Getting food quickly has often been associated with greasy, sloppy menu items until recently. Food trucks are popping up on streets of metro areas across the United States in astounding figures. These trucks are outfitted by already established restaurants or new ventures of many varieties looking to find a unique niche in their towns. Suddenly, fine dining and artisanal food craft has become mobile, but the explosion has become somewhat muted by legislation and repetitiveness.
In her August 4 article, “Food truck popularity outrunning hygiene” featured in the Boston Globe, Deborah Katz took a look at her city’s surge in food trucks, and with 75 to choose from, she had plenty of options. But after examining the health records of the dozens of trucks in town, she discovered an alarming statistic. 41 percent of these trucks were docked for violations in food safety, which put their customers at risk. Some of the trucks sanctioned had been multiple violators, which resulted in nine suspensions of licenses. In the same period, more than 4,000 traditional style restaurants in the city produced just 87 violations.
In the Los Angeles area, where many consider to be the origination of the food truck movement, mobile food operators have joined together to keep one another safe and aware of new laws that could affect their business. The Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association (SoCalMFVA) is comprised of food truck owners and employees alike. The organization features a list of “best practices” for food trucks on its website aimed toward current and prospective mobile food operators. The practices include the movement of the vehicle and its operators, as well as a very explicit list of food safety operations listed below.
1. Wash your hands in 100º for at least 15 seconds after every restroom visit, and after handling food directly.
2. Wash, rinse, sanitize.
3. Do not handle foods with your bare hands.
4. Do not work when ill.
5. Hot temps must be kept above 135º
6. Cold temps must stay below 41º
7. Avoid the temperature danger zone: 42º - 134º
8. Cool items at the appropriate time intervals. 135º to 70º within two hours, 70º to 41º within 2 hours.
9. Do not cross contaminate your food items.
This list is certainly a good start for thinking about the safety of your employees and customers, but as the food truck explosion enters uncharted territories, local government representatives have begun to put in new laws, which set many mobile food establishments back. If you are unsure of what the laws are, it would be best to contact your city or county government to make sure you are in line. Violations, as mentioned before, can create work stoppage, and in turn, bad word of mouth, a crucial component for the success of any food truck.
Keeping track of the legislation affecting your mobile food service is just one of many aspects in maintaining success while you’re on the road. Marketability is just as important with your food truck as it is your already established restaurant. For restaurants looking to branch out or prospective food truck owners looking to make their mark, visibility is key. Your location could change from day-to-day whether by choice or because of street closings. Make sure your fans know where you are. Pi Pizzeria, a popular Chicago style deep dish pizza restaurant in St. Louis, has used a food truck to accommodate its fans during the lunch rush when they can’t get to one of the five locations. The restaurant uses its Facebook and Twitter pages to let their patrons know where the truck will show up on a daily basis. Less frequently used food truck operations have normal hours at normal locations, so its fan base knows when and where they can get some of their favorite grub. No matter which strategy you employ, it’s best to keep your fans in the know of your whereabouts. They’re the main source of your income. If they want to come back and see you, they most certainly will.
As with your permanent restaurant locations, the craft of your menu will go a long way in running a successful food trucks. Often times, well established restaurants will test out a new menu item on the road before bringing it into the store. This can be a good way to gauge popularity on an item, but don’t overload your lineup with new fare. Your patronage is coming to you for a reason, and they expect to see a few of the usual items at your truck. If you’re new to the restaurant scene and are using a food truck for the first time, you have everything to gain. Go all in and see what works and what doesn’t. Food trucks are indeed a craze, but long-term sustainability for trucks and the industry in general can be possible if you follow the law, attain visibility and use your creative intuition. You are entering a unique sphere of the restaurant world. Use it to your advantage.