Public Health having trouble inspecting food trucks in the field

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Scientists with the California Department of Public Health just concluded a statewide study that evaluated full food preparation trucks (typically referred to as taco trucks or catering trucks.

The two-year study looked at operating procedures in full kitchen, complex menu mobile food facilities. Six counties throughout the state, including Kern County was the target for the study.

The scientist were looking for risk factors associated with those mobile food facilities.

"In addition, we surveyed environmental health jurisdictions to find out what are the resources and challenges with the food program," said Brenda Faw, environmental health specialist with CDPH.

Those challenges stem from the very nature of mobile food trucks. Traditional restaurants, known as brick and mortar, get inspected during regular business hours while food is being prepared. Mobile food facilities are not subject to the same type of inspections.

Right now, environmental health inspectors don't typically inspect the vendors while out in the field during the food preparation process. Usually the inspections occur while the truck is at the health department.

"The Environmental Health Department also has some challenges in regards to manpower, having to go out and find them. They're very elusive and difficult to find at times. But they do need to have the same level of inspection as a full service brick and mortar restaurant," said Faw.

This study was broken down into four components, including food knowledge, hot and cold holding temperatures, employee hand washing and water safety.

Out of 114 mobile units contacted, 95 of them allowed inspectors on board.

"Environmental Health Departments are always evaluating their programs to improve public safety. What we are hoping to provide is good information so they can take a look at their mobile program and decide If everything is wonderful, or maybe we need to do something else," said Faw.

The study is in the preliminary stages, but based on the results that should be published in April, officials could recommend changes to the environmental mobile food program.

Some of the potential recommendations from the study could include increasing the frequency of the trucks being inspected, up to 3 times per year out in the field. Officials are also looking into using GPS tracking on the vehicles to locate them while they are in operation. Additionally, health officials have considered posting the inspection grading system results on each vehicle. 

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