In this year’s April issue of the Journal of Environmental Health, project coordinators for the California EHS-Network, Brenda Vanschaik Faw and Joyce L. Tuttle, discuss the results of a brief survey conducted in California in the article entitled, “Mobile Food Trucks: California EHS-Net Study on Risk Factors and Inspection Challenges.” The study was developed to identify mobile food truck risk factors and the challenges of inspecting such operations. In order to identify these risks and challenges, “the study consisted of a brief survey, which examined food and water safety, sanitation knowledge, and food handling practices of mobile food truck operators and food workers while food vehicles were in actual operation.” To do so, 95 mobile food trucks were assessed while in operation across several counties. This “observational component of the survey” assessed food worker handling practices most commonly associated with causing foodborne illness, including improper temperatures, poor personal hygiene, and unsanitary food handling practices.
The survey results were unsettling at best. Of the 95 mobile food trucks that were assessed, 90 had at least one critical risk factor. And to make matters worse, it was determined that these risk factors could not be adequately observed and corrected by inspectors since mobile food trucks were unsurprisingly difficult to locate during actual operation. Although these trucks are inspected and permitted annually, inspections have proven incredibly difficult to conduct. Inspectors have been forced to schedule their inspections during non-operational hours when the truck is stationary. During this time, however, the truck is not in full operation, leaving it empty of food and water so no food preparation can occur. A thorough evaluation of these critical risk factors is therefore impossible.
The article concludes that in order to reduce food safety risk factors in mobile food trucks, innovative approaches must be taken to allow for food truck inspections to occur during actual operation. This practice can then “provide the same level of food safety protection as for other retail establishments and restaurants while protecting public health at these popular eateries.” It is that “level of food safety protection” that inspectors must help mobile food trucks reach so that public health remains intact.