Sabrina Smith from the Baruch College School of Journalism investigated street food safety in New York and filed the following report:

From the smell of spicy Halal food to the delicious taste of indulgent cupcakes, vendors look forward to the next customer transaction. But there is one thing that these street-smart businessmen and women do not hope for: the visit from a government official.  “The inspections are surprises, it could be anyone, anywhere and anytime coming to inspect the cart,” said Teriza Ebid, a vendor who works the Halal Food cart located on Park and Lexington Avenue.

Based on the health code review of Article 89 Section 19 of Mobile Food Vending, food preparation requires the use of thermometers and hot and cold facilities, including ice.  The section also prohibits “butchering of meat and service of fish products, requires refrigeration for fruits and vegetables, and establishes vendor hygiene standards and requires that units be serviced and cleaned at least daily.”

“These people look for everything: your license, the temperature of the food, to see whether you are wearing gloves,” said Mohamed Rafiqi, the manager of Rafiqi’s stationed at the corner of East 28 and Park Avenue. The manager stated that officials are likely to come in the event of a customer compliant made against the vendors. In addition to a bad complaint, the vendor can run the risk of paying a government issued summons if their cart is not up to standards.  “It’s sometimes a hassle for me because if [they] come to inspect and I end up getting a summons, it hurts the business,” he said. “If I make $100 a day but have to pay a $500 summons, I am basically losing a week’s salary.”

According to Ebid, officials from the Mobile Food Vendors section of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene make unexpected stops to food carts to insure that vendors are not only following health standards, but are licensed by the city.  The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs licenses more than 71,000 small businesses citywide in 57 different industries. According to the DCA, the Licensing Center administers license and permit applications on behalf of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the New York City Health Code.

Rafiqi stated that there are two types of authorizations for working in the vending business.  “The permit is for push carts and the license is for the individual, and with the license you can go anywhere to sell your food,” he said.

Although the city holds requirements for vendors to be licensed in their field of work, the DCA currently has new revisions under the distribution of licenses regarding food vendors.  “There has been a freeze for the last ten years, and [we] are not issuing any permits at the moment,” said Ms. Jones, a representative from the licensing center whose first name remains anonymous. “[We] are only issuing ID badges for vendors to work with someone who already has a permit,” she said.

The Street Vendor Project, part of the Urban Justice Center, is a member-based project with more than 750 active vendor members working to “create a vendors’ movement for permanent change.” The organization assists vendors with acquiring vending licenses and advocate for vendors, offering business training and loans for individuals looking to start in the vending business.  “We have a class every three months to tell them what to do to keep their business, and the vendors tell us that they are seeing progress everyday as individuals working in their communities,” said Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendor Project. [Baruch College School of Journalism]

Interested in more about food safety? Read this article.