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Peralta wants letter grades for food carts

Mohammed Bichri, who runs a food cart in Astoria, said he believes he would get an "A" if state Sen. Jose Peralta's proposed legislation to institute a grading system for vendys is passed. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said he will introduce legislation to institute a letter grading system for food cart vendors similar to those for restaurants and other eateries.

“New York City street food is famous around the world,” Peralta said. “And if you add this letter grade, our street food will also be known for its safety and cleanliness.”

The city Health Department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced a letter grading system for what was called “eating establishments” in July 2010, which requires restaurants to post a letter grade in their windows depending on how many health code violation points they receive upon inspection. Since then the grades have become a common sight throughout the five boroughs.

Eating establishments are defined as restaurants, coffee shops, bars, nightclubs, cafeterias, retail bakeries and fixed-site food stands, but vendys have not been included in the system. At the one-year anniversary announcement of the letter grades this summer, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said the constant movement of food vendors would make surprise re-inspections difficult.

Bloomberg, however, was in support of the idea.

“I would love to see, before I buy from a cart, a sign up there telling me whether or not the guy washed his hands before he reaches in and pulls out the hotdog,” Bloomberg said earlier this year.

Mohammed Bichri, who runs the halal food cart at the corner of Ditmars Boulevard and 31st Street in Astoria, said he would welcome a letter grading and would expect to get an “A.”

The vendor advocacy group The Street Vendor Project also came out in favor of Peralta’s proposal.

“Most mobile food vendors want letter grades just like restaurants receive,” the Project said in a statement. “The vast majority of them sell clean, delicious food and they want to be recognized for that.”

Peralta said he believed instituting letter grades for food vendors would be a boon to patrons.

“Consumers should know that what they’re eating has, by the most part, met certain health and safety standards,” Peralta said.

The senator said that while some restaurant owners have claimed their business has been hurt by letter grades of less than an “A,” he said fixing a violation that could cause harm to the consumer should be the greater priority since a consumer’s bad word of mouth could also damage a restaurateur’s or vendor’s reputation.

Peralta added that a positive grade could be an asset to a vendor.

“People are going to pass by and say, ‘Hey, that unit got an ‘A,’ so maybe I’ll stop and eat there,’” Peralta said.

He said re-inspecting the vendys should not be too much of a problem since legitimate vendors are registered and stay in one place.

The senator said he was working on finding a co-sponsor for the proposed legislation in the state Assembly and finding other co-sponsors as well.

Christina Santucci contributed reporting to this article.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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