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June 10, 2014 at 12:40 PM

Are food trucks as clean as restaurants?

Photo courtesy of the Mobile Food Rodeo

Photo courtesy of the Mobile Food Rodeo

It might be time to retire the term “roach coach.” Food trucks and sidewalk carts rated as well or better than restaurants in a new study of health inspection reports from seven major U.S. cities, including Seattle.

The report comes from the national Institute for Justice, which is not a disinterested party — the non-profit law firm has an initiative that “works to defeat anti-competitive restrictions that violate the constitutional rights of street vendors to earn an honest living.” (The firm’s cases include one challenging food truck restrictions in Chicago, one that involved permit fees for a produce vendor in San Juan County and a Seattle bed-and-breakfast challenge.) That said, the process looks sound and they’ve made their math public. The report authors analyzed more than 260,000 inspection reports back to 2008 from Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, Seattle and Washington D.C., cities where sanitation reports were accessible and where inspectors distinguished between types of establishments.

For the statisticians, the results are online here.

Seattle was actually the sole case where food trucks performed only “as well as” restaurants. (The raw numbers showed them with slightly better scores, but not by a statistically significant margin.) In the six other cities, food trucks and carts got better scores. It’s also worth noting that Seattle assigns more weight to “critical” violations that are likelier to cause food-borne disease. Research analyst Angela Erickson said in an email that “we do not know if Seattle’s trucks had fewer significant problems or just fewer problems overall.”

Regardless, Erickson writes that “The idea that street food is unsafe is a myth, and this study puts to rest any lingering doubts about food trucks.”

Remember, King County is currently looking at new ways to publicize its inspection reports for all types of eateries. And if you want to see how your own favorite place rates, from four-star establishment to taco truck, reports are online here.

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