In a post-COVID environment where many restaurants have had to reimagine how they operate, the procedures and requirements for mobile units have not changed. As it turns out, food trucks have been a blessing to many in the past several months. As people were in lockdown and only essential workers could move about, it meant that all in-restaurant dining stopped abruptly. However, not the food truck.
These mobile units were able to move into areas where essential workers were located like hospitals, grocery store areas, police and fire departments, and even highway rest stops. As of April 2020, the Federal Highway Administration began issuing permits that allowed food trucks to set up business in rest stops along major highways to feed the truckers, as they were no longer able to get meals at rest stops. This change in permitting for food truck owners was a game-changer as it helped to save many of them from going out of business permanently while serving the needs of the trucking industry.
In light of all the regulations that indoor dining operations have needed to meet since COVID began, the food truck has the least to consider.
While there are many technical and logistical hurdles a business owner must consider when opening a food truck, there is another one that often seems to be simply assumed: How they plan to keep the food fresh and healthy no matter where they take their business.
Food Safety on a Food Truck
As we know, what makes this type of foodservice operation different and so much more appealing to the owner is the fact that they are portable. Today you can pop up in the middle of a city, and tomorrow you could pop up at the beach. Running a food truck, no two days of business are the same and no two days of the target market are the same. As appealing as this may sound, it is because of their mobility that the regulations are slightly different.
As far as safe food handling is concerned, it does not matter if you are a portable or not, the regulations are clear: Food needs to come from a reliable source, be handled following time and temperature principles, and be sold or discarded within the proper limitations.
But when business owners chop down a standard restaurant kitchen into one that fits inside a truck, the differences in precautions when it comes to food safety come from outside the truck.
Food Safety Considerations for Food Trucks
Here are some rules of the road.
The mobile unit needs to be close to a potable water source.
Mobile units have limited storage capacity and may not have a permanent freshwater supply on board. Having access to a freshwater supply is necessary for food prep, washing hands and food, and sanitizing work surfaces and high-touch areas.
The mobile unit needs to be close to restroom facilities and handwashing stations.
Mobile units do not have space for a proper restroom for employees. Since it should not be expected that any employee go extended hours without using facilities, when parking for business and locating a public facility, it is highly recommended that you get permission ahead of time from the business owner to use their facilities.
All food and equipment must be inside the unit. The exception would be for a permitted open charcoal grill.
To minimize the risk of foodborne illness, contamination from the weather or pests, or even food terrorism, food and supplies need to be in control of the operator at all times. This means that regardless of what is on the menu, it must be prepared entirely within your food truck.
Only single-use dishware can be used.
As a food truck operator, you want to focus on providing tasty food quickly. Providing single-use dishware hits both marks since you don’t have to worry about doing extra dishes and the customer doesn’t have to worry about sorting the dishware when they are done eating.
The unit must be regularly cleaned, sanitized, and disinfected every 24 hours.
Because of the variety of weather environments the truck will go through, it is essential to ensure the food inside is safe to eat. The truck should go through a thorough cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting of all food-prep areas and high-touch points every day.
Constantly monitor for pests both inside and around the unit during business hours.
It’s no secret, people love food . . . but so do bugs, birds, and pests. These flying bugs, birds, and walking pests bring high levels of contaminates with them. Maintaining a clean and sanitized unit and outside service area will discourage bugs and pests from coming around.
But you need to be vigilant. One piece of bread that is not picked up could bring much unwanted attention in a very short amount of time. In addition, encourage your customers not to feed wildlife. Once you start feeding them, they will continue to visit every day you are at that location.