Fast, mobile and ready, food trucks have proved to me more than an immerging trend, they have become a commonplace addition to the brick-and-mortar venue.
Yet while the food truck kitchen may be portable, the food safety standards maintained in them are a ridged as any dine-in establishment.
“We look for the same issues with a food truck (as with a traditional restaurant),” said Health Inspector Brent Shelton.
Shelton noted that many times a restaurant will use it kitchen to much of the food prep before transporting it to the truck.
Yet a fully operational food truck should be able to in the middle of a 100-acre field and safely prepare food, sanitizing and cleanup.
“It would have everything that is required as far as fresh water supply, waste water tanks for used gray water and electrical for cooling and to keep food hot,” he said.
“A lot of them are set up that way,” Shelton noted. “The inspections themselves are the same whether it’s a food truck or a brick-and-mortar building.”
Behind the scenes, supporting the food truck is a commissary — a home base to dump their gray water, fill their fresh water tanks and clean dishes. Some vendors do food prep at the commissary, while others opt to do the entirety of its cooking on the go.
To meet the requirements of the state, food trucks must have their commissary permitted by the health department or the Department of Agriculture.
Like any other restaurant commercially preparing food, mobile units must submit a menu, floor plan, equipment layout and specifications for the unit and the commissary for approval by the public health department.
Floors, walls and ceilings should be light-colored and not porous— easily cleanable, as should be countertops and shelves. A hand sink is to be accessible by staff. Mobile units that do not serve potentially hazardous foods (listed by the state to also include hotdogs, sausage and coffee drinks with milk) may use disposable hand wipes instead.
A three compartment sink for dishes with drain boards is required, in units larger than a pushcart stand.
Food trucks are required to have pressurized 30 gallon potable water. Logs are kept to show how often the tanks are flushed and sanitized. A wastewater tank should hold 15% more capacity than the freshwater tank.
Scraps are to be stored in cleanable containers and leftover hot foods must be rapidly cooled to 41 degrees F within 4 hours in a cooler located in a permitted food establishment. Or they can be discarded.
Food must be prepared inside the unit. Counter extensions and tables can display and dispense condiments and single service items (straws and napkins). Covered smokers and grills fall under the Tennessee Department of Health as outdoor cooking.
Mobile units are defined by statute as mobile. They cannot be a vehicle made stationary by removing the wheels and left parked in a single fix location.
However, a mobile unit can be pulled, pushed down a street or even a float on a waterway.