Study: Food Trucks Are Twice as Safe as D.C. Restaurants

By Tatiana Lozano | June 12, 2014 | 11:46 AM EDT

Mobile food vendors in D.C. (AP photo)

( -  Food trucks, which are becoming increasingly popular nationwide, are also safer than their brick-and-mortar counterparts in the District of Columbia and other cities, according to a new study released by the Institute for Justice (IJ) Tuesday.

The "general message about street food: it's both totally delicious - and totally safe," said Christina Walsh, IJ's director of activism and coalitions, which is helping street food vendors "organize to fight for their rights."

IJ, a libertarian legal advocacy firm, conducted the analysis as part of its “Street Eats, Safe Eats” guide in a bid to loosen food truck regulations nationwide.

The study's findings in D.C. were based on 2011 and 2012 inspections by the D.C. Department of Health, which revealed that restaurants had twice as many health code violations as food trucks.

"D.C. mobile food vendors outperformed restaurants, as vendors averaged 1.8 total violations and restaurants 4.3," the study found. Similar results were duplicated in five other cities.

“The results suggest that the notion that street food is unsafe is a myth,” wrote author Angela Erickson, a research analyst for IJ. “They also suggest that the recipe for clean and safe food trucks is simple—inspections.

“More burdensome regulations proposed in the name of food safety, such as outright bans and limits on when and where mobile vendors may work, do not make street food safer—they just make it harder to get,” she said.

The D.C. study came after years of conflict and litigation between mobile food vendors, restaurants, customers, and local jurisdictions about how to handle the growing popularity of food trucks, whose offerings range from Middle Eastern kabobs to Mexican/Korean fusion cuisine.

The D.C. Council had been wrangling with the issue since 2010 when the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington and other groups representing restauranteurs asked for more stringent food truck laws.

In June 2013, the Council passed a compromise between the two industries that allowed food trucks access to more areas outside certain designated zones.

Che Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of the District Maryland Virginia Food Truck Association (DMVFTA), agrees with the study’s findings.

“I think it’s a terrific study because there’s a lot of myth-busting,” he told “There’s ...a real misperception out there that food trucks are unregulated. And it’s just not true.

"Some of our members of our association were inspected eight times last year and passed the inspections, but I think that’s good," he added. " As an association, we’re always about best food handling and safe practices.”

More recently, food truck owners in nearby Alexandria, Virginia have met stiff opposition from local residents after the city ruled May 17 that they could do business at special events.

"Id rather starve," said Alexandria resident Ursula Witte, who called the food trucks "nauseating, ugly eyesores" that she claims pose a public health risk.

But food truck owners are determined to continue selling their wares.  "I don't know why they are afraid of a little competition,” vendor Amir Mohammed told local radio station WAMU. “I mean, everyone is just out here trying to make a buck.”

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