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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Street Food Trend - Do you like food from food trucks and street food carts?

How Food Truck And Street Food Cart Operators Keep Food Safe For Customers?
by Jim Chan.

Food trucks and food carts have become increasingly trendy in recent years in United States and Canada, thanks to TV shows such as Eat StreetGreat Food TruckRaceCBSFood Network's Food Truck Guide. More people are now expending their food business to the streets in recent years (see article Chatelaine - Guide to Ontario food trucks). Nowadays, food trucks and food carts are also vending at street events, private
parties, weddings, ball parks, public events and street food truck and cart festivals. 

In Toronto, the food truck trend is still under the watchful eyes of City Council. City recently plan to amend the current street vending by-law to allow food trucks to do business in hundreds of new locations. However, food truck and street food cart operators are not happy as there are restrictions in the plan that include 'vending in the spots for up to 5 hours and the truck must also be at least 50-metres/164-feet from any restaurant and at least 30-metres/98-feet from school properties.'

How safe is street food in Toronto?
Food trucks are treated by public health inspectors as mobile restaurants and are usually
inspected two to three times a year to ensure compliance of food safety requirements, using the DineSafe Inspection system
As food trucks are enclosed and have a fully equipped kitchen with running water, water heater, sinks, refrigeration system power by generator, so they can be in full compliance with the food safety laws. Food trucks that have health department's approval can serve any menu food items as a restaurant.

In Toronto, the Toronto Public Health's Food Safety Inspection records posted on the DineSafe website indicated during the past year, 159 food trucks and street food carts were inspected, 23 (14%) failed an inspection and received yellow cards and 2 (.01%) were shut down and received red cards from health inspectors. The most 

common infractions identified by inspectors are poor temperature control and lack of hot water for hand washing, cleaning and washing cooking utensils. The 2 closed by inspectors were due to no water. Red closure sign posted by health inspector  (Photo - right).

In general, food trucks and street food carts in Toronto are quite safe as the non-compliance rate of 14% is just a little higher than the other food premises' 12% non-compliance over 16,000 premises inspected.

What does it takes to get a PASS from the health inspector?
First, get to know the local public health requirements, codes and regulations apply to food
truck or street food cart and the best way to ensure getting a PASS inspection is to be your own Health Inspector and do regular self-inspection (including the commissary kitchen if it is part of the operation) . Try to identify food safety infractions and correct problems before the health inspector finds them.

Common infractions in a food truck or a street food cart:

Crucial Infractions - Infractions that present an immediate health hazard and likely to cause food borne illness. Examples: Food contamination, time-temperature abuse, lack of safe water for hand washing and cleaning, improper liquid waste storage and disposal, active pest infestations (flies, mice, rats) or any other condition that is a health hazard.
Significant Infractions - Infractions that present a potential health hazard. Examples: Food contact surfaces/equipment require cleaning or repair, refrigerators (or cooler for street food cart) able to keep food cold, missing indicating thermometers, garbage and liquid waste not store in a sanitary manner, improper cleaning and sanitizing of equipment and utensils, lack of hand washing supplies.
Ten food safety steps for self-inspection - Checklist
1. CHECK FOOD TEMPERATURE CONTROL (use your local health regulation requirements)
  • Avoid the Danger Zone. Keep cold food COLD (below 4°C/40°F) and hot food HOT
    (above 60°C/140°F) and keep frozen below -18°C/0°F (Photo - right).
  • Check refrigerators and freezers (cooler for street food cart) to ensure they have indicating thermometers and in compliance of temperature requirements.
  • Cook all hazardous food such as meat to a safe internal temperatures as required, use a probe thermometer.

2. Check food supplies and storage to ensure food protected from contamination

  • Purchase foods from approved sources only. Food can be contaminated anywhere along the supply chain, so it is important to check and reject food that are not fresh, contaminated, spoiled or not properly kept cold during transportation such as food kept in the car trunk without refrigeration (Photo - left).

  • Store cooked and ready-to-eat food items on shelves above raw food.
  • Cover food with lids or wrap and use utensils to reduce direct hand contact with prepared food.
  • Use clean safe water for making drinks, ice and preparing food.
  • Label chemicals and pesticides and store them away from food and the food preparation area.
  • Keep all food items off the floor and store on shelves, racks or pallets.

3. Check to ensure good personal hygiene from all employee 

  • Provide hot/cold running water, soap in a dispenser and 

    a supply of paper towels at all hand wash basins.
  • Ensure these basins only for hand washing and not for other purposes such as food preparation or dish washing.
  • All food handlers must wash hands thoroughly before and after handling food.
  • Wear clean outer garments and hair constraints.

4. Check food contact surfaces/equipment to ensure good maintenance/sanitation
  • Ensure all food contact surfaces are smooth, non-absorbent and easy to clean. 
  • Clean and sanitize food contact surfaces such as counter tops, cutting boards, utensils, with soap and water followed by a solution of approved sanitizer.
  • Discard damaged or deeply grooved food contact surfaces such as cutting boards (Photo - left).
  • Wash all utensils and equipment using the two or three sink method (wash-rinse-sanitize).

5. Check non-food contact surfaces/equipment to ensure good maintenance/sanitation

  • Keep food truck floors, walls and ceilings clean and in good repair.
  • Check to ensure the ventilation canopy and other equipment are clean and in good working condition.

6. Check condiments containers regularly, especially if the self-service area 

  • Keep condiments in clean containers with tight fitting lids.
  • Sauces, mayo, cheese and other condiments that need to keep cold should be kept at 4 °C/ 40 °F in the refrigerator or cooler.

7. Check waste storage/removal

  • Remove solid and liquid waste (waste water and old cooking oil) from the food truck or cart on a daily basis, or more often if necessary and store waste in a sanitary manner.
  • Waste receptacles must be leak-proof, pest-proof, non-absorbent and have tight-fitting lids.

8. Monitor pest infestation and control

  • Check for evidence of infestation such as live or dead pests, droppings, nesting sites. Ensure to cover any openings with screens to prevent pests such as flies and even
    mice, rats and birds from entering into the truck.
  • Same for street food cart if an enclosure is used as rodents such as rats and mice often look for warm hidden places and can get inside the food cart storage compartment (Photo - left).
  • Eliminate any food or water sources for pests.
  • Keep the surrounding area clean and free of food wastes

  • Check to ensure food service staff have received food handler training & certified through a Food Safety Certification Course as per local health department's requirement. Re-fresh food handlers regularly with the knowledge of safe food handling practises.
  • Keep records of food safety inspection reports by health inspectors and self-inspection reports, equipment repair and maintenance records. Review records with staff regularly as part of the quality assurance program.

Food Truck & Food Safety 

Different types of food trucks 

In my career as a health inspector, I have inspected and approved a variety of food trucks and street food carts. Here are some interesting ones I like to share with you.

1. Cow Ice Cream Truck - The udder is the soft ice cream dispenser 

2. Mr. Chestnut Food Truck - roasting chestnuts inside the truck

3. Mini Wheat Cereal Truck - Mini wheat with warm chocolate milk

Any feedback or comments on food truck article? Please leave me a message in the comment section. Thanks.

Related links on street food & food truck requirements:

New York City - Food Truck & Street Food Cart requirements

How to start a food truck business in Toronto

City of Toronto - Street food vending by-law & licensing

City of Vancouver - Street food vending permit application

California - Catering truck requirements


  1. It has been interesting working with Health Departments around the World and seeing the different standards as they relate to our Canadian built Food Carts and Food Trucks. For the last 20 years we have been putting Hot & Cold pressurized water and multiple Sinks for Hand Washing and Ware washing even in our Food Carts. Happy to see all the attention Health Hand Washing is getting. As one of the few Street Food Cart builders that can meet the strict California Health Standards as well (3 Ware wash Sinks + 1 Hand Wash Sink on a Food Cart) we're happy to see articles like this out there.

    Especially tips like "Ten food safety steps for self-inspection - Checklist" Looking froward to what you are doing and more of these articles.
    - Apollo

    1. Thank you for the comment. It is so important for street food vendors (trucks & carts) to have clean running hot/cold water to wash hands. I like the products from your company's website which built in with all the equipment health regulations usually required, especially the 1 handwashing sink & 1 3-compartment-sink for utensil washing/sanitizing. Looking forward to see more of your food trucks in Toronto.

  2. A person sent me a message via Twitter about that photo with a dead mouse in a container, the person was wondering where it was taken. The photo was taken in the storage compartment of a hot dog cart that we closes because of food safety & pest control violation. We also found some dead rats inside the enclosure where the vendor used to store food such as buns, chips etc.

  3. I am operating a food truck in New York City and my business is licensed by city official. There are illegal food carts & trucks often selling food where my business located and usually very poor food hygiene, even no water for washing.

    1. Thanks for the message. Illegal food trucks or carts can post a food safety risk to the public as often, the operations are underground types in homes, garages etc. These premises are not inspected and might have serious health infractions that can contaminate food processed in such establishments. Best is to file a complaint with the local health or licensing agencies to demand enforcement actions.

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    1. Thank you for the message. I remember the inspection of Toronto ice cream trucks at the Crossway Office at Dundas St W/Bloor St. for license renewal.

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  11. As a food truck vendor in New York City, I often see illegal trucks come by to steal business at events or street parties. You can see that they do not follow health requirements and some don't even have water and power to run refrigeration system. Good suggestion in this article that health inspectors must check, monitor and give inspection rates and signs to post. This will identify the illegal or the uninspected trucks that are risky to the customers.

    1. Thank you for the message. Illegal food truck not inspected by health inspectors and not licensed can be a serious health hazard to the public, as food may not be handled safely, dirty water used to clean utensils, disposing waste water & old grease illegally causing environmental problems. I suggest that you may want to complain to the NYC licensing dept. & health dept. about these illegal truck, a call to the NYC Mayor office may help?

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