Letter Grades Mulled For Food Trucks, Carts

10News, U-T San Diego Collaborate To Report On County's Policy On 'Mobile Restaurants'

Food trucks cruising San Diego County are serving up everything from lamb burgers to organic eggplant tacos. Fans track their locations on Twitter and rave about the food.

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10News and its media partner, UT San Diego, teamed up to learn if health inspectors are giving food trucks the same glowing reviews that foodies are.

San Diego County's Department of Environmental Health does not make inspection reports for food trucks and carts available online. That differs from its inspection information for brick and mortar restaurants, which are posted online.

Using data obtained from the county with a public records request, 10News learned that of the 1,091 food trucks and carts that operated anytime during the past two years, 542 of them -- about half -- received at least one violation.

Violation descriptions ranged from a lack of "protection from contamination" to problems with "food handler training." One food truck with a "vermin" problem was shut down by the county. Holding food at improper temperatures was also cited numerous times.

"A mobile restaurant -- whether they prepare food or not -- has many of the same issues as a fixed place restaurant," said San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts.

Walk up to any restaurant and a letter grade is clearly visible near the entrance, giving customers an idea of how the restaurant did in its last health inspection.

Customers won't find that in food trucks or carts -- at least, not in San Diego.

"We're a public agency and the public has the right to know what we do, and that information can help them make good choices with respect to which restaurant they want to go to, which mobile food van to patronize," said Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and Health Officer for Los Angeles County.

Fielding initiated Los Angeles County's policy of posting letter grades on all food carts and trucks. It's currently 40 percent complete. They also put inspection information for food trucks and carts on its website.

"The incentives are aligned. They want to get more business. We want to make sure everybody is keeping food safety top of mind," said Fielding.

San Diego County's Department of Environmental Health refused to talk to 10News on camera, so 10News went to their boss -- Board Chairman and Supervisor Roberts -- and asked what he thought about Los Angeles' policy.

"You raised a great question -- why don't we have the letter grades and why don't we make the whole scoring visible and onsite," said Roberts.

Roberts acknowledged that the health inspections -- the hard work -- is already being done.

"Let's use the existing system -- the letter grade that we're all familiar with, that get posted in restaurants -- let's do the same thing with these mobile vendors," said Roberts.

State law requires that food trucks and carts keep a copy of its most recent health inspection report available for customers to review, if asked. We found that not all food trucks had their reports as required.

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