Street Eats, Safe Eats: Executive Summary
Street food, long a part of American life, has boomed in popularity in recent years. Yet an idea persists that food from trucks and sidewalk carts is unclean and unsafe. This report tests that common, but unsubstantiated claim by reviewing more than 260,000 food-safety inspection reports from seven large American cities. In each of those cities, mobile vendors are covered by the same health codes and inspection regimes as restaurants and other brick-and-mortar businesses, allowing an apples-to-apples comparison.
The report finds:
- In every city examined—Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, Seattle and Washington, D.C.—food trucks and carts did as well as or better than restaurants.
- In six out of seven cities—Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami and Washington, D.C.—food trucks and carts averaged fewer sanitation violations than restaurants, and the differences were statistically significant.
- In Seattle, mobile vendors also averaged fewer violations, but the difference was not statistically significant, meaning mobile vendors and restaurants performed about the same.
The results suggest that the notion that street food is unsafe is a myth. They also suggest that the recipe for clean and safe food trucks is simple—inspections. Just as sanitation inspections help assure the public that restaurants are clean and safe, they can do the same for mobile vendors. More burdensome regulations proposed in the name of food safety, such as outright bans and limits on when and where mobile vendors may work, do not make street food safer—they just make it harder to get.
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