Straight A’s for food trucks in Boston don’t quite add up

Posted on November 5, 2019 by


by Mike Beaudet

5 Investigates finds screw in food, employees wiping nose, licking fingers

They are trendier than ever, but 5 Investigates discovered what the city tells the public about the cleanliness and health status on these mobile eateries could be misleading. This fall in Boston, there is a smorgasbord of food trucks on the menu in Dewey Square, and all over the city, more than 140 in all.

“I’m very comfortable with the food truck industry,” said Dion Irish, the city’s inspectional services commissioner who oversees restaurant and food truck inspections. “Matter of fact, so much so that I ate from a food truck before I came to this interview.”

But then you see a photograph like the one obtained by 5 Investigates of a piece of metal in someone’s food, video of a food truck worker wiping her nose with her hand and another licking her fingers while preparing food, and you start to wonder if everything really is finger-licking-good.


Food truck employee licking fingers

We asked Irish for his thoughts after he watched the finger-licking video. “That’s a serious, critical violation of the food code,” he said. “In terms of bacteria spreading, I mean that’s one of the most severe things that I’ve seen.”

But it’s hardly the only thing. 5 Investigates reviewed a decade of city data, complaints and inspection reports for food trucks in Boston.

One customer reported finding a dead bug in a sandwich. Others experienced vomiting and diarrhea after eating food from trucks. Two patrons even told the city a doctor diagnosed them with E. coli.

We discovered city inspectors shut down 13 food trucks since January of last year, and the most common reason was because employees were unable to wash their hands. But if you are a consumer, you would not know any of those businesses had critical violations. Every food truck that was temporarily shut down by the city now has an A grade. In fact, we found every food truck that’s been inspected so far this year in Boston has an A grade, even in cases where inspectors found issues.

We spoke with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh about the regulation of food trucks. Specifically, we asked him if the city is an easy grader when it comes to food trucks and restaurants. “Well, I think that we have a lot of clean restaurants,” he said, adding that people should have confidence in the grades and the inspections.

But here’s the reality: Food trucks, like restaurants, are inspected just once a year, and they only face additional inspections if they fail or there’s a complaint. On top of that, food truck inspections are scheduled so licensees know when the inspectors are coming, making it easier for them to clean up before they are inspected.

“Well, I think in some cases, obviously it’s a yes,” Walsh said. “If I know somebody’s going to come, I’m going to make sure it’s clean. But we also follow up with complaints. So, when we get complaints on things, you don’t know an inspector’s coming that day.”

The food truck called Indulge India did not know an inspector was coming after we recorded the finger-licking video of one of its employees, and it failed that inspection with two critical violations.

“It was just a shock for me,” said the owner of Indulge India, Manoj Kumar Manmohan, when asked about his employee licking her fingers. “We have taken very serious steps.”

Those steps include hiring a new ServSafe-certified manager and retraining employees.

Manmohan said the employee who licked her fingers was testing the temperature of the food.

5 Investigates went back to Indulge India last week, and despite failing that inspection and two others in the last two years, including after that metal was found in one of its meals, the truck’s sanitary inspection grade remains an A.

We asked Manmohan if he thought he deserved the A grade.

“I probably say I deserve A grade,” he said. “Mistake happens. The main thing is whatever steps taken to correct the mistake. We are very sanitized and everything. We always wear gloves and everything. Priorities should be priorities, no matter what. You are busy or not busy, food handling has to be up to the standards.”

We asked the commissioner if he was surprised Indulge India’s sanitary inspection grade is an A.

“Well, you know, an inspection is a snapshot in time,” he said. “So, our hope is that after the inspection leaves, that the practices that we observed continue. I think food trucks have unique challenges that we’re evolving to address – smaller space, lack of connection to constant running water and hot water. But we’re seeing tremendous progress in the industry.”

Overall, Irish defended the fact that every food truck inspected this year has an A grade, including the 13 the city shut down because of health concerns since January 2018.

“Those grades are accurate,” he said. “Those grades reflect the fact that they’ve complied with all the requirements of the food code as to our observations. I think (patrons) should take comfort in the A, that they showed that the inspection process ensured that they met the standards that we’re looking for and that’s the reason they got an A.”

Another concern: If food truck owners are unhappy with the results of an inspection, they can pay for an additional inspection.

“You cannot pay to get an A,” Irish said. “You may be able to pay for an additional inspection if one’s required off-hours to help them get up and running in a timely manner, but they still need to meet the standards that we require.”

Food trucks owners are required to post sanitary inspection grades on the trucks.

The mayor’s online Food Court also allows you to look up specific food trucks and review their inspection history.


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Posted in: Family safety