Ten Tips for Handling Food Truck Health Inspections
Although it may be tempting to put off certain repairs to your food truck or overlook a few minor health violations in hopes that the health inspector won’t pay you a visit in the near future, a better practice is to treat every day as the day an inspector will show up. Here are ten tips to keep that health report spotless and those citation costs to a minimum.
Inspect your truck every month
The best way for you and your employees to prepare for any inspection is by performing a self-inspection on your food truck every month. The saying “practice makes perfect” fits perfectly into any conversation about the health inspections your food truck receives.
When conducting self-inspections, you should take the role of the inspector and have another staff member take your role so your employees know what will be looked at and how they can help maintain your truck with minimal assistance. Here are some tips for conducting monthly truck inspections:
Surprise your employees with an inspection.
Arm yourself with the right tools.
Use the local inspection sheet.
*Give your truck the white-glove treatment.
Ask “why” questions.
*Check your records.
Point out the positive as well as the negative.
Review your findings.
Schedule a mandatory staff meeting to delegate tasks
Within a day of your monthly self-inspection, or an official health department inspection, schedule a staff meeting to go over the findings. Make sure your staff knows this meeting is more official than your regular meetings. Be sure to have an agenda plus a time and action plan, and assign tasks to each employee regarding what needs to be inspected and cleaned in order to comply with health department regulations.
Figure out what to fix from the past
Use your previous inspection reports, which the health department provides upon completion of its inspection, as a guide to help you and your staff clean your kitchen, service window area, storage, and cooler areas.
Before an inspector shows up, he usually does the same thing and typically makes a point of reexamining these areas to make sure you’re keeping them up to snuff. Showing that you’ve taken care of previous issues tells an inspector that you take his reports seriously. Some health officials even speed up their inspections knowing that you’re willing to listen to them and follow their advice.
Ask for an inspection by an exterminator
Nothing will shut down a food truck faster than an inspector finding a cockroach or the remains of a little critter. Because rodents, flies, cockroaches, and other pests can contaminate food and food preparation surfaces, any evidence of vermin or insects inside a food truck can cause point deductions.
If an active infestation is discovered, the health inspector can shut down the establishment immediately and keep it closed until the problem is resolved.
Check your refrigeration
You and your employees open and close your food truck refrigerators numerous times throughout the day, causing their internal temperature to rise several degrees. If your refrigerator is set at exactly the minimum required temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit, the actual temperature may be several degrees higher by the middle of the day.
Consistently check the temperature inside the refrigerators to make sure your food is being stored at the proper temperature.
Another refrigeration area to look at is the drainage. Each week, make sure your drains are flowing freely by pouring boiling water into the bottom of the appliance to find and remove any clogs.
Keep your cooler shelves clean
The bottoms of cooler shelves have a tendency to collect grime, dirt, or residue from vegetables, meat, spilled milk, and so on and are regularly missed by cleaners. A lot of fairly new restaurants are found guilty of making this mistake during the inspection following their openings.
Every week, or as needed, fill a sink with warm soapy water, remove all trays and racks from the inside of the cooler, and wash them in the sink. Wash the inside of the cooler along the sides and bottom with the warm soapy water, too.
Check your water temperature
Over time, the water heaters used in food trucks can fail to reach their maximum water temperature. Although the water may feel hot to your touch, it may not meet your health department’s standard.
Why risk a mark against you during your inspection — or even a fine — if using a thermometer under your water tap monthly can help you avoid it? If you determine that your water heater isn’t producing water at its maximum temperature (check the manufacture’s guide for the specific data for your equipment), contact a licensed plumber to repair or replace the unit.
Clean your coffee mugs
Your personal coffee mugs or water cups that you have sitting around while you’re busy working the grill can be inspected, too. The problem probably isn’t a citable one, but any significant sign of dirt and wear can affect the way the inspector perceives your entire operation.
Make an appointment for an inspection
After you and your team have completed a thorough cleaning of the truck, call your health inspector and ask him to schedule your vehicle for an inspection. Let him know that you’re attempting to achieve a high health department score and that you’d like an inspection in the near future.
Due to their tight schedules, many inspectors will fit you in as soon as possible because they know they’ll be busy later in the year as new inspections, reinspections, and follow-up inspections are called for. And that way, you’ll know that your truck is as clean as possible during the inspection.
Inform your staff that the health inspector is coming
Make sure every one of your employees knows that the inspector may show up. Even if it’s a week before the scheduled inspection, make sure your employees are on their toes by monitoring the truck’s cleanliness and pointing out issues that need correction immediately.
Remind everyone to wash his hands frequently, and keep water splashed in the hand sinks. Nothing is worse than having your hand sinks dry when the inspector shows up. Also make sure you have hand sanitizer in the truck.