Street Eats, Safe Eats: Boston








The Boston Inspectional Services Department, which inspects all food establishments for potential violations, provided inspection data for 2011 through July 2013. In that time, the department conducted 29,898 inspections of food establishments, including trucks, carts, restaurants and other establishments such as grocery stores, cafeterias and caterers. Table 1 provides the average number of violations by establishment type. It also breaks out different types of violations as classified by Boston—critical foodborne, critical, non-critical and total.

A critical foodborne violation refers to activities that are the most prevalent contributing factors to foodborne illness as identified by the Center for Disease Control—such as not posting consumer advisories and improper labeling of ingredients. A critical violation is one that is more likely than other violations to affect the public health—such as unclean food contact surfaces and improper sewage and waste water disposal. Non-critical violations will not seriously affect the public health; these are things such as adequate lighting and hair restraints.

As Table 1 shows, violations were uncommon across all categories of food service, and both Boston’s food trucks and carts outperformed restaurants, as trucks averaged 2.7 total violations, mobile food carts—hot dog stands and other sidewalk carts—just one, and restaurants 4.6.

The story is similar when looking at different types of violations. Trucks and carts received fewer critical and non-critical violations than restaurants. For critical foodborne violations, trucks and restaurants were comparable and carts received fewer violations, but all averaged less than one violation per establishment.

These differences held up under statistical analysis, as shown in Table 2. Results show that Boston’s food trucks averaged fewer total violations, critical violations and non-critical violations than its restaurants, and the differences were statistically significant. On critical foodborne violations, the difference between trucks and restaurants was not statistically significant, meaning they were essentially the same. Boston’s food carts averaged fewer total violations, critical foodborne violations, critical violations and non-critical violations than its restaurants, and the differences all were statistically significant.


 Table 1: Boston Food-safety Violations, 2011-July 2013*

  Average (Mean) Violations   Standard Deviation   Minimum   Maximum
Total Violations      
Food Trucks 2.68 2.90 0 18
Restaurants 4.56 4.46 0 41
Carts 0.98 1.53 0 10
Other 2.67 3.36 0 30
Critical Foodborne Violations        
Food Trucks 0.87 1.25 0
Restaurants  0.84 1.33 0 12
Carts 0.36 0.75 0 6
Other 0.47 0.93 0 9
Critical Violations    
Food Trucks 0.11  0.32 0 2
Restaurants 0.30


0 4
Carts 0.04 0.21 0 2
Other 0.17 0.43 0 4
Non-critical Violations    
Food Trucks 1.70 1.94 0 11
Restaurants 3.42 3.37 0 30
Carts 0.57 1.08 0 8
Other 2.03 2.60 0 23


*Data provided by Boston Inspectional Services Department and based on 296 inspections of 76 food trucks, 17,634 inspections of 2,813 restaurants, 1,447 inspections of 497 carts and 10,521 inspections of other food establishments.


Table 2: Estimated Differences in Food-safety Violations, Boston,
2011-July 2013 (Statistically Significant Results in Italics)*

Average Violations
Compared to
Food Trucks
Rate of Violations
 Compared to
Food Trucks
 Average Violations 
 Compared to
Food Carts
Rate of Violations 
Compared to
Food Carts
Total Violations      
Restaurants 1.87 more 69% more 3.39 more 386% more
Other 0.19 fewer 2% fewer 1.33 more 181% more

Critical Foodborne Violations        
Restaurants  0.03 more 4% fewer 0.45 more 136% more
Other 0.37 fewer 48% fewer 0.06 more 28% more

Critical Violations    
Restaurants 0.18 more

156% more

0.25 more 568% more
Other 0.03 more 37% more 0.10 more 258% more

Non-critical Violations    
Restaurants 1.65 more 101% more 2.70 more 535% more
Other 0.14 more 19% more 1.19 more 275% more 

*Results listed derived from OLS and Poisson regressions. Because of the use of two different statistical analyses, the direction and significance for average violations and rate of violations may differ where the differences between trucks or carts and restaurants are small. Full regression results for total violations can be found in Appendix B. 11


11 The full regression output for the models using the number of critical foodborne, critical and non-critical violations separately can be supplied upon request.




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