Prepare Your Food Truck for Health Inspections
The goal of health inspectors isn’t to shut down your food truck or commercial kitchen. Their role is to enforce local food codes as well as to educate food service staff on proper food handling practices.
When an inspector visits your food truck (typically once a year, but make sure you contact your local health department to verify its requirements), he looks at certain areas to assist in protecting the general public. You need to understand what a health inspector is looking for in order to educate your employees as well as help you keep an eye on these items yourself.
Critical items on a health inspector's checklist
At the top of an inspector’s checklist are the critical items that relate directly to food-borne illness. These items are denoted in red on inspection sheets in many municipalities. Any violation of a critical item requires immediate attention and correction or a follow-up inspection will be scheduled to verify that the violation has been corrected. The following are typical critical items:
Observing proper hand-washing
Making sure food is coming from an approved source (such as a retail grocery store that’s properly licensed for food processing)
Ensuring that foods are kept at safe temperatures
Verifying that no cross-contamination has occurred between raw and cooked products
Noncritical items on a health inspector's checklist
Although noncritical items aren’t directly related to food-borne illnesses, they can still become serious problems if they’re not corrected. Noncritical items like the following are usually listed in blue text on inspection sheets:
Labeled food storage containers
Current operator permit
Properly calibrated meat thermometers
Properly cleaned floors, walls, and ceilings
Potentially hazardous foods
Health inspectors must pay attention to potentially hazardous foods due to the heightened risks they present in spreading food-borne illnesses. These foods require precise time and temperature oversight for the prevention of bacterial growth and food-related illnesses.
The health inspector will spend a lot of her time checking the food holding and storage temperatures of all your meat, poultry, and seafood products to ensure that they’re kept at safe temperatures.
Food safety knowledge
Food truck owners are required to have a firm grasp of their local health codes as a prerequisite to operating a commercial food establishment. Your staff must have up-to-date training on food safety practices, and employees must be able to demonstrate a strong knowledge of safe food handling and preparation. In many cases, inspectors will quiz you and your employees on this knowledge.
Here are a few questions you or your staff may be asked:
Do you prepare any food in advance of service? How are these foods cooked, cooled, and reheated?
Do you have temperature records? Who records them? Where are the thermometers? How do you calibrate them?
What potentially hazardous raw foods do you prepare and serve (eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and so on)?
Do you prepare foods from scratch? What is your food labeling process?
Where are your salad ingredients washed, and what is the process?
What is your procedure for limiting bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods?
What is your hand-washing and glove-use policy?
Do you have a written policy for an employee reporting illness or injury?
Who does your pest control?
What is your process to train new employees? Are your managers certified in food safety?
Check with your state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) office to determine the required frequency of this training.
When your employees are sick, you must make sure they don’t handle and prepare food. To protect your customers, send sick employees home or give them a duty that doesn’t involve handling food or utensils. Person-to-person contact is a leading cause of food-borne illness, and sick employees can easily transfer their germs to your customers, no matter how cautious the sick staff members are.
If one of your customers gets ill and the cause is rooted in your food, the health department has the authority to check your staff’s medical records and take samples of the food they’ve prepared. The purpose of this action is to locate the exact cause of the illness in hopes of preventing further contamination.
In some instances, food establishments have been shut down until all their employees are no longer sick and the establishment has been sterilized. To avoid this type of closure, and the consequent hit to your food truck’s name, send your employees home if they show signs of a serious illness.
Keep track of the time you send employees home and how long they stay out of work in their employee record. Doing so allows an inspector to quickly find out the specifics of the illness.