New York Food Carts Whip Up Food Poisoning and Health Violations

The Health Department supposedly turns a blind eye to inspecting food carts and keeping them in check

You may want to re-think your regular Halal lunch. Who knows what’s in that white sauce?

Food carts are a regular part of New York City’s streetscape, from the sweet-smelling almonds to the iconic pretzels and hot dogs on almost every street corner in midtown Manhattan. As it turns out, street food carts are dirtier than you thought (well, where did you think the terms “dirty water dogs” came from anyway?). In an exclusive report, The Daily News uncovered 359 reported complaints over the past three years in Manhattan alone of people getting sick from food cart food.

Critics of the carts’ overall cleanliness claim that the Department of Health very rarely inspects these carts or upholds them to the standards of restaurants.

“It’s very loose, the enforcement,” said Daniel Biederman, president of the 34th Street Partnership. “We’ve been asking the Health Department, and Consumer Affairs, and the police to get together with regulations on appearance and cleanliness. It seems like a hopeless case.”

People who issued 311 calls about eating gnarly street food reported cases of bad diarrhea, vomiting, and sharp stomach pains for days on end. Food handlers have been caught working without gloves or hair coverings, and even scooping up spilled food off of the sidewalk. But what is being done about it? In the last two years, 11,268 violations were handed out, according to the Department of Health, but only 24 operations were actually shut down.

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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi