New York City rolls out letter grades for food trucks, food carts

LOWER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- The first letter grades were issued to food carts and food trucks in New York City Friday.

The city Department of Health just rolled out the new grading system for the thousands of trucks and carts serving up meals across the five boroughs.

Only two dozen or so carts and trucks currently have grades, and officials expect it will take about two years before all of them are rated.

On the Lower East Side, Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot congratulated Mahmoud Abdel Wahed, the owner of Mo's Coffee Cart, which was among the first food carts in the city to receive an A grade.

This past November, the health department published the final rules for the new grading program, which introduced a scoring system similar to the one used for restaurant inspections.

The new grading program holds carts and trucks to the same food safety standards as restaurants, and proprieters will receive points for violations that correspond to either an A, B, or C letter grade.

The new letter grading program applies to all food carts and trucks authorized to operate in New York City and is required under last year's Local Law 108 sponsored by Council Member Karen Koslowitz.

The letter grade is featured on the permit decal located on the cart or truck. It will take two years for the city's more than 5,000 carts and trucks to receive grades, similar to the rollout of restaurant grading.

"New Yorkers told us that they love our restaurant grading program, and it only made sense, thanks to Council Member Koslowitz, to extend it to food carts and trucks," Dr. Barbot said. "Now customers will be able to see, before deciding to eat at a food cart, how it performed at its health inspection."

To help vendors understand the new grading system, the health department is distributing a self-inspection worksheet to help vendors monitor their own food safety practices. The department is also hosting a series of free workshops about the new grading program for vendors.

To date, more than 300 vendors have attended the workshops, which were presented in English, Spanish, Bengali, Arabic and American Sign Language. Upcoming workshop dates and locations are posted at nyc.gov/health/mobile food.

The expansion of letter grading allows the health department to make penalty schedules for scored and unscored violations and fine reductions for food carts and trucks consistent with restaurants.

The policy will result in a reduction in fines for food cart or truck owners.

Now, if a food cart or truck earns an A grade at the time of inspection, fines imposed for food safety violations will be eliminated.

The health department began issuing letter grades to restaurants in July 2010. Currently, more than 90 percent of restaurants post A grades, while a similar percentage of New Yorkers approve of restaurant grading and use letter grades to make dining decisions.

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