Watchdog column: What guidelines do food trucks follow?
An Advocate reader complained recently that a taco truck in her neighborhood was unsanitary.
Employees dump their dirty dishwater near her fence line, flies swarm the meat, and patrons do not have a place to go to the bathroom, she said.
She was concerned the Victoria County Health Department wouldn't visit places that serve food after its workday ends at 5 p.m.
This particular truck's business picks up late at night as people let out from a nearby nightclub. It can sometimes be disruptive, she said.
The Victoria Police Department reports that no one has been arrested in the past year for driving while intoxicated, public intoxication, urinating in public or indecent exposure in the area of the truck.
Health department inspections also show that while the truck initially had 20 demerits in 2009, its latest inspection in August show its lone violation was having a cutting board placed over its sink, which was fixed immediately.
Still, I thought it would be helpful to share how taco trucks, which the county refers to as mobile food units, should operate.
All refrigeration equipment should maintain a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
Food products should be obtained from approved sources, such as local, inspected grocery stores or manufacturers, so cakes or cookies baked at home cannot be sold.
There should be a sink for employees to wash their hands that can get as hot as 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Only single-service items (disposable cups, plates, etc.) may be used to serve the customer.
Counters and tables should be designed for durability and resistant to denting, buckling, painting or chipping.
Toilet facilities should be provided to employees (not patrons). If arrangements are to be made with a local business, written approval should be provided to the health department.
The truck also needs to be registered with the city secretary's office.
For a full list of requirements, visit victoriacountytx.org.
Tammy Fikac, the environmental health division supervisor, said the county treats mobile food units like restaurants. Unless someone complains, inspectors make two unannounced visits a year. Those visits can be after 5 p.m., too.
Inspectors don't issue fines; they issue demerits, she said.
"I think with it being published for the public, I think that's sort of an incentive to motivate them to make the corrections," Fikac said. "If there are 30 or more demerits, we can go back to conduct a reinspection, and there is a reinspection fee for that."
The National Restaurant Association found that the food truck industry is taking off.
It reported that 59 percent of Americans would likely visit a food truck if their favorite restaurant offered one in 2011, up from 47 percent a year before. Eighteen percent of Americans saw a food truck in their community in summer 2011, but they appear to be most popular in the West.