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San Diego County Restaurant Grading Systems Expands To Food Trucks

Evening Edition

Aired 3/5/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.

GUESTS:

Heather Buonomo, Supervising Environmental Health Specialist, County of San Diego

Troy Johnson, dining critic and editor-at-large at San Diego Magazine

Transcript

Aired 3/5/13 on KPBS News.

San Diego County will become one of the first in the nation to expand the grading of food service to cover the growing food-truck industry. Today Supervisor Ron Roberts issues the first food-truck grade.

Patty Lane/KPBS

San Diego Surf Cuisine; Epic Eatz food truck on Carlsbad's Tamarack Beach.

Food trucks have undergone a renaissance in recent years. Their numbers have exploded. Many have gone gourmet serving everything from Chinese food to crepes - becoming the chic place to eat at trendy events around town.

But one thing they haven't been is graded by San Diego County's health department. Today that changes, as San Diego County announces the start of letter-grading for food trucks, just like the grades handed out for restaurants.

The move makes San Diego County one of the first in the nation to expand the grading of food service to cover the growing food-truck industry.

Heather Buonomo, the supervising environmental health specialist for the County of San Diego, told KPBS that food trucks have always been safe.

"They have been safe, we have been inspecting them for a long time," she said. "And what's exciting about this is now the consumers are going to know that it's safe. That card in the window allows them to make the educated choice."

But Troy Johnson, the dining critic and editor-at-large at San Diego Magazine, said for him, "food trucks have always been a little bit of a dodgier experience."

"But that's part of the thrill!" he said.

He added that the letter grades could make more people eat at food carts because they'll feel safer.

"So a whole new audience who are a little bit scared of food trucks are now going to feel more comfortable eating there," he said.

Rosie and Chris Garret own a San Diego Maui Wowi, a food cart that serves smoothies and coffee. They received one of the first letter grades from the county.

"The events that we're at are mobile events and you walk by and you're not sure, how good is this stuff, how safe is it," Garret said. "You see the A on my cart, you know I've been inspected by the health dept and you know you can feel comfortable coming to me."

The county inspects around 1,100 mobile food operations in the region, of which 550 sell to the public, but the opearators were not previousl required to display the results, Supervisor Ron Roberts said in July when the ordinance was passed. Restaurants generally display their blue letter grade on a placard in a front window.

Under the ordinance, the food trucks will receive decals instead of cards so the grades can't be transferred among vehicles.

San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts came up with the proposal about a year ago.

"We had some concerns being expressed and we saw some operators that we didn't think were necessarily doing it with a best practices approach," Roberts said.

Evening Edition

Above: Heather Buonomo, the supervising environmental health specialist for the County of San Diego, talks to KPBS about the start of letter-grading for food trucks.

Claire Trageser and City News Service contributed to this report.

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