More than a vehicle and not quite a restaurant—food trucks have been the ultimate problem for the state, regional, and local health departments for years. Because the guidelines were uncertain, health inspections used to be an unknown for new food truckers, with some receiving citations or even having to shut down. Fortunately, enough years have gone by for a proper system to be put into place, so you shouldn’t be caught off guard when your food truck gets inspected.
Although the requirements change between states and counties, there is a general code of health that the Food and Drug Association (FDA) requires all food truckers to maintain. Today, we’re going to help you get up to standards and be ready for that all-important annual food truck health inspection. Follow the guidelines below so that your food truck business is never interrupted or your reputation tarnished with health citations.
A Food Truck Health Inspection Can Happen Any Day
Get prepared now because food truck health inspectors come unannounced. Depending on where your business is located, you can receive an inspector from the federal, state, or county level, and each one has the power to issue fines and citations.
Three types of health inspections can be conducted at a food truck or food cart:
- A routine inspection. Once a year, an inspector drops in unannounced to see if your food truck complies with local food regulations. A routine inspection verifies that your business is sanitary and doesn’t breed food-borne illnesses.
- A complaint inspection. This might be the most serious inspection for a food truck owner. When a customer gets sick or files a complaint about possible unsafe practices at your business, the health department does not take it lightly. A thorough and intense inspection follows, and most likely, he or she will take samples of suspicious materials for testing.
- A follow-up inspection. Inspectors don’t want to shut down your business, so second chances are given to rectify violations. In a follow-up inspection, the inspector is coming back to see if you made the necessary changes. If this happens to you, make sure your food truck is prepared within the given timeframe.
Most mobile vendors dread health inspections, but it’s also an opportunity to learn more. Inspectors are trained in proper food maintenance, preparation, and quality practices, and can show you how to improve your operations or techniques. Get your food truck ready for an inspection so that instead of worrying about a citation, you can take advantage of having a food specialist in front of you.
What to Focus On
It’s important to always prepare for your food truck to get inspected, to ensure you’re ready at all times; here are the key things you need to check regularly on your truck. The list below will give you proper insight into the most common things inspectors look out for when inspecting a food truck.
Food (Storage, Ingredients, Preparation, And Ingredients)
- Ensure that all food on the truck is safe for consumption.
- Keep raw meat away from already cooked food or items.
- Ensure to label all food storage containers are labeled appropriately, with storage date and time.
- Make sure that Foods that are left out in a prep area are not exposed for a prolonged amount of time.
- Remember to store all food items at safe temperatures, particularly meat and dairy products.
- Make sure to serve cooked immediately or refrigerate quickly.
- Store all paper products and other service items for customers in a clean place until they are used.
- Ensure that your refrigerators and freezers have thermometers inside to monitor temperatures.
- Keep cleaning products or products with toxic chemicals away in designated areas.
- Reserve a separate sink exclusively for hand-washing.
- Make sure your truck is adequately ventilated and is properly equipped with all required systems.
- Your team uses a commissary as necessary for tasks that are not allowed to be performed on the truck.
- Cleaning and Sanitary Conditions
- Ensure that All licenses and permits are in order.
- Remember to regularly update the records for everything in your truck (including hand-washing, ingredients, cleaning schedules, etc.).
The Health Inspection
The most important thing to note is that health inspections aren’t designed to antagonize food vendors, but to protect the public from food-related illnesses that could occur ear a result of improper or poor preparation of food.
The Health Inspector
Government officials conduct food truck health inspections at either the federal, state, or local level. The typical health inspector has a college science degree. They are also a specialist trained in proper food quality, maintenance, and preparation practices.
The main tasks of a health inspector include the following:
- Educate mobile restaurateurs and staff on safe food handling and preparation.
- Conduct inspections of food trucks and carts to assure local, state, and federal health codes are being followed.
- Issue citations or fines in cases of egregious violation.
- Collect samples, if necessary, to trace the possible sources of a food poisoning outbreak.
- Prepare inspection reports that are available online or on public records at a local office.
The Most Critical Health Code Violation that Inspectors Look For
Above all else, health inspectors are looking for causes of food-borne illnesses. Food-safety practices are observed to verify that critical violations are not happening, including the following:
- Irregular and improper hand washing.
- Food not coming from a licensed and responsible source like a grocery store.
- The right temperatures not being maintained for ingredients.
- Cross-contamination between raw and uncooked ingredients.
Potentially Hazardous Foods
Because foodborne illnesses are the most dangerous, inspectors focus on food holdings and temperatures that meat, poultry, and seafood products are stored in. He or she is also looking for bacteria, mold, and other health-related risks.
Health Inspectors Also Look for Noncritical Violations
Noncritical violations don’t contribute to food-borne illnesses, but the standards are just as important to comply with:
- Food storage containers not labeled.
- The mobile vendor permits not current.
- Floors, walls, and ceilings not properly cleaned.
- Meat thermometers not calibrated.
Read Up on Health Codes
Think of your health inspection as a pop quiz. As the operator of a food truck, you’re expected to know your local health codes and give your staff the right training. Don’t be surprised when the inspector asks your staff or your questions about safe food handling and preparation. Below are some examples of questions:
- Where and how are your vegetables washed?
- Which foods are prepared from scratch? How do you label them?
- Who does your pest control?
- What is your procedure for limiting bare-hand-contact with ready-to-eat foods?
Inspectors are also looking at the health of your employees and might ask what the policy is for reporting illnesses or injuries of the staff. In the event a customer complains after getting sick, health inspectors will check your medical reports to see if a sick employee handled food, and samples will be taken to see if the food was contaminated with an illness.
There have been instances where food trucks were shut down until all employees were healthy again, and the truck sterilized. Keeping written records of your employee sick days helps to avoid this from happening and preserves your brand’s reputation.
The upkeep of health codes is a daily responsibility and requires you to establish firm procedures with staff. To pass a food truck health inspection, maintain high standards, and follow these guidelines.
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