New York City Food Carts Could Have Letter Grades by the End of This Year

Christian Science Monitor / Contributor / Getty Images 
The move is a small part of legislation to better regulate food vendors. 

Food carts might soon be required to receive of a letter grade from the Department of Health in New York City. 

Karen Koslowitz of Queens introduced the bill to the city council of New York City this February, but it only came under consideration during a city council health committee hearing yesterday. Councilwoman Koslowitz argued during the hearing that food carts that lack the A-F rating system given to restaurants are a "health problem that has to be addressed now.”

The city council added her bill to a package that included measures to improve overall food vendor safety, and better regulate the industry. 

Michael Cohen, legislation and communications director at Councilwoman Koslowitz’s office, told me that the some of the other proposed bills would increase the number of permits given to food vendors annually – a measure that would be a huge relief for many vendors who must operate under a shady “black market system” by paying rent to the few permit holders at exorbitant rates – as well as give out permits for specific locations throughout the city. 

According to Cohen, nailing food carts down to one location is essential, because it would make it easier for the Department of Health–which has so far showed “no opposition” to the new legislation—to track down food carts that are due for inspections. Right now, “they aren’t getting 100% coverage,” he says. 

Even though it’s true that vendors are fined by the Department of Health for any violations, customers don’t know when, or which carts, were cited.  Councilwoman Koslowitz’s bill would better inform the public about their food choices.   

The bill has received support from food vendors since it was first proposed. Though it seems as though the bill will impose even more rules on the already struggling carts, their proprietors feel that they’re subject to more inspections than restaurants, but those who pass with flying colors don’t get the recognition – and boost in business – that comes with that coveted A letter grade. 

Cohen says that Councilwoman Koslowitz hopes to speak directly to the mayor to get her bill reviewed independently of the big package of food vendor bills currently under consideration in the city council, which would expedite its implementation on the city streets. But Deputy Health Commissioner Corinne Schiff said at Wednesday’s hearing that the committee would prefer Councilwoman Koslowitz’s bill remain incorporated with the other proposals. 

New York is a bit behind in this regard: In California, food trucks (slightly differently than food carts, of course) were required to have letter grades all the way back in 2012. Lawmakers in Albany introduced a similar measure in 2015, but it didn’t pass. 

So how long will it be until you’ll see those familiar blue letter grades taped to the inside of food cart windows? Cohen couldn’t give me a precise timeline, but he remains confident it will pass this year, during the current legislative session.

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