What to Know
- NYC food carts have been issued letter grades for nearly a year, but where they are cleaned, kept and often stocked is a mystery to many
- The commissaries where they are stored are also issued letter grades, and the I-Team found many have dozens of violations
- Carts kept next to dumpsters, food stored at improper temperatures, contamination and evidence of rats and mice were all violations found
While the New York City Department of Health has been issuing food carts grades for nearly a year, the garages where the carts are cleaned, stored and often stocked with food continue to be a mystery to hungry New Yorkers.
An investigation by the I-Team found that some of these commissaries have received dozens of violations — like food stored at improper temperatures, contamination and evidence of rats and mice.
Cart operator Jalal Hasanpoor has witnessed food carts parked next to dumpsters and carts swarmed with flies and mosquitoes, as well as encounters with owners who refuse to wash their carts at all.
“At other commissaries, the ground is pretty bad. When you enter in the garage, you see a lot of garbage,” said Hasanpoor. “They don’t wash their carts. There’s a lot of flies coming around those foods, it makes a lot of disease.”
NBC New York obtained thousands of commissary inspection records from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The data reflects three years from January 2016 through January 2019. There are roughly 130 mobile food vending commissaries and more than 5,000 food carts listed in NYC.
The commissary with the most violations is Golden Wholesale, LLC. on 39th St. in Manhattan, which amassed 85 violations in that three-year period.
The owner of Golden Wholesale, who asked not to be named, told NBC New York he tries to keep his commissary clean and always corrects violations promptly. He said cart owners often create the violations and Golden Wholesale gets unfairly blamed.
“You’re only as good as where you get the product from,” said John Murn, co-owner of M & J Commissary in Long Island City.
M&J Commissary had among the best ratings, with the I-Team finding just 6 violations unrelated to food storage over three years.
Murn believes food carts should also have to post the commissaries they use, right next to the cart’s grade or permit.
“If the cart has an A-rating and a commissary has an A-rating, me as a consumer, I feel great about it,” said Murn.
The city does require food carts have the name of their commissary with them at all times. But NBC New York discovered that few food carts could actually name which commissary they store their cart at or where the food might come from.
Out of the seven vendors that spoke with NBC New York, only two had documents with their commissary’s name.
According to the inspection records obtained by NBC, those two commissaries had 28 violations each, including evidence of mice and roaches during that same three-year period. Both were among the 25 commissaries with the most violations.
The only other way to find out what commissary a cart uses is to follow them. NBC New York followed one cart from Manhattan Commissary Inc., to the corner of West 39th Street and Broadway. The cart had a gas tank and an unsecured sack of onions on its roof.
According to inspection records, Manhattan Commissary had 48 violations including not providing proper sanitization for washing utensil ware, as well as evidence of mice, roaches and flying insects present in facility.
Manhattan Commissary, Inc. did not respond to multiple requests for comment from NBC New York.
“As a native New Yorker who occasionally enjoys a quick bite from a food cart, I think that’s pretty disgusting,” said Queens resident Keisha Coursey.
City officials tell NBC New York that a searchable website is currently underway, which will “include information about the commissary for that cart or truck and provide results for the most recent commissary inspection.”
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene declined interview requests.
But in an official statement, the department’s spokesperson says, “The NYC Health Department promotes the health and safety of all New Yorkers, in part, by monitoring the food safety practices of food carts and trucks – and the commissaries where they are serviced daily. We are committed to helping all food carts and trucks achieve an “A” and assisting commissaries in maintaining safe and clean environments.”
According to Murn, the most efficient solution will stem from honesty between all parties involved.
“It’s got to be total transparency. Without total transparency in food, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting.”