My two pennies on the Louisville food truck fiasco

Spotted on Main Street in Louisville.
Traveling Kitchen, one of many Louisville food trucks.

I hesitated to dip my toe in the recent conversation that has dominated Louisville social media about the cleanliness of food trucks.

In case you missed it, WAVE 3 aired a story recently by reporter Eric Flack about the sanitation and safety of food trucks, mobile eateries that park on the street or at events and serve dishes out of the sides of the vehicles. Eric reported that Metro Health and Wellness inspections “reveal trucks that were cited for food on the floor, dirty kitchens, cheese sauce at potentially hazardous temperatures, mislabeled toxic items and cooks without hair nets.” He went on to interview the chief health inspector with Metro Health and Wellness, who said she never eats at food trucks because of sanitation concerns. You can read and watch the full story here.

This feature lit up on the Twitter feeds and Facebook pages of food trucks and customers. The overall feeling was that WAVE 3 at best, got the story wrong, or, at worst, sensationalized a non-issue.

Cheese makes everything better.
Lil’ Cheezers, another food truck.

I used to be a journalist in a former life. I know what it’s like to catch a lot of criticism for a story that captures a subject in a harsh light. But this story ignited so many feelings because it just wasn’t fair.

  • In his story, Eric highlighted a food stand with some questionable cleanliness. As I understand it, food stands and food trucks are different and held to different standards. An apples to apples comparison isn’t appropriate.
  • If there is an issue with the cleanliness of food trucks, the story should have included some basic facts to support that claim. How many trucks have been shut down because of health concerns?
  • I would’ve liked to see a comparison of percentage of food trucks that have violated health guidelines versus the percentage of brick-and-mortar restaurants that have made the same violations. This story gives the impression that food trucks are not as safe as restaurants in stationary locations, but fails to use statistics to back up that assumption. I watch a lot of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares — traditional restaurants can be disgusting and unsafe, even if they serve food in buildings rather than from trucks.
  • Food truck operators said they didn’t feel like Eric made an effort to reach out to them. There are a couple of united groups of food trucks, the Louisville Street Food Alliance and Louisville Food Truck Association, that would have been good sources to include in this story to provide an overall perspective of health and safety in the trucks.
  • I’ve eaten at a lot of food trucks since they hit the Louisville landscape a couple of years ago. I’ve never had any concerns about my health after eating at these trucks. I’ve never gotten sick. I’ve never seen unsafe practices. I’m only one person, but a lot of people share my views (search Twitter for Louisville food trucks).

Eric did a follow-up story in which a metro councilman said there could be guidelines in the future that mandate the display of health inspection grades in food truck windows. Here are some other blog posts you should read, too:

Mary, one of my Moth StorySLAM buddies, getting a burger from Grind back in October.
Mary, one of my Moth StorySLAM buddies, getting a burger from Grind back in October.

10 thoughts on “My two pennies on the Louisville food truck fiasco

  1. I was very upset with Eric’s story concerning the Food Trucks. I love street food. It is a treat, not a normal part of my diet. But when I see a smoker set up on a corner, I have got to have some pork and cooked greens. I have only had food poisoning once in my 59 years and that was at a very nice restaurant. I think that a lack of exposure to natures micros have made us soft.

    I think lunch will be off a food truck today.

  2. I HAVE been in many brick and mortar kitchens and several are horrid. I even reported one that was so filthy, I washed my shoes after I left it. It had a good grade and stayed open for years after with the same conditions. I like seeing where my food is prepared and who prepares it, something you see on food trucks. Not so much in “real” restaurants. Recently an new location of a revered local restaurant got a C rating, nobody from the news showed up there or made generalizations about brick and mortar restaurant cleanliness. The completely unprofessional attitude of Inspector Mendel reveals a bias that permeates the Health Department regarding food trucks.

  3. Hey Ashlee,

    This is French Indo-Canada’s response;

    The Troubleshooter segment of yesterday’s WAVE 3 “investigation” into the cleanliness of food trucks vs. brick and mortar establishments has got a lot of people in a huff (us included) and we feel there are a few VERY key things that need addressed.
    First off, let’s just say that Rob (me, typing in the third person, like a douche) is not what the French call “eloquent” when speaking off the cuff. All functioning and licensed “mobile food units” (i.e, food trucks) are required by law to have hot and cold running water going to a commercially plumbed (and professionally installed by a master plumber) triple sink (three sinks, one for hot soapy water, one for bleach water and one for rinse) and hand sink (for washing your hands). You can’t get a annual statewide mobile license with out it and it costs a ludicrous amount of money to get all that put in. This investment is the difference between what you’ve come to love and recognize as a food truck vs. the fear inducing scary shack on blocks down on Breckinridge St.

    As to Rob’s comments to Mr. Flack, lets put a little perspective on it.

    #1 We can only speak for ourselves and the amount of use our triple sink gets on board the FIC, for all we know we are in the minority of trucks who prefer to do their dishes after service is done. On that note, we would like to wholeheartedly apologize to Grind, Lil Cheezers Holy Molé Taco Truck Sweet’N’Savory Johnny’s Diner Car and the rest for putting you on the spot like that, our bad Bros!

    #2 When we set up ALL of our utensils (bread knives, kitchen knives, tongs, steam pans) are in use constantly, if any of them gets dirty during a lunch rush we put them in a bus tub (a large plastic tub that dirty dishes are put in, typically by bus boys at restaurants) and continue using our back ups. If no backups are to be found OF COURSE ARE GOING TO WASH THEM BEFORE REUSE. We have the technology, the fact of the matter is we don’t have to on the reg because of our back up utensils and we tend to be surprisingly coordinated tong and knife handlers.

    The bottom line is we prefer using a larger sink setup in conditioned air when we do our dishes, no offense to anybody who doesn’t.

    So yeah, there are the things we wish we had also said to Mr. Flack.
    As to the safety of the food we prepare (the group of trucks we, not me talking in the third person.. I?) that report was just retched. We use thermometers to make sure our food is hotter than 140 degrees (i.e, above the bacterial breeding point), our refrigeration is sitting pretty at 35 degrees and gloves are ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS used on board when handling food you’re gonna eat. Alcohol sanitizer is applied each time we handle your filthy money too. Unlike our brick and mortar buddies, you can actually see us cooking your food, see the cleanliness of our establishment and make an educated decision of whether or not you think any of us trucks are a legit choice for a snack attack.

    Thanks again for digging our wears, we look forward to making you the foods.

    Still not sorry for partying,

    The Management

  4. I have a neighbor who runs a food truck and know for a fact that they keep it cleaner than most other business and homes. Just like other food businesses you always get someone who does not follow the rules of cleanliness and safe food preparations. Do not judge all by the standards of a few. WAVE wanted a story so they searched out what they wanted. Use your eyes, nose and good common sense and you will make the right choice.

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