Eating Clean: How Food Trucks Keep You Safe And Healthy
Good hygiene is a must when it comes down to the restaurants one chooses to eat at. You wouldn’t eat at a restaurant that doesn’t use fresh ingredients or one where their head cook doesn’t wash their hands.
Cleanliness is important to keep the public from getting sick from the restaurants they eat at, but it’s not like customers are allowed to pop their heads in the kitchen and examine it head to toe to make sure the kitchen is up to their standards.
Fortunately, as far back as the early 1900s, the U.S government took interest in food safety and restaurant hygiene due to the recurring disease outbreaks spread by public eating establishments, and in 1934 the first set of food safety regulations for restaurants were formed. [ A.W. Fuchs]
The first set of food safety regulations, created by the collaboration of the FDA and the U.S. Public Health Service, did not apply to food trucks as their existence wouldn’t come for another two years.
These initial regulations were eventually updated over time and continue to be updated every couple of years as scientists continue to understand the cause of food borne diseases.
These updated regulations are known as the Food Code, and when the first food truck was introduced in 1936 the Food Code spread its regulations to consider this type of eating establishment.
Like its predecessor, the modern Food Code is a voluntary set of regulations. This voluntary component signifies that these regulations are not federal law and means that each individual state must write its own set of rules, but most states mirror the recommendations given by the FDA.
The Food Code applies to both traditional-style restaurants and food trucks, and the rules don’t differ much from either establishment style.
Health inspections are given to each food establishment at least once a year, and inspectors grade restaurants off a letter scale from A through C.
Grade A is the best grade a restaurant can receive. It means the Restaurant is up to code, free of violations, and clean.
Grade B is the middle tier and means the restaurant has issues it must fix to receive a better grade. Restaurants are always welcome to try for a better score if it fully repairs its problems.
Grade C is the worst score a restaurant can receive. This score means the establishment is a risk to public health, which also means it is on the brink of closing.
Violations Food Trucks Are Inspected For And What To Look For
Health Inspectors are government officials who are fully trained on proper maintenance practices, hygiene, food quality, and preparation. Violations vary in point value.
Poor Employee Hygiene and Health
This violation considers employees’ personal hygiene as well as the establishment’s overall hygienic practices, like constant hand washing and keeping long and facial hair clean and tidy.
With food trucks, the person who takes your order is also the one who makes your food.
So, whenever you order at the next food truck you visit, inspecting the hygiene of the employee is a great way to see how clean the food stop actually is. Scanning for long unkempt hair, dirty nails, and any sign that the worker is sick are all great steps to notice hygienic red flags.
Contaminated Equipment & Inadequate Cooking
A Health Inspector will always check the equipment being used in the kitchen, from food processors to the container the ingredients are stored in.
Cross-contamination can be very dangerous as it is one of the leading causes of the spread of bacterial diseases, like salmonella.
Inadequate cooking can also be dangerous, especially when it comes down to meats and seafood which can cause sickness when cooked improperly.
The kitchen from a food truck is completely visible through the window one orders from. This makes it easy for one to examine if a worker is using contaminated equipment, which basically entails any kitchen equipment that has already been used to prepare other customer’s food.
One can also see how the food is prepared and therefore make sure that no cross-contamination occurs, and also that no food that hits the ground is being served (another form of improper cooking).
Food from an Unsafe Source & Improper Holding Temperatures/ Cooling Practices
Food from an unsafe source comes down to the manufacturer the food truck purchases its ingredients from.
Whenever a manufacturing company has any form of bacteria, disease, or contamination outbreak it can affect its suppliers, which are typically restaurant chains. Luckily, outbreaks are rare in reputable food sources, but health inspectors always need to check that these sources are reliable for the safety of the public.
Keeping food and ingredients at their proper temperature is also extremely important in order to keep it from spoiling and growing bacteria. As long as the cold ingredients that are being used are stored in refrigerators no higher than 41°F, it is completely safe to serve.
On the other hand, hot foods must be kept no lower than 141°F, this can be accomplished by storing them in slow cookers or warming trays.
These two regulations are the toughest to confirm as a customer, so when in doubt ask the employee about their food sources and temperature practices.
Still nervous to visit your local food truck?
Knowing how thoroughly food trucks are inspected and what to keep an eye out for might not be enough for those out there who consider themselves to be clean freaks or not very trusting of food that comes from a moving vehicle.
Sometimes having a second look can be the only way to ease those worries. If a food truck’s practices ever worry those who are highly concerned with the public’s health safety, keep in mind health inspections are inquired whenever a customer becomes sick from eating at an establishment or whenever a complaint about unsafe practices is made to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
When a violation is found, the restaurant is also given a certain amount of time to fix it before given a follow-up inspection.
Follow-up inspections are usually given about two weeks after the initial inspection.
All in all, food inspections are important to keep the public healthy and safe from foodborne diseases, and food trucks are no exception to these yearly inspections.
The letter grades adapted by the later version of the Food Code has also been proven to be effective.
A study conducted by the Food Safety and Community Sanitation of New York showed that sanitary violations had dropped by 41% through a span of seven years, after receiving their letter grading.
So, next time you visit your local food truck, consider the letter grade displayed on their window and remember A is the way to go. [nyc.gov]
Written by Julia Lemus