Food Truck Explosion: It's Happened Before

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The video was horrifying: a massive flash-explosion of a family-run food truck in Philadelphia. Ten people were injured and no doubt thousands who saw the caught-on-camera moment thought, "Are food trucks safe?"

It's happened before.

In 2012, a food truck was destroyed by a tank explosion while on the grounds of the Canadian National Expedition in Toronto. Luckily, it occurred at 4 a.m. and no one was injured. Last fall, a food truck caught fire and exploded before a high school football game in Fresno, Calif. Three people were injured. And in 2011, two people were sent to a hospital with burns when a "Frites 'N' Meats" truck exploded in New York.

Philadelphia authorities say this week's explosion onboard the Guatemalan food truck occurred when grills ignited propane leaking from an unused tank.

While explosions are terrifying, they are also rare. It's likely that more people are concerned about the sanitation of these meals on wheels outfits. A recent study issued by the Institute for Justice (IJ), a civil liberties law firm, reviewed 260,000 food-safety inspection reports from seven major American cities. The results were reassuring.

"In each of those cities, mobile vendors are covered by the same health codes and inspection regimes as restaurants and other brick-and-mortar businesses, allowing an apples-to-apples comparison," writes Angela C. Erickson, author of the research. "In every city examined -- Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, Seattle and Washington, D.C. -- food trucks and carts did as well as or better than restaurants."

In six out of seven cities -- Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami and Washington, D.C. -- food trucks and carts actually averaged fewer sanitation violations than restaurants, and the differences were statistically significant, the report claims.

The IJ claims the results suggest that the notion that street food is unsafe is a myth – at least when it comes to sanitation. But what about the hazard of using propane in close quarters in mobile food facilities?

The gas grill in your own back yard is a greater hazard. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says more than 7,000 home fires occur each year because of propane grills. That compares to 1,400 blazes caused by charcoal or other solid-fuel grills.

From 2007 to 2011, the NFPA says U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 8,800 home and outside fires – which caused an annual average of 10 deaths, 140 injuries and nearly $100 million in property damage.

Of the fires that caused damage to homes, more than one-quarter (27%) involved grills located in a courtyard, or on a terrace or patio. Nearly one-third (29%) ignited on an exterior balcony or open porch – just 6% started in the kitchen. In about half (43%) of the outdoor fires involving home grills, the fire started when a flammable or combustible gas or liquid caught fire.

Forget food truck hazards. The real danger begins when Dad grabs a beer, puts on his "Licensed to Grill" apron and heads to the backyard.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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