Study: Food Trucks As Safe As Brick-and-Mortar Restaurants

There are those who swear by street eats and those who avoid them at all costs. Fans of food trucks and carts may point to the entrepreneurial looseness, the homespun mobility and the availability of exotic international flavors in unexpected places as part of their appeal, while those who eschew them may list those same qualities as reasons for passing them by and getting grub at regular restaurants instead.

But whether you love street food or not, you may find yourself wondering, on occasion, just how safe and sanitary it is. A recent study conducted by the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based libertarian advocacy organization and law firm, may allay some concern.

The group reviewed 263,395 food-safety inspection reports from seven United States cities in which mobile food sellers are held to the same health and inspection regulations as regular restaurants. And the group determined that in each of those cities — Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, Seattle and Washington, D.C. — the health and safety records of the food trucks and carts were as good or better than those of brick-and-mortar restaurants.

"The results suggest that the notion that street food is unsafe is a myth," concludes the Institute for Justice on its website. "They also suggest that the recipe for clean and safe food trucks is simple — inspections."

The organization argues that bans and limits — beyond regular inspections — are unduly "burdensome" for the vendors, for whom launching a mobile business may be a low-capital, high-return path to entrepreneurship, and don't do much to make the food they sell safer. Plus, the institute contends, in the age of social media, mobile vendors are just as reliant on positive word of mouth from their customers as restaurants are — and so they are just as unlikely to do anything to jeopardize it. And customers can also often supervise their food being prepared.

Wherever it leads, the conversation is certainly one worth having — perhaps over a taco, fresh from a truck.

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