For New Englanders, a popular way to enjoy warmer weather is by eating outside. Traditionally, this has meant grabbing your brown bag and finding a nearby picnic table or park bench. In recent years, however, food trucks and outdoor vendors have increased in popularity giving 9 to 5ers another way to eat outside. From simple coffee stands to makeshift outdoor restaurants, food trucks are a quick and easy option for those looking to grab a bite on the go. Typically found in bigger cities (think NYC), food trucks are now finding success in the suburbs and smaller towns.
While food trucks are a convenient and generally affordable dining option, there are some health concerns that consumers should be aware of.
Handling of Food and Money
First and foremost, food truck vendors are usually one or two-person operations. If they are the former, this means that the same person who is making your food is also handling money. Cash and credit cards change hands extremely frequently, meaning they are covered in germs. Thus, handling meat, produce and other foods with the same hands with which money is accepted is a serious health concern, especially during peak times (i.e. lunch rush).
Lack of Running Water
Many food trucks do not come with running water — a necessity for washing food before it is prepared. Running meats and produce through hot water prior to being served rids them of harmful bacteria and toxins. Having running water available also allows food preparers to wash their hands properly. While hand sanitizer gets rid of most germs and bacteria, it is not as effective as washing your hands with hot water and soap.
Lack of Space
With the popularity of outdoor food trucks likely to continue to grow, it’s important to keep an eye on how your food is being prepared, and whether vendors are practicing basic sanitization principles.
Although the Rhode Island Department of Health stipulates that food truck vendors must purchase their ingredients from an approved source, and that the suppliers must be registered with the Office of Food Protection, you simply can’t be too safe when it comes to your health.
If you fall ill as a result of eating at an outdoor food truck, contact Attorney Wayne Resmini for a free consultation.
UPDATE: NBC 10 NEWS ran a story on May 16, 2016 on the inspection of Rhode Island’s food trucks. Per NBC 10 News, the Rhode Island Department of Health inspected 338 food trucks in 2015, or 70% of all trucks licensed in the state. Fortunately, 90% of the 338 trucks passed their inspection.
125 food trucks, the Department of Health reports, were not inspected due to flying under the radar. For those who doubt the sanitation of their favorite food truck, the Rhode Island Department of Health suggests checking the public database, which is usually updated every couple of weeks.