Food Industry

Study Finds Miami Food Trucks Cleaner Than Restaurants

Question: Which is a safer bet to eat -- a food truck taco or a burger at your local gastropub? If you're one of the people who think a brick-and-mortar restaurant would be cleaner and under more scrutiny by the state, think again.

Florida has cited a recent study conducted by the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Virginia, that concludes food trucks are just as clean as restaurants. In the report "Street Eats, Safe Eats," the civil liberties law firm reviewed more than 260,000 food-safety inspection reports of both food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants in seven cities, including Miami.

According to the Institute for Justice (IJ), "in every city examined -- Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. -- food trucks and carts did as well as or better than restaurants."

See also: Miami Fourth Best Food Truck City in America

The study looked at data from 2008 through July 2013, reviewing 263,395 inspection reports across the seven above-mentioned cities. Reviewers then counted the number of food-safety violations for each restaurant and tallied the results.

In Miami, the IJ looked at reports from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation from 2008 through July 2012. In that time frame, 25,463 inspections were conducted at Miami food establishments, including restaurants and food trucks. The IJ found that on average, food trucks fared better during inspections, with mobile vendors receiving an average of 3.71 violations and restaurants getting an average of 8.15 violations.

Even more surprising, restaurants received an average of 5.43 "critical" violations versus an average of 3.31 critical violations for food trucks. A critical violation refers to possible food-borne illness factors such as storing food at improper temperatures and having rodent or insect droppings, as well as safety issues like not displaying a current license.

According to the IJ, restaurants had 597 percent more noncritical violations than food trucks and 117 percent more total critical and noncritical violations.

Jim Heins, who owns Latin Burger & Taco food trucks and a restaurant in Coral Gables, agrees with the findings. "We go through the same inspections with the food trucks as we do with the restaurants. Each truck has to be inspected twice a year. That's mandatory. We're held to the same standards as a restaurant. Everything is accounted for, from storing the food to the dishwater."

Asked why food trucks seem to be cleaner than restaurants, Heins says it comes down to pride in ownership. "Most trucks are owner operated, so we take good care of our trucks. Sometimes that's the only source of our income, so if something breaks, we fix it immediately."

The next time you're thinking about having a burger from that food truck, go ahead. The truck is probably a lot cleaner than that restaurant charging triple for your lunch.

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss