New Yorkers who enjoy falafel, halal, huaraches or the classic dirty water dog may soon know if their street meat got a passing grade from the city. After the Department of Health required restaurants to post a letter grade following an inspection, East Side Council Member Dan Garodnick wants street vendors to follow suit.
“We frequently hear from constituents who have asked us about whether food vendors are healthy and safe,” Garodnick said. “People generally do not know they are inspected by the health department.”
Garodnick, a self-described “sporadic” consumer of street vendors, argued that food quality and cart cleanliness would improve if letter grades were prominently displayed.
Under the current restaurant regulation, an “A” is the highest grade; a “B” means that a restaurant passed but is less sanitary than A-rated establishments; and a “C” is a failing grade.
Garodnick believes his bill, first introduced last year, has a good chance of becoming law now that restaurants are required to post inspection grades.
“There are, obviously, parallels between food handling and service in restaurants and that which is done from a cart,” Garodnick said.
But just as restaurateurs criticized the grade system for painting an inaccurate picture of an establishment, vendor groups say nitpicky health department officials could harm an otherwise fine food cart.
“The problem is that the tickets the health department gives have almost nothing to do with actual health and safety,” said Sean Basinski, director of the Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project. “You have a situation where it may paralyze vendors who are, in fact, selling healthy and safe food. It may lead to a drop in their business.”
Basinski notes the myriad of violations a street vendor can get, such as not displaying a license prominently enough. He recalled a recent violation he saw in which a food vendor required to have cold running water didn’t have a sufficient amount of water pressure.
“They are hyper technical,” Basinski said of health department inspectors.
The biggest difference between vendors and restaurants, Baskinski notes, is that the kitchen and chef are out in the open for customers to judge.
“You can inspect their kitchen right there,” he said.
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