On Monday and Tuesday of this week, WAVE 3 broadcast segments by Troubleshooter Eric Flack titled "Health department worried about food truck sanitation, safety" and "Councilman: Letter grades coming for food trucks." Both videos are embedded at the end of this article. The pieces were quickly derided as unfair and untrue by Louisville food trucks and their numerous tweeting fans. Last night Grind Gourmet Burger Truck posted a response by co-owner Liz Huot on its website. Grind gave Eater Louisville permission to republish it here. We've made no changes to the text, save bolding some elements of it.
Wave 3 News Response
As with anyone who has followed the chain of events over the past couple of days you are probably aware of the Wave 3 news investigative report conducted by Eric Flack about the cleanliness of food trucks. The link to the report is at the bottom of this post but the idea is that trucks are not as clean as brick and mortar establishments. This was "proven" by Louisville Metro Health Department Representative, Connie Mendel laughing on camera when asked if she ate at food trucks (No, really. She was that unprofessional), by the undercover filming of a temporary mobile food vendor using tubs of dirty water to wash utensils and by the owner of French Indo Canada doing a poor job of articulating his use of his 3 compartment sinks. Let's address each of these:
#1 - A representative from the Health Department publicly damning mobile food operations is completely irresponsible and unprofessional. Sure, established food truck customers know better but what about the people that just aren't sure? This confirmed their suspicions. The real question that should be asked though is that if the Health Department doesn't think we're safe to eat from then why are they continuing to issue permits? Aren't they there for the sole purpose to protect public health?
#2 - They chose to highlight a BBQ vendor that operates on a 14 day permit. In case you're not familiar with the difference, these types of operations do not have legal plumbing and therefore are not eligible for the Statewide annual permit that most of the food trucks you're familiar with have. Now, this doesn't make them bad. There are plenty of wonderful, safe, mobile vendors that work on temporary permits HOWEVER this was obviously not who they chose to film. This gross, sensationalist tactic resulted in giving the viewer the impression that all food trucks operate in this manner. Simply not true. Statewide Annual permit holders are required to have a licensed master plumber draw up and install their plumbing systems which costs somewhere to the tune of $2000+; not the $20 worth of bus tubs the vendor in the clip was using.
#3 - The entire food truck community let out a collective groan each of the 35 times we've seen the clip and heard Rob Ross of French Indo Canada explain how he did not use his sinks. I make no excuses for anyone but if you've ever spoken to Rob for longer than 5 minutes you know he is just not always very well spoken. I know for a fact that any trucks I have ever boarded or spoken to use their sinks. I mean, why wouldn't we? What Rob failed to explain was that the 3 compartment sinks (for washing dishes) are typically not in use during service. Why? Because we're busy serving during the 3 or 4 hour window we're open and leaving people at the window who are trying to order to take a 'dish washing break' just doesn't make sense. What does make sense? Bringing extra of everything so that if something does fall or become contaminated you can quickly take it to the sink and start using a fresh clean one without breaking stride. And of course, if something needs to be washed we immediately wash it. Again, why would we make a $2000 investment into sinks and just defiantly not use them and run the risk of making customers sick? We wouldn't. That's stupid. So no, we don't typically find ourselves in need of using our 3 compartment sinks during service but we do use them after service to clean the things we used during service. Make sense? Good. Let's move forward.
After a huge public outcry on Twitter and Facebook Mr. Flack decided to do a follow up story. Trucks were given the impression that this follow up would show both sides of the story. I requested to be contacted for this but was not. The follow up was nothing more than Councilman Kevin Kramer explaining that the health department was going to start issuing the same letter placards for food trucks that restaurants already have and it was presented almost as if we had better watch out; as if it were a punishment. Had Mr. Flack bothered to do his research he would have learned that we have actually been pushing for this to happen anyway. Do you know how much of an uphill battle it is to prove to the uneducated consumer that we're clean and safe? We got 100% on our last inspection. I'd be thrilled to be able to post that big letter A. This also makes each truck more accountable for what they're doing and their safe practices because it ultimately and very publicly will affect their business and sales. So, don't threaten me with a good time, Kevin Kramer!
In the end I realize these sensationalist stories are all about getting ratings. I don't fault Eric Flack for doing the story but I do fault him giving so much weight to someone as obviously biased and ignorant as Connie Mendel. I also think the focus on the clearly, strategically chosen mobile vendor they decided to highlight was unfair. Grind alone on Twitter earned them tons of completely undeserved ratings last night for this foolish story and had it resulted in a more fair follow up story I might have been alright with it but since it did not - here we are. We along with all the legally permitted food trucks in this city, excuse my language, bust our asses trying to do it all and be it all for our customers. There is not one food truck owner in this city that hasn't fully thrown themselves into their business financially, creatively and emotionally. These trucks pay our bills, help us take care of our families and give us an outlet to be creative in a way that most people don't get the opportunity to do. I can only speak for Jesse and I (and as you all know we've been and are very public about how we got to where we are) but we have over $30,000 invested in this business and I couldn't even begin to tell you how many hours. We have worked over 2 years building a brand that we're exceptionally proud of and for one woman from the health department and one guy from a news station to tarnish that for ratings, I take issue. So I encourage you to do what you've been doing since the beginning. Support your local trucks that you love and defend us the way you have been and how I've heard you defend at our windows and events to the haters and don't let this nonsense get us down. Last night we proved that we're an army and we won't stand for bullying or unsubstantiated claims. Keep on truckin'.
WAVE 3: "Health department worried about food truck sanitation, safety" (July 15)