The food truck has evolved from local vendors selling hot dogs with “the works” in big cities like Chicago and New York to a true culinary experience with tantalizing dishes like Yorkshire pudding and Chicken Marsala. Yet, the experience of eating food stored and cooked in the back of a truck always brings a question to the mind of the diner. Is it really safe? No matter where you are cooking, bacteria in food is a very serious problem, and when temperatures are hard to regulate, it becomes even more so. Should these trucks be banned, or are they a safe culinary experience?
The Challenge – Fighting Bacteria
Fighting bacteria is a challenge for anyone in the food industry. Storing food at the proper temperature, then heating it again to the proper temperature is required in order for customers to be able to eat safely. This is challenging enough in a restaurant, but when a company packs up an entire restaurant and sticks it in a metal box, they increase the challenge tremendously. Temperatures are scorching in the summer and quite cold in the winter, and thus the drivers of these trucks need to be quite vigilant at checking temperatures of their stored and cooked foods all throughout the day.
How can a driver be certain that these steps are being taken? Checking the temperature of warming and holding equipment every two hours is vital. The internal temperature of food needs to be above 140 degrees at all times to ward off bacteria. A chart that regulates these checks will keep everyone accountable.
Avoiding Wearing Out the Chef
Cooking in a food truck is a very physically demanding job. The temperatures inside those trucks get quite high, particularly in the high traffic summer months. Adding in a high outdoor temperature with the temperature of the cooking surfaces creates a sauna. Those in charge of these mobile restaurants can get tired, and tired cooks make mistakes.
Companies that own a fleet of these trucks can prevent this from happening by focusing on proper hours of service. Working the trucks in reasonable hours, giving the chefs/drivers a break, will prevent errors due to fatigue. Sending in a fresh truck or sending in a fresh cook helps ensure that all of the cooking is done right.
Focus on Proper Hygiene
Finally, those in charge of food trucks need to ensure that proper hygiene is followed at all times. Hand washing needs to be mandatory, and the use of food service gloves, hairnets and other food health safety tools should be implemented. This will protect everyone from contamination and bacteria.
For the diner who is interested in eating from a food truck, caution is warranted. There are simply too many ways for these trucks to fail in their duty to provide safe food to their customers. Diners should always look for inspection stickers and health department compliance paperwork to ensure that the food they are consuming is safe. The consumer should also ask questions as to how often the food temperatures are checked and what safety precautions are being used, such as hand washing or glove use.
If a food truck does not look particularly clean or the food prep team does not appear to use proper hygiene, the diner should look elsewhere for a meal. It is not worthwhile to sacrifice health simply for the experience of eating out of the back of a truck.
Remember, food trucks are regularly shut down due to a failure to comply with health code regulations. So dining from one almost always brings a little bit of a risk.