality of the food depends on where you choose to eat.
The Department of Health recorded 2,517 violations this year alone on food carts. Violations ranged from personal cleanliness issues and improper food handling to live vermin.
But food carts aren't required to stay in one location, which means if you use the DOH violations as a guide to determine the safest places to eat, you may be out of luck because the locations listed may no longer be accurate.
In order to establish more transparency, City Councilman Daniel Garodnick has introduced legislation mandating food carts get the same letter grades as New York City restaurants.
NBC New York went to visit some of the offending food carts listed in this year's violations, but found at least eight of the grimiest grub stops were conspicuously absent from the locations where the DOH identified the violations.
The offending food carts were scattered throughout the five boroughs. The worst violator was a cart on 41st Street and Seventh Avenue, where vendor Bulent Isci racked up 16 violations, including not washing his hands after “visiting the toilet, coughing, sneezing, smoking or preparing raw foods.”
Aside from making it difficult for passersby to know which food spots are safe, the mobility of the carts makes it challenging for DOH to re-inspect.
“There should be no ambiguity as to whether the food you’re eating is safe and clean and free of vermin and other problems,” said Garodnick.
Most vendors agreed.
A DOH spokesperson said it has no immediate plans to require food cart grades since the agency does not have the manpower for the inspections. As for the re-inspections, DOH argued its inspectors have certain zones they’re responsible for and they don’t believe anyone flies under the radar.