New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Oversight of Mobile Food Vendors

Vendors in New York City who sell food from vehicles, pushcarts, stands or other mobile units must be licensed by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), and are subject to inspection by DOHMH. We identified serious weaknesses in DOHMH’s processes for scheduling inspections, investigating complaints about the vendors, and penalizing vendors who repeatedly commit critical violations. For example, most seasonal vending operations, and about half the year-round operations, do not receive unannounced inspections on an annual basis. At the same time, some operations receive several such inspections a year. We recommend DOHMH’s informal inspection scheduling process be formalized so that an effort can made to perform at least one unannounced inspection a year at each vending operation. DOHMH seeks to inspect restaurants at least once a year, and we believe a comparable degree of protection is no less appropriate for customers of mobile food vending operations.

We also determined that many complaints were not investigated in a timely manner, including complaints that appeared to relate to potentially hazardous conditions. For example, an individual reported that parts of cockroaches were found inside the food sold by a vendor, but the complaint was not investigated for nearly five months. We recommend complaints be prioritized on the basis of risk, and complaint investigations be monitored more closely. We further determined that dozens of vendors were repeatedly cited for serious food handling violations, yet were allowed by DOHMH to continue operating. For example, during the two years ended May 31, 2002, 177 of these persistent violators were cited for a total of 1,446 critical violations, an average of 8.2 critical violations per vendor, including one vendor who was cited for 29 critical violations on 16 different inspections. We recommend DOHMH develop written criteria for determining when licenses should be suspended or revoked.

For a complete copy of Report 2002-N-7 click here.