Wade Vaughn, an auditor visiting Boston from Tampa, had no qualms Thursday about buying his lunch from a food truck, even after disclosure that widespread health code violations had shut down one of the city’s most popular mobile kitchens.
“I just don’t think about the safety aspect,” he said while browsing the trucks at Dewey Square. “Eating in public, eating food you didn’t prepare yourself, is a crapshoot. It just is, so I don’t bother thinking about it. I just love the concept. We live in a mobile era.”
Not even crushing heat combined with the shutdown of Clover Food Labs could keep fans away from Boston’s burgeoning food truck scene Thursday. The mobile kitchens had ample business from customers who mostly said they trusted that the food trucks were taking proper precautions.
But missing from the scene was Clover, which voluntarily pulled its trucks off the street after being informed by the state Department of Public Health of a salmonella outbreak affecting 12 people, at least half of whom ate at one of the restaurant and food-truck chain’s locations.
“You know, I am still comfortable with the food trucks,” said Leslie Forde, who was in the Financial District for a meeting and planning to grab a bite from a food truck. “I admit when they were new, I was more reticent and often wondered how they could be kept clean, how instruments and equipment could get sanitized, and things like that. But as they grew and became more popular, it became pretty clear to me that they were very well run, and very well organized.”
‘Eating in public, eating food you didn’t prepare yourself, is a crapshoot. It just is.’
Tiffany Beck, a receptionist whose office was near Dewey Square, was less comfortable.
“I understand why people would continue going to them if they’re used to them. It’s a risk in my mind, because can you keep trucks as safe and clean as you can a restaurant in a regular location? I might visit a food truck if someone I know well recommends a specific truck. But that’s the only way.”
Okella Wood, an information technology worker in the Financial District, also said that eating in public is “kind of done at our own risk,” but he insisted that he would continue to patronize food trucks, but with certain conditions. The truck has to have the vibe of a busy fish market, Wood said, before he will purchase food from it.
“You can go to three or four different fish markets, and there’s always a few that put off a bad vibe and have no customers,” Wood said. “Then there’s that one with a line out the door. That one’s safe, I’m assuming.”
A certain risk comes with eating at any restaurant, said Ben Shimamura, a chef and restaurant consultant who was out checking out the trucks at Dewey Square. “I’m absolutely convinced that these trucks — all of [them] in general — are every bit as safe as any restaurant. And I have no special worries about food safety or sanitation. I’ll keep eating at them as long as they’re around.”
Shimamura said that he trained at Johnson & Wales under Clover’s Chef Rolando Robledo.
“I expect them to be held to high standards like everyone else,” he said. “But sometimes things go wrong in spite of protocol. And I know their professionalism and work ethic, so I’m confident that they’ll fix whatever issues they were flagged on, and they’ll come back stronger and just as popular. But bottom line, this isn’t going to stop me from eating at food trucks.”
Not so for Miranda Barnes, a temporary worker in the Financial District who said that food safety and sanitation are enough of a concern for her that she might eat less frequently at food trucks.
“I’ll be a little more picky,” she said. “But in the end, they’re probably all safer now, because I’ll bet the city’s going to be keeping a closer eye on them all, thanks to the Clover thing.
“I’m still going to take a chance on my favorite sweet spot, though, the Cookie Monstah truck. That’s worth the risk.”