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Food Truck Food Safety: On the Road to Redemption

Photo of a food truck in St. Petersburg, FL

Can you trust the nosh you buy from food trucks? Once known as “roach coaches,” the twenty-first century marks a new era for food trucks. But have they shed their bad reputation faster than their bad habits?

Customers are flocking to food trucks, many of which embrace a notoriously haute cuisine menu in a remarkably small footprint. The same GPS tracking that makes it possible for hipsters to find their favorite mobile delicacies also helps health officers track the location of food trucks so they can perform inspections, with encouraging results:  A report from the Institute of Justice found that food safety violations in Boston food trucks are on par with Boston restaurants.

But another study of food truck food safety released by the California Environmental Health Specialist Network was less glowing. EHS-Net (part of the CDC) argues that food truck inspection still has a way to go. The report found that annual inspections were often scheduled and conducted during off hours when the trucks were not being used to prepare food — differing from traditional inspections, which occur during normal business hours in order to better assess daily food handling practices. Many trucks inspected during operation where found to have critical violations, including lack of hand-washing and refrigerators running too warm.

The gaps exposed by the California EHS-Net report need to be closed before we learn the hard way why we must have surprise health inspections where food is prepared and served. Listeria and E. coli can do lasting damage, and even cause death. No fancy grilled cheese sandwich — not even a triple-cheese on sourdough with tomato and bacon — is worth a trip to the hospital.

[Photo credit: City of St. Petersburg, CC BY-ND 2.0]