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. Street Eats, Safe Eats 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.
Street Eats, Safe Eats finds that 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.
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. 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.
The newly released report is part of The Institute for Justice’s National Street Vending Initiative. Through its National Street Vending Initiative, the Institute for Justice works to defeat anti-competitive restrictions that violate the constitutional rights of street vendors to earn an honest living.
Thanks to low start-up costs, street vending is an ideal opportunity for entrepreneurs with big ideas but little capital. Not surprisingly, following the recession, the number of food trucks on the streets exploded, with vendors selling everything from ice cream and hot dogs to crème brûlée and sushi.
Consumers appreciate the diverse menus, low prices and convenience of mobile vendors.
In the seven cities studied here, street food is every bit as safe as food from a restaurant. In each of these cities, food trucks, carts and restaurants are held to the same sanitation standards, and trucks and carts did just as well if not slightly better during sanitation inspections than restaurants—and violations by all types of food businesses were rare. The notion that food trucks and carts are unsafe is simply a myth.
It shouldn’t be surprising that food trucks and carts are just as clean and sanitary as restaurants. Both business models rely on repeat customers, and few people are going to eat twice at a place that made them ill. With the rise of social media like Yelp, word of mouth about a business—whether good or bad—spreads further and more quickly than ever before. And one advantage of food trucks and carts is that it is easier to watch as your food is being prepared—something you simply cannot do at most restaurants.