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Street Food Is Unsafe

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Street Food Is Unsafe Myth

Christina Walsh of the Institute of Justice helps explain how one of the most common myths used against the mobile food industry is completely false.

Empanadas with summer squash, caramelized onions and sharp cheddar cheese in New Orleans.  Black truffle lasagna with portobello mushrooms and gorgonzola in D.C.  Banana cupcakes with peanut butter butter-cream, topped with roasted thick cut bacon in Chicago.  Delicious, inventive food from coast to coast, brought to you by the food-truck revolution.  And I get to sample it all. 

The Institute for Justice’s (IJ) National Street Vending Initiative is dedicated to fighting for the economic liberty of food-truck owners nationwide—their right to earn an honest living, free from burdensome and anti-competitive regulations, which they often face.  As the director of activism and coalitions at the Institute, I travel the country meeting with street-food vendors and helping them organize to fight for their rights.  This column will be dedicated to reporting from the front lines in the fight for food-truck freedom.  But first, a general message about street food:  it’s both totally delicious—and totally safe. 

As a food-truck fan, you probably buy these moveable feasts without worrying much about the safety of the food you’re about to eat.  After all, it’s in the truck’s common-sense self-interest to guarantee the safety of their food.  One sick customer and they could be out of business—just like a restaurant.  

It turns out that your impulse is right.  In cities the Institute studied for a new report, street food is just as safe as food from a restaurant.  In Street Eats, Safe Eats, the Institute reviewed thousands of food-safety inspection reports from seven major American cities.  These cities inspect street vendors using the same criteria as they use for brick-and-mortar restaurants.  And in every one, food trucks and carts did as well as—or better than—restaurants.  

The idea that street food is unsafe is a myth. 

Unfortunately some city councils and brick-and-mortar opponents of food trucks continue to perpetuate that myth.  Food trucks are roach coaches, they claim.  They’re dirty.  Unclean.  They make this claim—often without any evidence supporting it—so as to justify burdensome regulations like bans and limits on where mobile vendors may work.  But these restrictions don’t make anyone safer.  All they do is stifle entrepreneurship, destroy jobs and limit consumer choice. 

It’s the job of the government to protect the public’s health and safety.  And when cities inspect food trucks in the same way that they inspect restaurants, they have done their jobs and can go home.  No further regulation is necessary.  

Moreover, an overwhelming number of food trucks would love to be inspected like restaurants.  That’s because they know their trucks will pass with flying colors, and those great marks will help improve the credibility and reputation not only of their own business, but the industry as a whole. 

Often times, brick-and-mortar restaurants lobby the government to enact anti-competitive laws like “proximity restrictions,” which prevent food trucks from operating within a certain number of feet of a restaurant.  Although these laws are meant to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from competition by their mobile counterparts, those proposing them often claim that they are meant to protect the public’s health and safety. 

This doesn’t make any sense, of course.  A food truck’s food doesn’t become less sanitary because the truck is operating near a restaurant.  But these restrictions don’t just make for bad policy; they violate the constitution.  The U.S. Constitution protects the right of food truckers to earn an honest living, and anti-competitive and protectionist laws like these are flatly unconstitutional, no matter their justification. 

If you own a food truck and your right to economic liberty has been restricted, it’s time to organize and fight back to change the law.  Contact the Institute for Justice for help.  If you’re a food truck fan, ask your favorite food-truck entrepreneur if it’s hard for him or her to operate.  Sign a petition.  Make a call to city council.  Voice your support.  Food trucks need your help! 

City councils should stop listening to the myths espoused by established businesses trying to protect themselves from competition, and start paying attention to the evidence. 

Then we can get back to enjoying—or serving—empanadas, lasagna and cupcakes, in all of their sanitary glory.

christina walsh bioChristina Walsh serves as the Institute for Justice’s Director of Activism and Coalitions.  Through her outreach efforts and grassroots organizing nationwide, she fights for property owners to keep what is rightfully theirs; parents to choose where their children go to school; entrepreneurs’ right to make an honest living; and the average citizen’s freedom to speak.

Walsh’s views and writing have been published and appeared in print, on-line and television outlets across the country, including Fox News, ABC News, The Huffington Post, The Daily Caller, The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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