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Friday, 12 June 2015

Street food carts

Street Food Cart – Is the notion that street food is unsafe a myth?
Toronto is a great place to enjoy street food. Residents, visitors, tourists as well as office workers can step outside and buy delicious street foods from a local food cart serving
ethnically diverse and tasty street foods.

In 2007, the Ontario Government changed the law to allow street food items such as fresh fruits, salad, corn on cob, samosa, pizza in addition to the traditional hot dog and sausage that the customers have been enjoying for years. Recently, City of Toronto's Council has been expanding the variety of food sold through street food vendors, focusing on foods that represent the cultural diversity of Toronto, while expanding the geographical area in which vendors can operate, and increasing more accessible locations.

Toronto Street Food

Food safety requirements for street food cart and truck
Street food carts subject to the same health regulation as all other food premises in Toronto, and the food safety requirements are enforced by Public Health Inspectors.

To be a good street food cart operator, you should have a valid Food Handler Certificate, a food safety plan and a base of operation where the cart can be stored, clean and restocked with food.

Many successful operators have a good record with the health department and good customer service skill. Practising good personal hygiene can reduce risk of food poisoning and to increase confident of customers, and the best is to reduce unnecessary public complaints to Public Health Inspector.

Street food cart and truck inspection 

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 for food truck and food cart - 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, fish, poultry to a safe internal temperatures in order to reduce the risk of food poisoning. The best way to ensure the food is cooked to the proper internal temperature is to use a probe thermometer.

    There are different types of probe food thermometers in retail stores, but the best is to use a metal stem or digital thermometer to check the internal temperatures to ensure the food is properly cooked all the way inside (Photo - left).

What internal temperatures should food be cooked to?
Different foods have to reach different temperatures in order to be safe (Chart -Toronto Public Health). More specific information on cooking temperatures for different types of food items can be found on the Health Agency of Canada website.

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.

  • 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,

    food containers and food preparation utensils with soap and water followed by a solution of approved sanitizer. 
  • Wash all utensils and equipment using the two-sink-method (wash-rinse-sanitize). 
  • Discard damaged or deeply grooved food contact surfaces that can trap dirt and germs and can contaminate food during preparation (Photo - left).

  • Keep 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.
  • Wear clean outfit, wear hat or cap to confirm the hair, do not smoke when handling food, keep surrounding area clean and free of garbage.
  • 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.

Video on Street Food Safety

Keep street food safe for customers

By just following these simple food safety tips, you can ensure the food you are serving is safe as customers expect safe and tasty food. Word of mouth from a satisfied customer is an excellent marketing campaign for the street food industry. To learn more about food safety and the Toronto DineSafe Inspection program, please check the link to the Health Inspector's Notebook food safety guide Toronto DineSafe Inspection.

Related links:
Toronto Star - Expanding Street Food in Toronto
Food Cart Permit & Licensing Requirements in Toronto


  1. I always wonder where the street food selling from food carts came from? Restaurants or someone's home? I know a person who cooks jerk chicken at her house for a couple of street food cart vendors & her house is a dirty mass. I feel sick just thinking about it.

    1. Most health departments have a system to inspect & track the food supplies to street food vendors, as most would not allow vendors to cook & store food in private homes, unless the food preparation & storage areas are physically separated from the regular house & can be inspected by health inspectors. As in your concern, I suggest contacting the local health agency to file a complaint about this person that you know.

  2. I love street food carts. They are cheap, yummy and you can make as much change in your food as you want. Which you cannot always do in a fancy restaurant always. And you can also check if it's hygienic as they whole cooking process takes in front of your eyes.

    1. Agree, I love street food, especially food from different countries. In Toronto, street food carts are licensed by the government and inspected by health inspectors.

  3. Street food carts offer no menu. What you see is what you get. This may sound scary but you can guess all the ingredients just by looking at the food cooked in front of you.

  4. Hi Jim, another great post! Some of the best food I've ever eaten came from street vendors with Satay chicken in Bali. That said, not all vendors are cut from the same cloth. It is definitely important to examine the vendor for sanitary practices like washing hands, and keeping the prep area clean.

    1. Thank you so much for the nice comment on this post. I've worked with food vendors for many years and I agreed with you that most vendors are good operators running a safe food business, but the 1% bad operator gives inspectors 99% of problems. This is an example of what we have done to expand street food carts in Toronto (media article)

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  6. I know some street food carts near my house are illegal and not inspect by the states inspectors. The food usually very good and hot, but I have concern about where they get the food from and how they store the food, never have ice or coolers at the carts.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Usually, street food carts are licensed by local government agencies (By-law, licensing dept., public health etc.). If a street food cart is not licensed or registered and inspected for safety & food safety etc., there can be serious food safety risks to customers. Food storage is an important step to ensure food safety, so I suggest that you contact your local health dept. and request inspectors to check these carts for food safety compliance.

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