Mobile cuisine or food from a food truck has become a popular and convenient way to get a meal and try a new food for many people in cities across the country.
If you are like Detective Foodsafe®, wondering about the safety of some of the foods coming out of these mobile restaurants has also increased.
Not all food trucks are created equal – – or use the same preparation and cleaning practices – – and those of you who have sampled some of their items have started to look more closely at the trucks, staff, and the foods coming from these mobile units to be sure the food is safe to eat.
Mobile cuisine is not new. Most of us grew up getting ice cream from the wandering truck that played its merry tune as it drove through the neighborhood. You may also have snacked on a hot dog plucked from a pot of boiling water on a cart at the park.
Food on wheels has become more elevated with every cuisine imaginable in a time when speed and convenience has caused the demand for it to skyrocket.
Rules of the Road
Food trucks are required to have appropriate licenses and permits, obtained by registering with the local government in order to operate within the city.
Food trucks are under the auspices of the local health department and should be inspected at least annually to ensure that they are operating in compliance of the Food and Drug Administration food code.
These violations that can lead to foodborne illness and can lead to not just fines, but even closure if they are not being managed. They include:
- Observing proper hand-washing
- Verifying food is coming from an approved source
- Ensuring that foods are kept at safe temperatures throughout the entire process – handling, preparing, transporting and serving
- Determining that no cross-contamination has occurred between raw and cooked products
These items can also affect the risk of food poisoning and will be checked upon inspection as well:
- Labeled food storage containers
- Current operator permits and staff training in food handling and the FDA food code
- Properly calibrated meat thermometers
- Properly cleaned floors, walls, and ceilings
- Pest management
The staff is also taught about illness and how their hygiene can affect their customers, when to send someone home or keep them away from food prep areas and when they can return to work.
Proper documentation is essential for food trucks to validate their safe food practices.
A restaurant on wheels isn’t free to roam the city without following the same rules and standards to which brick and mortar restaurants are held accountable.
But what happens throughout the year or if they aren’t registering with the health department?
Food Truck Inspections
Detective Foodsafe knows that more food trucks get shut down because of violations of the health code than restaurants. She has inspected many and knows how easily they can put consumers at risk of food poisoning.
In LA, food trucks fail to get an A grade on inspections 27% of the time and 4% get shut down. This is a typical scenario across the country.
Much of the time, food trucks are found to be in violation due to the fact that they have no running water. It is vital for food safety to have accessible clean water.
No water means no hands are getting washed, produce isn’t being rinsed, or surfaces getting cleaned according to Detective Foodsafe.
In many food trucks, employees do double duty, preparing food and taking money, which requires resources to wash hands to prevent the spread of germs and cross contamination.
Food trucks get shut down for one to two weeks until all violations can be remedied. The overall numbers show that violations for food trucks are lower per inspection than restaurants but their violations pose a more serious risk to health.
Not all cities currently require food trucks to post their safety score as restaurants do, although many locales do use that same system. Luckily other cities are adopting it.
Additional Food Safety Concerns
That isn’t the end of the food safety concern for Detective Foodsafe. Because most food trucks complete food preparation in another location and load the prepared food on the truck for service later, the food could be at risk.
Are the employees doing the preparation getting food handling training?
Where are they preparing the food and is that location inspected to be sure it meets standards? If they use a rented kitchen, Detective Foodsafe wants to know who is responsible for keeping that kitchen and equipment clean and the premises pest free?
Detective Foodsafe has big concerns including whether food served from a truck has been stored at the proper temperature after preparation and during transport, if steps were taken to prevent cross contamination and if the prep kitchen is sanitary.
If you want to learn more about your local food trucks, you can ask to see their inspection report or check them out online at your health department food inspection website. Most county or state inspections are now listed online so consumers can see the violations your favorite food truck got and how they are correcting them.
Better safe than sorry says Detective Foodsafe because food borne illness is no fun!