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Prep, Cook, and Store Your Food Truck's Food Correctly

When food is cooked and left out for more than two hours at room temperature (or worse yet, food truck temperature), bacteria, parasites, and viruses can multiply quickly. Most of these contaminants grow undetected because they don’t produce a bad odor or change the color or texture of the food.

Freezing food slows or stops the contaminants’ growth but doesn’t destroy them. The microbes can become reactivated when the food is thawed. Refrigeration also can slow the growth of some bacteria, parasites, and viruses, but in the end, thorough cooking is needed to destroy them.

Most cases of food-borne illnesses can be prevented through proper cooking or processing of food, which kills bacteria, parasites, and viruses. In addition, because these contaminants multiply rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, food must be kept out of this temperature range. Follow these tips to prevent harmful contaminants from growing in food:

  • Handle food with clean hands. Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water before and after handling raw meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, produce, or eggs.

  • Never defrost food on the kitchen counter. Use the refrigerator, cold running water, or the microwave oven.

  • Never let food marinate at room temperature. Refrigerate it.

  • Wash all unpackaged fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking. Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Dry all produce with a paper towel to further reduce any possible bacteria.

  • Prevent cross-contamination. Bacteria, parasites, and viruses can spread from one food product to another throughout the kitchen and can get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges, and countertops. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from all ready-to-eat foods.

  • Wash utensils and surfaces before and after use with hot, soapy water. Better still, sanitize them with diluted bleach — 1 teaspoon of bleach to 1 quart of hot water.

  • Cook food to the appropriate internal temperature:

    • 145 degrees Fahrenheit for steaks and chops of beef, veal, and lamb

    • 160 degrees Fahrenheit for pork, ground veal, and ground beef

    • 165 degrees Fahrenheit for ground poultry

    • 180 degrees Fahrenheit for whole poultry

    Use a meat thermometer to be sure. Foods are properly cooked only when they’re heated long enough and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria, parasites, and viruses that cause illnesses.

  • Keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Maintain hot cooked food at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher; maintain cold food at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

  • Refrigerate or freeze foods promptly and properly. If prepared food, perishables, produce, or leftovers stand at room temperature for more than two hours, they may not be safe to eat. Set your refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, and your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Don’t over pack the refrigerator. Cool air must circulate to keep food safe.

  • Reheat cooked food to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Reheating food helps kill off any bacteria or other contaminants that may have grown after the food’s temperature dropped out of its original safety range.

  • Wash sponges and dish towels weekly in hot water in a washing machine.

Following the best practice guidelines of food safety handling is critical to your business. Although you may be tempted to reuse certain prepared foods, if you have a case of food-borne illness on your truck, it can affect not only your business but also the local industry as a whole. Customers will make no distinction between one truck and another.

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