Not dead yet, still give good soundbite: Food trucks can suck, Boston edition

Food trucks are not some glamorized version of nirvana that Jon Favreau can make into a movie.

There are food safety risks, and they are magnified by the small  space and hipster environment of a food truck.

Megan Woolhouse of the Boston Globe called me a couple of weeks ago ( and I told her what I thought.

(It’s amazing that reporters can track me down in Australia, but Kansas State University decided I was not on campus so couldn’t do my job, as they moved toward distance education; my guess is the cattle farmers that fund Kansas didn’t like the things I was saying publicly. Whatever. So far over it.)

Megan writes: They’re restaurants on wheels, churning out everything from pan-seared dumplings to juicy porchetta sandwiches for the city’s hungry lunchtime crowds.

But food trucks, which are proliferating at a rapid pace around Boston, are more likely to be temporarily shut down for serious health violations than their brick-and-mortar counterparts, most commonly for violating a basic requirement for proper sanitation: running water.

A Boston Globe review of 2016 city health records found that while food trucks were less likely overall than restaurants to have violations, they were more likely to be suspended for serious issues that pose an “imminent public health threat.’’ Nine of the city’s 96 licensed food trucks last year were closed on the spot until the violations were corrected, usually within a week or two. By comparison, two of every 100 restaurants were suspended.

A recent E. coli outbreak that shuttered several food trucks operated by the Chicken & Rice Guys has raised questions about whether these movable feasts are as safe as traditional restaurants.

Food trucks in Boston were cited for violations 200 times in 2016, and of that total, about half were serious infractions, and the other half minor. A majority of the most serious violations that led to temporary suspensions were related to water, or the lack of it.

On board some trucks, the water tank was empty or a sink or pipe leaked, so employees were not able to rinse vegetables and surfaces or wash their hands, as required by health regulations.

City inspectors closed The Savory Truck outside Brigham and Women’s Hospital in April 2016 after inspectors found condensation dripping into food and no water for employees to wash their hands, according to city inspection reports.

The next day, officials temporarily shuttered Saigon Alley, a food truck specializing in Vietnamese fare in the Financial District. Health inspectors said there was “no evidence of handwashing due to broken pipes at handsink.”

The Clover food truck parked at Dewey Square was ordered to close immediately last October. Once again, the issue was water.

In 2013, Clover voluntarily pulled its trucks off the road after a salmonella outbreak affected 12 people, at least half of whom ate at one of its restaurants or food trucks. Salmonella bacteria can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, and in severe cases, hospitalization.

On the Rose Kennedy Greenway, customers lined up for lunch at a food truck.

Water and hand-washing are fundamental to keeping harmful bacteria at bay in any food establishment, but even more critical on a food truck, said Doug Powell a former professor of food safety at Kansas State University and an author of, which chronicles foodborne illness outbreaks.

In a small space, washing takes on more importance because bad bacteria can spread more quickly. Cutting surfaces on the trucks are used for a variety of tasks, he said, and workers who serve food might also collect payments.

The rolling restaurants are also not connected directly to a city’s water supply and rely instead on a water tank connected to a sink, much like on a boat or airplane. Water can simply run out, and finding places to refill poses another dilemma, so workers might cut corners to conserve it.

“All of those health problems get magnified in a smaller space on a food truck,” Powell said. “So you really have to be good at what you’re doing.”

The problems have come to light as food trucks soar in popularity. The number of trucks in Boston grew from 14 in 2010 to 96 in 2016.

Trucks generally operate without significant problems, and the industry has long argued that they are as safe as — if not safer than — restaurants.

Matt Geller, president of the National Food Truck Association, said, “We see E. coli outbreaks in restaurants, so it’s not about the vehicle or the food. It’s about the particular operation.”

That’s idocracy.

E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria are almost always about the ingredients that restaurants source.

They have no fucking clue.

Florida food truck ‘Roach egg sack floating in the steam table’ and no license

Doug Trovillion, owner of the Orlando, Florida food truck named Kona Dog, might want to purchase some RAID and get a license because according to recent inspections, he has neither.

food.truckHis food truck, Kona Dog food truck, was inspected on August 19th & 20th, during which time the inspectors found several violations including operating without a license (twice), a roach egg sack floating in the steam table, 11 live roaches observed by the inspector, the operator killing two roaches with his bare hands  then touching a pack of hot dogs without washing his hands among many, many other violations.

Below is a list of all violations noted during Trovillion’s August 19 & 20 inspections.

You can read these inspections in full here.

Can’t keep food safe without the right tools (and using them): Atlanta food truck edition

Part of having a good food safety culture is having all the right tools. But making food safe takes more than having the tools; folks actually have to employ risk reduction practices.

According to, an Atlanta food truck failed an inspection after not having handwashing sink and water.hand-washing

Employees at The Corner Hot Foods Service in Atlanta need a sink inside the portable facility where they can wash up while prepping food.

They’ve been going next door into Bims Liquor Store and using a restroom sink instead, said a Fulton County health inspector.

The mobile food service unit is also missing a three-compartment sink to wash, rinse and sanitize dishes. The only sink inside was blocked by a container of food during the recent routine inspection.

Points were also taken off because the food service facility does not have its own water supply, though it is a fixed unit that does not move. The unit should be connected to the city of Atlanta water system, but is instead getting its water through a hose coming from the liquor store, the inspector said.

But do they wash their hands?

Food truck operators need tools to reduce risks – like a handwashing sink

I like a good food truck meal. The experience is less about eating food from a small sweaty kitchen and sitting on the ground and more about ordering something from a small menu that the chef specializes in. A couple of weeks ago I had a fantastic sautéed cauliflower and roasted potato pita from a food truck at a community event.foodtruck

Before eating there I checked out whether they had an inspection grade (because there are some trucks that like to operate incognito, outside the law) and asked how they washed their hands. The chef told me that they have a handwashing sink with running water and a collection tank. I still have to trust that he actually uses it but at least he had the tools.

That’s a bit different from a food truck on the Carnegie Mellon campus. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tartan Express was forced to close following an inspection where they were cited lots of risky things including not having a sink.

The Allegheny County Health Department has cleared the Tartan Express food truck on the Carnegie Mellon University campus to reopen after it was closed earlier this week for multiple food safety violations, including lack of running water.

The truck, which serves Asian food, operates at 5000 Forbes Ave. “No one in the vehicle is able to wash hands when beginning new tasks, after handling money or touching the face or hair,” an inspector wrote this week.

Other violations included holding food at unsafe temperatures and inadequate sanitization.

10 now sick with E. coli O157 linked to Seattle food truck

King County Public Health has investigated an E. coli outbreak after six – now 10 — cases of E. coli O157 were linked to Los Chilangos food trucks.

Elizabeth BuderThe owners of Los Chilangos stated that they are ready to reopen, but this news naturally did not sit well with the Buder family as their daughter is currently confined at Seattle Children’s Hospital.  For the last 10 days, Elizabeth Buder has been fighting kidney failure in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. 

Elizabeth has been complaining about her tummy non stop.  “She’s constantly ‘My tummy. My tummy,'” said her mom, Deanna Buder. “And then she says ‘I want to see my friends. I want to see kids,’ because no kids are allowed in there. She just misses home.”

The Buder family shared a plate of carnitas at a Los Chilangos food truck last August 8.  Although the mom and dad were fine, Elizabeth or Scout as people would call her, started complaining of stomach ache days later.  “Normal things that a kid might get, a tummy ache, she was a little tired, she wasn’t hungry,” said Buder.  However, Scout’s conditions became worse as her body released some bloody diarrhea.  A trip to the emergency room confirmed the parents’ worst nightmare, as Scout’s kidney deteriorates and she has to stay in the Intensive Care Unit. 

Scout is just one of the six — now 10 — confirmed positive of a dangerous strain of E.coli O157, all linked to Los Chilangos.  Los Chilangos’ Bellevue and other locations were closed last Wednesday by the Public Health department. Los Chilangos serves food at seven farmers markets in King and Snohomish Counties, operates two food trucks, and also caters events.  However, they were able to secure an approval to reopen on Thursday.  None of the employees were positive of the disease and investigators still have not found the source of the infection.

The Buder family would like to seek more justice beyond the shutting down of the kitchen and the food truck.  “”There should be consequences beyond shutting down the kitchen for a few days,” said Buder.  “People need to be aware of what to look for, and then after that be aware that you shouldn’t go to this business,” she said.


Grades come to Louisville food trucks; owners applaud

Max Balliet’s Holey Moley food truck has been inspected six times this year, passing the health department review without fail. Still, he hears the uninformed slights and innuendo — food trucks are dirty, messy, fly-by-night grease pits, potential salmonella breeders on wheels.

That’s why nobody is happier than Balliet that Louisville is requiring the city’s 49 registered food truck vendors to post health grades in their rest.inspec.grade.louisvillewindows.

“Being able to display our score is a good thing,” he said Monday. “Right now there’s no way for us to prove we’ve been inspected at all.”

Louisville’s Department of Public Health and Wellness has always required food trucks to follow the same health regulations as restaurants. But, until now, they haven’t had to participate in the city’s ABC Food Placard Program, the system that displays brightly colored letter grades based on cleanliness and food handling.

Food truck say the visible grades will help their credibility. “It’s going to be way better for business, for sure,” said Robb Ross, owner of French Indo-Canada Food Truck. Customers such as Donnie Guinn, who bought lunch Monday from Urban Kitchen at Bardstown Road and Midland Avenue, predicted the new rule would improve food quality in Louisville. “I think it’s a good thing, man,” he said. Skip Brewer agreed, saying he liked the idea of being able to see a score in the window the moment he walked up to order his food. “If every other place in Louisville has to have it, so should the food trucks.”

Canadian government funds food truck to feed poutine to Mexicans, or how I met Amy

She asked if I wanted to go out for a beer.

canada-food-truckI said no.

She gave me her number.

I went home.

Later I called.

We had a beer.

We got married (after a while).
poutineAnd we owe it all to the Canadian government.

That was in Oct. 2005. Chapman and I were touring around and landed at Kansas State University where one of my PhD students was professoring.

Our first event was a wine and cheese where K-Staters could come out and poke real-live Canadians with a stick. Afterwards, this woman started chatting me up (see above).

Back then, the feds provided something approaching $20 million to U.S. institutions to edumucate them about Canada; maybe influence a future politician; who knows.

Amy the French professor included Quebecois literature in one of her courses so was part of this Canadian studies group, even though I tried to explain that Quebec wasn’t part of Canada.

So she went to that meeting to check out the Canadians.

Not sure if that Canadian studies money is still around, but the Canadian government is taking another bold initiative with neighbors even further amy.doug.2005south: the Canadian government, courtesy of taxpayers, is sending a food truck to Mexico to serve poutine.

As reported by Tina Nguyen in The Braiser via Toronto’s National Post, the truck will be serving a Mexican-ized version of poutine, using Oaxaca
cheese instead of curds. Also on the menu are Alberta beef tourtière (beef pie), and maple-glazed Albacore tuna.

If José Andrés once described culinary diplomacy as “sending hidden messages through food,” the Canadian government’s message is not so much “hidden” as it is “sad and desperate”: “What do you not like about me? I can change! Really! Is it the cheese? Do you not like the curds? I can find something else! I can dress sexier! I’ll even have a threesome with the Albacore tuna! I’ll do anything for you! PLEASE LOVE ME.”

Amy loves me.

Cliches and undercooking abound: fancy food trucks in Paris

As an Anglophone Canadian, it’s second nature to make fun of the French.

My Welsh grandfather, with his Winston Churchill ashtray, would often pronounce his hatred of the Canadian version, the Quebecois, while watching Toronto-Montreal hockey games back when both teams didn’t suck.

That’s how old I am.

The New York Times reports the Cantine California started parking in Paris in April, the latest in a recent American culinary invasion that includes chefs at top restaurants; trendy menu items like cheesecake, bagels and bloody Marys; and notions like chalking the names of farmers on the walls of restaurants.

What the story describes as the hugely popular burger truck Le Camion Qui Fume (The Smoking Truck), owned by Kristin Frederick, a California native who graduated from culinary school in Paris, I describe as an advert for chefs-don’t-know-crap-about-food-safety (see Heston-norovirus-isn’t-my-fault-Blumenthal, who prepared some stuff for the Queen).

American chefs are at the helm of some of Paris’s hippest restaurants, like Daniel Rose of Spring, Kevin O’Donnell of L’Office and Braden Perkins of Verjus. And the city’s collective crush on high-end hamburgers continues: Parisians are paying 29 euros, or just over $36, for the popular burger at Ralph’s, the Hamptons-Wyoming-chic restaurant in the palatial Ralph Lauren store.

The story is full of hopeless clichés and food porn, but worse is the food safety in the accompanying video, with apparently raw beef as hamburgers; I guess it’s OK because it’s grass-fed (note to insufferable foodies – that’s called sarcasm).

Amy’s going to France for research at the end of the month (that’s her, on the right, in France, me on the left). My recollection is she liked her street-food baguettes. The produce and seafood in Brisbane is far superior to Paris. The bloody Marys were better in Manhattan (Kansas).

NYPD and Health Dept. yank illegal food carts from Washington Heights

DNA info reports New York City police pulled six illegally operating food carts off the streets of Washington Heights earlier this month as part of a sting operation with the Department of Health that was the latest in a series of crackdowns against area vendors.

Police swept Broadway between West 155th and 168th streets, hauling away six carts that sold assorted foods like Mexican tamales and Dominican pastelitos — a dough-wrapped cheese-filled snack — explained Capt. Brian Mullen, commanding officer of the 33rd Precinct.

The sting was part of a year-long operation conducted in conjunction with the Department of Health. Mullen said the DOH has conducted four raids so far this year.

This summer a coalition of community leaders formed a street vendor task force dedicated to finding a solution to decreasing congestion at commercial hubs where illegal vendors compete against retail stores and food vendors licensed by the Department of Health.

Letter grades for LA food trucks

Los Angeles County is, according to the N.Y. Times, moving to submit its flock of 9,500 food trucks and carts to the same health department rules as restaurants — including requiring them to prominently post a letter grade based on food inspections — in what may be the ultimate sign that this faddiest of food fads is going mainstream.

And if that is not establishment enough, food trucks, whose allure has been enhanced by their mysterious comings and goings, some signaled by puffs of Twitter postings, will have to file route maps with the health department, to facilitate at least one field inspection a year, beyond the single annual inspection now required.

As with restaurants, health inspectors will be empowered to shut down a truck that scores less than a C for not enough attention to basic safety and food hygiene practices — for example, dirty counters, food left out, unwashed hands.

Jonathan E. Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said

“People are saying, ‘I see A, B, C’s at restaurants, but not trucks: Why not? … We changed the incentives, and that’s what this is all about,” he said. “We want protecting consumers against foodborne illness to be top-of-mind all the time.”