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Health

Food trucks: Consider this on-the-go cuisine a go

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Food trucks, while mobile, have a foothold in many urban areas. And they’re not just providing American food staples – your classic grilled cheese or hot dog. Some of these trucks are quite near gourmet, specializing in locally-sourced food or a particular culture’s cuisine. But are they safe? Is the food prepared in the truck? Do food trucks follow the same regulations as regular restaurants?

This week on “Take Care,” we speak to Richard Myrick about food truck safety. Myrick is an expert in the field, the founder of Mobile-Cuisine.com (the online trade magazine of the mobile food industry) and the author of the book “Running a Food Truck for Dummies.”

Food trucks not only follow the same regulations as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, but they’re often put under more scrutiny – a regulation microscope of sorts. According to Myrick, there’s just more to regulate.

“The only way you can prepare foods to serve to the general public is if it’s done in a commercially-rated kitchen,” says Myrick.

Most trucks are required to operate from commercial kitchens (or commissaries). This depends on the city in which they operate, but it means more room for error. Not only are their food truck kitchens regulated, but the commercial kitchens they’re required to do the majority of their prep work in are also regularly inspected and certified.

Tests, tests and more tests

Most cities require some number of the food truck's employees to be certified to handle and serve food. These certifications have to be in place before the truck hits the road.

“In some cases, all employees have to go through the ServSafe [test] and pass that test before they can even become operational,” Myrick says.

First, they have to pass the same test restaurateurs take, administered by the National Restaurant Association. Then the trucks are inspected by the health department and judged against their guidelines. And finally, if both the commercial kitchen and mobile kitchen have been approved – the food truck is good to go! That is, of course, if their permit is on hand in the truck or on display for the public to see.

So, can I eat at any old food truck?

There are some things to look out for when choosing to eat at a food truck. Just like restaurants, there is always a chance things conditions in the kitchen could be less than ideal. Myrick suggests Yelp.

“Do some quick investigation. That’s very easy, with the availability of mobile phones that people have and smart phones, to do a little investigation before doing any type of ordering,” Myrick says.

Look around, see if the service window operator is wearing gloves or washing their hands. If you don’t see either of those, you may want to take a step back. Also, be sure to check if the truck has a generator – they should – it’s how they operate all of their equipment.

“I have yet to run into a truck that I would not order from. Doesn’t matter what the food that’s served,” Myrick says.

Just as any restaurant is required, food trucks need to keep food colds cold and hot colds hot – something called the safety zone. Plus, inspectors can visit anytime to check things out.

Still not convinced? Just ask the food truck owner or operator. Whether it’s hand washing or a missing certification, asking is acceptable and encouraged if you have any doubts at all.

Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York