Food Trucks and Food Safety- A Look Into Mobile Hygiene
Food trucks offer a level of convenience and affordability that restaurants can't match. But with this convenience comes an increased responsibility towards food safety.
With new and trendy food trucks rapidly becoming a respected venue for food, the focus on them as a new business opportunity has grown immensely over opening a brick and mortar location. Not only do they present a low barrier to entry into the food industry but also the overall requirements for management make them a tantalizing option for those opening up a new business.
However, as is expected with any business, the small size and mobility of food trucks do come with their share of drawbacks. One of the most notable being issues related to space. Most food truck owners are faced with managing high food quality standards in a much more confined condition.
This means less room to work in with about the same level of work as a standard brick and mortar restaurant. This decreased level of space adds an increased level of difficulty towards cleaning and sanitization with easy opportunities for food poisoning from cross-contamination and human error with food safety practices.
Improper Food Truck Management and Safety
While food trucks do represent an easier option for entering the mobile food space they still have a high percentage of failure with around 60% of food truck businesses closing down within three years of opening.
From a glance, this number is staggering but it is not surprising. According to data pulled from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, they found that about 27% of food trucks in the city received a grade lower than an A from health inspections in the last two years. By comparison, only 5% of restaurants in the same city missed the mark on their inspection reports.
This demonstrates that despite food trucks becoming more popular, they face greater challenges related to food health and safety.
Food truck operators, like restaurant owners, are required by law to post their last food safety inspection reports on their window. This standard procedure is done to provide consumers a point of reference when deciding which mobile street food vendor is the best option to satisfy their hunger pangs.
What about those food trucks that don’t make the cut? As the LA Times reported, problems with food truck hygiene range from gross to even dangerous. Rodent infestations and droppings are among the most common and most disturbing finds. But what’s worse is that food safety inspection services aren’t always adequately staffed. In LA, for example, only 40% of trucks and mobile food carts were inspected at all in 2014.
The Harsh Reality of Food Truck Management
While many of the issues related to food truck management may seem to stem from a lack of effort on behalf of the business owner, it really only touches on a small part of the problem. Most of the food safety challenges surrounding food trucks are due to their size.
Despite the ease of entry into opening a food truck, they are still fairly difficult to manage. The working space afforded to food truck chefs is often much smaller than a personal kitchen. This makes several aspects of maintaining sanitary conditions on a truck that much more involved.
For trucks that keep their produce and other ingredients aboard, they run the risk of infiltration by rodents. Smaller spaces also mean easier access from outside pests and an increased risk of total contamination of all stored food given lack of overall space.
While risks associated with outside pests is one of the most prevalent issues with owning a food truck, additional risks also include-
- Cross-contamination with ready-to-eat foods
- Inadequately sanitized surfaces
- Improper refrigeration
- Improper hand-washing procedures
These risks pose an inherent challenge to food truck owners in determining whether their food is safe to eat. However, like failures with restaurant management, almost every food safety failure with food trucks can be addressed with a comprehensive series of standard operating procedures.
Standard Operating Procedures
The simple truth is it’s hard to maintain safe food standards in the limited space provided by a food truck. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, with the right tools, food truck management can be made easy. Following these steps can help to minimize the potential risks of a foodborne illness outbreak-
1. Wash your hands and change your gloves regularly
It may seem obvious but dirty hands are one of the easiest ways to spread foodborne illness. Washing your hands immediately before and after any kind of food handling is crucial to ensuring the highest standards of hygiene for your food truck business.
This goes not only for those preparing the food but for all employees, as well. Additionally, always make sure that everyone washes their hands after handling money to prevent posing a health risk for your consumers.
2. Properly store refrigerated foods
Storing foods at 40°F or lower is necessary to minimize bacterial growth. This stresses the importance of having the proper equipment on hand to ensure your food isn’t entering the danger zone.
Additionally, some food can only be refrigerated for so long before it needs to be either used or discarded. It’s extremely important that food truck owners pay close attention to expiration dates while storing their food and other items.
3. Cleaning and sanitization of all food preparation and cooking stations
To avoid cross-contamination and issues with food poisoning, clean all-
- Cutting boards
- Pots and pans
- Other surfaces in contact with food
These precautions are necessary for ensuring food is safe to eat while avoiding food health hazards.
4. Familiarize yourself with local health codes
Having an understanding of the codes in place by your state and local health departments related to food safety is paramount to developing a comprehensive strategy for your mobile food business. By taking into account the requirements set in place by the state or county your business is located, food truck operators are far better equipped to manage their business more effectively within compliance standards and avoid visits from health officials.
You can find a complete list of regulations required by each state on the FDA’s website.
5. Keep a reliable thermometer inside the truck
Temperature control is among the more reoccurring challenges that every food business must deal with. Ensuring that your staff has access to a reliable temperature gauge or thermometer is necessary to properly manage that the mobile cuisines you are serving are within a temperature range that does not promote the spread of microorganisms.
6. Wash all produce
Over the past few years, outbreaks of food poisoning related to bacteria-laden produce have been a hot button issue experienced by food vendors throughout the United States.
Dirty produce poses its own for health risk for mobile restaurants due to the fact that it is not easily recognizable that your produce has illness-causing bacteria present on it. To be certain that you’ve removed potentially harmful bacteria, it is imperative that all produce is hand-washed prior to being prepared for consumption.
Food trucks provide those new to the food and restaurant industry an easier access point to an otherwise very competitive industry. Despite this increased accessibility, there are still challenges to face and strategies to put in place when opening your business-
- Ensuring the highest standard of care when storing your food can prevent the spread of a foodborne illness outbreak and infestations from rodents and other pests
- Building out a comprehensive list of standard operating procedures is necessary to keep yourself and employees in check when handling interactions with any food items