Ask ML: “How Safe Is It to Eat Cart Food?”

The "Famous" Chicken & Rice Cart at 53rd & 6th Ave.


I’ve been visiting NYC for several years now and have always wanted to try some of the food carts. Big reason why I never tried is I’m scared if the food is clean or not. I go to NYC for vacation and don’t want to end up in the hospital for food poisoning or something worse. So my question is how safe is it to eat cart food?


My dear sweet Daphnie. Daphnie Daphnie Daphnie. Have you read a single word on this website? Are you seriously asking me this question, as if the answer would be anything other than “of course it’s safe!”  We do an annual event called “Street Meat Palooza” for god’s sake.  It’s like asking Joey Chestnut if it’s safe to eat hot dogs, or Amy Winehouse if it’s safe to shoot up heroin.  Of course it’s safe… well, for most people.

Listen, when you go on vacation or eat foods you’re not used to eating there is always a danger your body is going to react poorly.  I rarely get sick from eating food off of a cart but, then again, my body is a well oiled street meat eating machine.  A machine that, believe or not considering all the gross things I eat, would be put out of commission by a single Big Mac.  (I try my best to never step foot inside a McDonald’s.)  Does that mean McDonald’s is dirty or unsafe?  (Ok, maybe that’s a bad example.)

Every vacation I’ve ever taken out of this country was accompanied by some kind of gastrointestinal distress. It’s part of being a hungry traveler.  It’s not because the food is dirty… it’s because your stomach isn’t accustomed to the deliciousness.  Sweet, dirty, unsafe deliciousness.

I can’t guarantee you won’t get…uh… let’s say “problems” from eating at a street cart in New York City. But if you do, just think of it as your stomach having an “It’s Fun to Try New Things!” party.  It’s a chance I think you should take. After all, who doesn’t like a good potty… sorry, I meant party.


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    If we tell the tourists to stay from the carts then that means more for us and they can stay @ those generic delis.

    Sounds like a plan to me.

  • “Safe to shoot up heroine”

    Good selling point on the street meats.
    Indulge when you’re on vacation. Be not afraid, unless it’s the maggot cheese…

  • Come on, everyone knows that white sauce has heroin in it. That’s why I am freaking addicted.

  • Every street meat is different… once she gets brave enough to try, she should try ML picks only since we have all tried it and are still alive.

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    Daphnie — If you decide to try street meat, then find a cart with a LOT of foot traffic and turnover. I see some of the carts around Midtown with the same nasty food sitting on the grill all day and wonder how people do not get sick from it. But if it’s a cart with a lot of turnover, then chances are it’s a safer bet for you.

    This goes back to my age old question with street carts — where is the meat not being cooked stored? The Health Department made a big deal about the vendors in Red Hook getting refridgerators to store their food, so why not require all street vendors to have a small refridgerator where they can store the raw meat, white sauce, etc. Then I would feel a lot better about eating that food, aside from my concern about where the meat was marinated, where the vegetables were cut, etc.

  • I’m sick for hours every time I eat at Chop’t, but have NEVER been sick from street meat. What does this say about my guts?

    That they’re awesome.

  • KFC has killed more americans than the Taliban.

    Stop being so bloody precious.


  • actually, i would rather eat off a cart then in actual stores/resturants… like that time the guy in apple bees served me my soda with his finger inside of the cup.

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    Not to mention that vendors are subject to some serious rules and regulations under NYC law, including those that relate to safety/cleanliness. We all know how financially devastating a ticket or two can be to a vendor’s business, so there is great incentive for vendor’s to comply with the safety regulations.

  • from a street vendor, myself, signs that a cart is clean:

    – repeat customers. sick customers don’t come back. if the server is obviously friends
    with the people in line, that’s a good sign.
    – other vendors. we don’t always have the luxury of stopping for a meal, so eating off other carts inevitably happens. don’t get it twisted though, there are some serious preferences. if you see other street vendors eating it, it’s good.
    – ask questions! I know that with ice cream (my specialty) refridgeration, stock rotation, and ice cream machine and mix box cleanliness are paramount! nothing should be in the truck for more than 1 days worth of sales. so, keep us on our toes an ask when the last time we changed the mix box was. ask to see cleaning products. ask to get in the truck and inspect the freezer. just kidding about the last one, but seriously.

    hope that helps!
    <3 miss softee

  • That question, “Is it safe”, is like asking a Republican wingnut if Jesus could walk on water.

  • believe me, restaurants are not much safer than street carts. if you go to a good street cart, you won’t get sick. i’ve never gotten sick from a street cart but i’ve gotten sick from a sushi and an italian restaurant in nyc.

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    You haven’t lived until you’ve bitten into a cart 4 minute “fried” chicken thigh that’s still freaking ice cold (and raw) by the bone. I survived but not without a serious case of brain freeze.

  • And, I have to repeat an old self-imposed axiom that my wife (a medical professional) and I have often stated, and which always draws heated verbal attacks:

    We NEVER eat in restaurants (unless necessitated by traveling or business), and we would NEVER eat at a so-called ‘street cart’ under ANY circumstances.

    SORRY, but my wife (Doctor Elizabeth) and I think way too much of our continued good health than to trust it to the people who work in restaurants, food carts, and wherever else someone with a grudge, with a problem, or with a vendetta has the opportunity to adulterate, to mishandle, or to improperly ‘cook’ our food.

    That’s the way it is — that’s why I am 67 years old and in perfect health — that’s why we prepare our OWN food.

    Cheers, everyone!

  • CockChug, it boggles my mind why you post on a site dedicated to eating out. It must seem like you are wasting your ever shortening life.

  • The inmates at the max-security prison where the 400+lb “Doctor Elizabeth” is a guard call her that because she always volunteers to do the cavity searches, probing the inmates as thoroughly as any proctologist, generally eschewing gloves as she does so. With those same hands, she often prepares those meals DocChuck refers to above. Thus, when one says DocChuck is full of sh1t, one is more correct than ones may know.

  • @ docchuck,

    living until 67 but never to have eaten street meat is never to have lived at all. your good health is a true testament of your mundanity.

    may you live to 150 on a diet of tofu and room temperature water.

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    actually there is something you should probably look out for. if you go to a cart, and they have a huge pile of food on the oven, see how they serve it to someone else. If they take the food from the pile, put it on the oven, and cut it up and let it cook, go for it… if they take the food off the pile, shovel it into a container or flat bread and just hand it to the customer, keep walking because you don’t know how long thats been “simmering”. There is a cart on 6th between 23rd and 24th that i got sick at from eating there and thats EXACTLY what he did.

  • Rudy, why do you assume she’s American? ;)

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