The NYDN Article About Street Vendor Food Poisoning is the Kind of Rat Shit You’d Probably Get Food Poisoning From Eating
I’ll try to make this short and sweet because we all have better things to do than read about how poorly researched a New York Daily News article is… but a lot’s been made of the report yesterday that between June of 2011 and June 2014 the city of New York received 359 reports of food poisoning to their 311 hotline. The article goes on to insinuate that this is because street food carts are dirty and unregulated, unlike restaurants which get regular visits from the Department of Health.
As a noted lover of street food, my initial response was to wonder if 359 is a lot. On the surface it seems like that’s a lot of food poisoning… but in a city of over 8 million people, with 5000+ street food carts and 24,000+ food businesses covered under the department of health, is that number a lot? There’s no mention in the article of how many complaints were received about brick and mortar businesses. Just a lot of anecdotes involving tainted chicken, a green spotted hot dog, and the inexplicable chest hair “wafting onto the grill”. (That’s some pretty long chest hair!)
Nobody likes chest hair in their food, but we’ve got some bad news for those of you who think street food is dirtier than food served underneath and roof, surrounded by four walls. It’s not. And it wasn’t too hard to find the data to prove it.
A quick google search and I found this site which compiles all the data from 311 calls in New York City. According to the site, since 2010 there have been 635 reported cases of food poisoning from food cart vendors. In that same period, do you know how many complaints were lodged against restaurants, bars, delis and bakeries? (They’re all lumped into one category on the site.) 11,057. I’m no Nate Silver, but even accounting for the fact that there are more brick and mortar businesses selling food than there are street vendors, it seems like you are just as likely to complain about food poisoning from eating at a street food vendor as you are from a restaurant, bar, deli or bakery (if not more likely.)
Obviously we won’t get a retraction, because the specific stats they posted were true. But let’s hope the authors of the article and those they got quotes from (we’re looking at you Daniel Biederman, president of the 34th Street Partnership) feel at least a little ashamed that they blatantly cherry picked statistics to further the horrible myth that street food vendors are any more dirty than regular food establishments.