Mobile food trucks may be the latest trend in fast urban dining, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re sanitary.
A recent data analysis from the LA Times surveyed the city’s food truck health inspection records over the past two years and came up with some rather unappetizing results.
According to the report, food trucks are substantially more likely than brick-and-mortar dining establishments to receive poor health inspection grades. Around 27% of food trucks have earned a letter grade less than A since May 2014, compared with just under 5% of building restaurants.
The Public Health Department performs the inspections and grades restaurants using a point-deduction system for the violation of various health and food safety codes. A restaurant must lose fewer than 10 points to earn the highest “A” grade.
A full 23% of food trucks earned a “B” grade during the study’s time frame, while 4.2% earned a “C.” By comparison, only 0.2% of traditional restaurants earned a “C.”
Establishments that earn grades lower than C are forced to close until sufficient improvements have been made. The health department shut down more than 70 food truck operations this year for health violations, according to data from Public Health — triple the amount of regular restaurants.
The disparity is attributed largely to the challenges of preparing and serving food in a small, confined area.
“It’s not as simple as it seems,” Isabel Ariza, an employee of Echo Park food truck Tacos Ariza, told the Times. “It’s hard to keep everything in one compact space. They really expect a lot from us. We try our best to be prepared but [inspectors] always try to find something. It’s hard to get an A grade.”
Studies also suggest that the more people there are working in a single room, the more likely it is for employees to take sick leave. The confined areas of food trucks — combined with minimized equipment, prep space, and refrigeration — can lead to cross-contamination of germs or food-borne pathogens.
“If I serve you and I also prepare the food, there’s a little bit of a problem right there with health issues, potentially,” said Ruben Davila, a Food Industry Management Program Director at the University of Southern California.
Food trucks have been shut down by health inspectors for everything from improper food storage to rodent infestations. And yet, the Times says, inspectors only made rounds to 40% of all operating mobile food trucks and carts in 2014.
With an ever-increasing popularity, the future of food trucks may come down to what customers are willing to stomach for the sake of convenience.