Boston food trucks sling safer food than restaurants, study claims

Team Member Julia Grimes cleans up Lilian's Smokin' Rack Barbecue food truck after a day of work on the Rose Kennedy Greenway yesterday. PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/ETRO
Team Member Julia Grimes cleans up Lilian’s Smokin’ Rack Barbecue food truck after a day of work on the Rose Kennedy Greenway yesterday.

Boston’s street food is just as safe, if not safer, than food sold by brick-and-mortar restaurants, according to a study released Tuesday.

The Institute for Justice collected data from the The Boston Inspectional Services Department, which inspects all food establishments for potential violations. The study showed that between 2011 and July 2013, per inspection: food trucks averaged less than three violations; food carts averaged one violation; and brick-and-mortar restaurants averaged more than four violations.

Boston food trucks and carts are subject to the same health codes and inspection regime as restaurants.

“I think the microscope is on [food trucks] probably a lot harder than a brick-and-mortar restaurant,” said Boston comedian and Dining Car fan Mike Mulloy as he stood waiting for his order Tuesday. “It might be the fact that people probably expect food trucks to be less clean, so they’re making sure that they’re not.”

The sink in Lilian's Smokin' Rack Barbecue food truck is spotless after a day of serving. PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/ETRO
The sink in Lilian’s Smokin’ Rack Barbecue food truck is spotless after a day of serving.

Breaking it down

-Between 2011 and July 2013, Boston Inspectional Services looked at 29,898 food trucks, carts, restaurants, grocery stores, cafeterias and caterers.

-On average, Boston food trucks received 2.68 violations per inspection, while restaurants got 4.56.

-Looking at “critical foodborne violations,” which may cause foodborne illnesses, food trucks and restaurants were nearly neck and neck, with .87 violations for food trucks, and .84 for restaurants.

“I’m not surprised at the study results,” said Boston food truck blogger Steven Leibowitz, who runs

“Ever since the [Boston Globe] ran an article last August questioning food truck sanitation, I’ve regularly reviewed the city’s inspection records. You’ll always found restaurants that have had permit suspensions, even high end ones. I don’t think there has been any food truck suspension in over a year,” Leibowitz said.

Food truck cleanliness came into question last July after nearly 30 people who ate at Clover food trucks and restaurants fell ill with salmonella.

Angela Erickson, author of “Street Eats, Safe Eats,” says the idea that street food is unsafe is a myth.

“Boston residents love food trucks, but the city makes it incredibly difficult for food trucks to operate. Food trucks are banned from roaming on public property and can only operate in one of 30 city-designated spots,” Erickson said.

The Massachusetts Restaurant Association declined to comment on the findings. Boston’s Office of Food Initiatives did not return a request for comment.

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS


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