New Bill Proposes Health Grades for Food Cart Vendors

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New Yorkers take dining out seriously. And that includes on the street.  A new city council bill proposed earlier this month is pushing for street food carts to display their health grades – just like restaurants do. Melissa Cáceres reports from the Upper East Side.

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CACERES 1: Near the bottom steps of the Met Museum, Jack George waits in line at a shiny metal food cart. Vender Elizabeth Rossi peaks out from the window to take his order.

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ROSSI
Hi sir, what can I get for you?
GEORGE
Can I get a jumbo hot dog?
ROSSI
What would you like on it?
GEORGE
Mustard and sauerkraut.

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CACERES 2: It’s lunchtime on a Thursday afternoon, and visitors sit around as local musicians play nearby. George says he likes eating street hot dogs, even though they aren’t widely known for their cleanliness. He knows what New Yorkers tend to call them.

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GEORGE
Dirty water dogs, as they are affectionately known. Although I think she’s grilling them there. I don’t think she’s boiling them.

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CACERES 4: A new bill is pushing to expand the Health Department’s letter grade system for rating restaurants to food carts and trucks. Rossi’s cart has been at this location for almost 10 years. She says she feels confident that her stand would get an A.

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ROSSI
This is a positive, happy experience. I want you to walk away feeling that, whatever you eat, you’re confident you would never get sick from our food. And we’ve never had a complaint like that ever.

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CACERES 5: Rossi says she supports customers knowing how food carts are inspected. But she’s still worried about how the grading system would work for outdoor vendors. She says during regular health inspections, even the smallest detail can screw up your score.

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ROSSI
Literally, the grade, what you’re not realizing is, the grade could be that I ran out of paper towels. And they mark you off. The soap is out, in one second. Then they mark you off. If one of the coolers is leaking the wrong way..

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CACERES 6: Michael Cohen is a city council legislative director and helped out with the bill. He says a lot of details about the grading process are still up in the air.

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COHEN
There will be testimony and there will be recommendations, I’m sure. From the Health department, from the industry, and perhaps from the public that may necessitate some tweaking of the bill.

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CACERES 7: One issue at stake is how the city could afford to check out at least 3,000 food carts and trucks. Cohen says all of that would take extra time and staffing.

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COHEN
And if that’s what the council wants to do here, they have to be prepared to give the Health Department the resources to do it.

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CACERES 8: In the meantime, street food lovers will still need to place their faith in the hands of vendors like Rossi.

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((customer order))

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CACERES 9: And the lack of grades hasn’t kept visitors away. The bill has to go through the Health Committee before the City Council gets to vote in it later this year.

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Melissa Cáceres, Columbia Radio News.

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