Vermin In Your Street Food? A Call For Letter Grades

by Afrodet Zuri · July 18, 2011

You might want to rethink that shawarma or hot dog the next time you are walking through the streets of our fair city. Many street food vendors are not up to par concerning health restrictions. Read on to learn how the Health Department is keeping us in the dark.


Mobile food vendors have been handed 2,517 violations this year ranging from poor personal hygiene, to serving up mystery meat, to live rodents, but the city Health Department doesn't grade them or let the public know just how filthy they are. These records were obtained by The Post through a Freedom of Information Law request.

In just four months, food vendor Bulent Isci earned 16 violations, making him the city's biggest violator.

Isci manhandled food instead of using a utensil, and failed to wash his hands "after visiting the toilet, coughing, sneezing, smoking [or] preparing raw foods," records show.

Vendors are not treated the same way as the city's restaurants are in the Health Department's grading system. If vendors were to receive letter grades then a lot of these offenders would be marked with a C and the seven city vendors who were found to have live vermin or animals scurrying in their food-preparation or storage areas would have failed altogether.

City Councilman Daniel Garodnick has been calling for a letter-grading system for food vendors since last year. "If restaurants have to bear this burden, why shouldn't vendors selling food right on the street?" he said. "People should know that the food they're eating is safe, free of vermin and bugs, and that the seller is keeping a clean environment." Unfortunately, the Health Department has no immediate plans to stick letter grades on food carts or at the very least to post the mobile food vendors' violations online either.

The ongoing food truck wars which have incited violence over the past year between the gourmet food trucks and the less glamorous ones is in part due to the migration of customers to the more polished and seemingly cleaner gourmet trucks. This past April a hot dog vendor bashed in the the window of the Miss Softee truck claiming he felt that they were stepping on his turf. The war will only escalate as trucks strive to compete with those are now able to serve alcohol. The non-gourmet food trucks are going to have to clean up their acts if they hope to survive.

Top Offenders To Avoid

Bulent Isci, 41st St. and Seventh Ave. 16 violations, including keeping foods at the incorrect temperature and leaving grub unprotected from contamination.

Mubarak Ahmed, 23rd St. and Sixth Ave. 14 violations, including bad personal hygiene and hazardous cart conditions.

Mohammed El Hiba, Liberty St. and Broadway 14 violations, including bad personal hygiene and cooking foods below minimum required temperatures.

Nur Ahammed, 56-17 56th Drive, Maspeth, Queens 14 violations, including improperly using pesticides and sleeping with his food cart.

Bulbul Ahmed, 39th St. and Seventh Ave. 12 violations, including keeping cold food above 41 degrees and using improperly maintained equipment.