Letter Grades on Carts?

Letter Grades on Carts?

“You go to a food cart, and you don’t know if it’s in sanitary condition. It’s good for the restaurants, and I think it would be good for the food carts.” -Roy Lin

It’s a staple on just about every corner in New York City, halal carts.

“We eat here every day, 5 days a week,” said Roy Lin, a Baruch Student and halal cart customer.

The cost for a meal is cheaper than most restaurants, lending to their popularity.

“There’s an old fashioned notion that people had about street food being dirty, shady, they don’t know who’s making it, what is this food, really we’ve seen that that’s changing,” Roy said, referring to the new bill being pushed to give halal cart sanitary grades.

Late in January 2017, a bill was introduced in the New York City Council that introduced the idea of requiring street food vendors to display letter grades rating their health inspections. The legislation would mandate letter grades at food carts and trucks just like the ones already displayed at city restaurants.

“You go to a food cart, and you don’t know if it’s in sanitary condition,” said Roy, a freshmen at Baruch looking to pursue a career in finance, who is also sponsoring the measure. “It’s good for the restaurants, and I think it would be good for the food carts.”

The city has given letter grades of A, B, or C to restaurants after their Health Department inspections since 2010. The vast majority of restaurants now earn an A. Halal carts and hot pretzel stands are also hit with fines for violations, but don’t post grades. The consumer has a right to know that the cart they’re eating from is safe and obeying the law. 

A bill was introduced at the state level in 2015 to create a food cart commission to make recommendations on issues including making the vendors part of the letter grade system, but it did not pass. Sean Basinski, an owner of a halal cart, said vendors would welcome letter grades, which he hoped would come with a more regular schedule for inspections they’re now faced with randomly in addition to the chance to demonstrate their bona fides to customers. 

“Right now vendors are treated much worse than restaurants,” he said. “They receive more inspections than restaurants do without getting the recognition that goes along with having a letter grade.”

State Senator Jose Peralta is one of the lawmakers pushing a new bill that would require food carts be graded.

“We want to make sure that one, that the customers are safe and they’re eating healthy quality food. Two, also give the customer the option to see something visible, something tangible sort have their own immediate review system,” State Sen. Peralta said.

Many of the vendors are on board with the idea.

“I think it’s the right way to do it because you know people they like it when it’s ‘A’ in the window they feel safe,” said Khan, owner of Khan’s Halal Cart, which is located on the intersection of Blvd and Northern Blvd in Bayside, Queens.

Not only will the letter grades make sure the food you get from the carts won’t make you sick, but the senator also says it will weed out black market street cart vendors.

“That’s a huge problem, the black marketed permits,” Basinski said.

That’s where permitted vendors sell their permits to those who are on the long waiting list with the city for thousands more than the cost.

Either way, Peralta sees the bill as a win-win for vendors and customers.

If it passes, you may soon see a letter on your favorite cart.

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