Fine? Dining

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) It's the lunch rush at UVM. Even in November, the lines are long, the customers are hungry and palates are diverse. From classic eats to fancy treats, food trucks have come a long way.

"Thirty-five years. We were the first vendor up here," food truck owner Pam Bissonnette said.

Pam Bissonnette and her husband, George, paved the way back in 1982.

"The first day we came up, we had the caterers up here come with the police and say, 'This is UVM property, you can't be here,'" Pam Bissonnette said.

They had the vending permit and were able to stay. Now, food trucks fight for a coveted spot on this city street.

"We want people to see the truck and say, 'That looks like something I want food from,'" Solomon Bayer-Pacht said.

Bayer-Pacht is a newcomer to the block, serving gourmet grub from a fancy truck, hoping an investment in style can overcome an old stigma.

"Roach coaches-- that old phrase which we certainly want to eliminate," Bayer-Pacht said.

Food truck fanatics we talked to don't seem fazed by this stereotype.

"My food is pretty clean," Christopher Bratkovics said.

"Hmmm, no. I tend not to think about it much," Maddie Schaal said.

"They're clean enough," Anthony Dimario said. "I've never gotten food poisoning from them."

Walk a few blocks from University Place and diners are a bit more skeptical.

"You just kind of want to look inside and see what's going on back there and see who's working them," Jessica Tuttle said.

"I would be questioning the cleanliness and the quality of the food," Gail Stapleton said. "Is it something that is going to make me sick?"

To settle the debate, WCAX News dug up the most recent health inspections from 28 popular trucks.

Reporter Jennifer Costa: That score is important to you?
Ruth Gallagher: Oh, absolutely.

Food trucks are held to the same standards as full-scale restaurants. During surprise visits, more than a dozen critical items like cooking and cooling temperatures, food storage, hygiene, pests and plumbing are weighted more heavily. They're more likely to contribute to foodborne illness and must be fixed on the spot. Trucks that score less than 70 are shut down and re-inspected before they can reopen.

"We always remind folks that it is just a snapshot in time," said Elisabeth Wirsing, the chief of the Vermont Food and Lodging Program. "People focus on the number and maybe not what the actual observation was."

So how clean are they? And do they deserve the dirty dining reputation?

"Well, their kitchen is right out there. Everybody can see," Frank Kochman said.

Turns out these trucks perform pretty well. Our investigation revealed an average score of 95. That's compared to 86 for the restaurant average.

"These health inspector tests are tough," Bayer-Pacht said. "They look at everything. They want everything perfect."

"We try to get to them once a season, at least," Wirsing said.

But we discovered that doesn't happen. More than one-third of the food truck reports we got from the health department are at least a year old.

Jennifer Costa: The date on these is 2015. Does that mean that these food trucks have not been inspected in more than two years?
Elisabeth Wirsing: So we don't get to all of them as often as we'd like due to limited resources.

But some trucks, like Farmers and Foragers, are inspected multiple times a year. That happens when vendors attend fairs and festivals. Unlike unannounced visits, they plan to see the inspectors at these events.

"The September 8th Art Hop only time this summer we didn't get a 100," Bayer-Pacht said. "Food trucks across the state tend to be clean, tend to be organized, because if you're not, you're not going to be very successful."

Success has been on the Bissonnettes' menu for decades. They're most recent score-- 100. With that, these food truck pioneers tell us it's time to hang up their aprons.

"We are retiring at the end of this semester," Pam Bissonnette said.

We learned there are nine health inspectors for 6,000 dining establishments in Vermont.

Here is a look at some of the inspection reports.

FOOD TRUCKS:

Click here for the inspection reports of 28 popular food trucks in Vermont.

Additional food truck inspection reports:

Ahli Babas

Lucky Chinese

May's Dim Sum

RANDOM SAMPLING OF VERMONT RESTAURANTS:

American Flatbread

Bailiwick's St Johnsbury

Bennington Station

Blue Paddle Bistro South Hero

Butches & Babes Burlington

Cornerstone Pub and Kitchen Barre

Down Home Kitchen Montpelier

FUDA Chinese Restaurant Burlington

Gill's Delicatessan Rutland

Hen of the Woods

Istanbul Kebab House Burlington

KOTO Restaurant

L&M Diner Barre

Leunigs Bistro Burlington

Martone's Essex

Miss Lyndonville Diner

Papa Frank's Winooski

Parsons Corner Barton

Pho Hong Burlington

Prohibition Pig Waterbury

Shalimar of India Burlington

Shanty Restaurant Burlington

Sherpa Kitchen Burlington

Sweetwaters Burlington

Table 24 Rutland

The Kitchen Table Bistro Richmond

The Mad Taco

Tiny Thai Winooski

Top of the Hill Grille Brattleboro

Vermont Tap House Williston