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Food trucks are food service businesses, which means they have to pass various food truck inspections related to health, fire safety, and the like. The truck itself also has to pass motor vehicle inspections to make sure it’s safe to drive on the road.
Preparing for food truck inspections can help you keep your truck on the road and operating and avoid costly shutdowns and damage to your brand.
- Food trucks are subject to similar health and fire inspections to restaurants
- They also have to undergo motor vehicle inspections
- Being prepared can help you avoid issues
What Inspections Are Required for a Food Truck Business?
Food trucks have to undergo a few main types of inspections, including health inspections and fire inspections.
Health inspections are required for any food service business. These inspections ensure that food and ingredients are stored carefully and prepared properly. Improper storage or prep can cause dangerous foodborne illnesses, so the government wants to ensure that food service companies are operating safely.
Fire inspections are similarly a matter of safety. Most food trucks use equipment like stoves, ovens, and other heat sources that can cause fires. Even a truck’s engine could cause a fire. Given that the food truck is an enclosed space, first inspections ensure that people will be able to evacuate if needed.
Food trucks are defined as motor vehicles which means they’re also subject to motor vehicle inspections, which are required in some states. Even if your state doesn’t require regular inspections, they’re still a good idea so you can catch maintenance issues before they cause major problems.
Food Truck Health Inspection
Food truck health inspections are among the most important inspections that you have to deal with.
Types of Food Truck Health Inspections
There are three main types of health inspections.
- Routine. An inspector will drop in unannounced, usually once a year, to make sure you’re compliant with any regulations.
- Complaint. This is the worst type of inspection for business owners. An inspector will come by in response to a complaint of unsafe practices. These inspections are usually intense and very thorough.
- Follow-up. If an inspector finds a violation, they’ll likely come back in a few days or weeks to ensure you’ve corrected the issue.
The Role of the Health Inspector
The health inspector is a government official. Their job is to make sure that you’re operating your business safely and are not endangering your employees or customers. Some of the things they do include:
- Inspecting your business
- Preparing a report of their findings
- Issuing citations and fines
- Educating business owners and workers on food safety
Health Code Violations Inspectors Look For
Health code violations can be critical or non-critical. You want to do everything you can to avoid critical violations.
Critical violations include things like improper hand washing, using non-licensed vendors, improper food storage, and cross-contamination between raw and cooked ingredients. These violations mean fines and potential shutdowns.
Non-critical violations are less costly, but still important to avoid. These can include things like unlabeled storage, improperly calibrated thermometers, or dirty walls and floors.
How to Prepare for a Food Truck Health Inspection
You usually won’t know when an inspection is coming, so it’s important to always be prepared.
The two best things to do are to read up on health codes. This will let you know what to look out for and if any changes that you need be aware of occur.
You should also have a daily inspection that you perform yourself. Check the same things an inspector will check and fix issues immediately.
Food Truck Health Inspection Checklist
For self-inspections, use this checklist to prepare before an inspector comes.
- Improper hand washing
- Unlicensed food sources
- Irregular food temperatures
- Potentially hazardous foods
- Unlabeled food storage containers
- Expired mobile vendor permits
- Dirty floors, walls, and/or ceilings
- Uncalibrated meat thermometers
Food Truck Fire Inspection
Fire inspections are all about reducing the risk of a fire and ensuring that your employees and customers will be safe if a fire does manage to break out.
The inspector will examine basic things, such as proper electric setups, proper storage and use of propane, ventilation, proper storage of things like oil, and fire suppression equipment. They’ll also make sure that exits are easy to reach and unblocked.
Food Truck Fire Inspection Checklist
It’s a good idea to self-inspect your food truck to avoid issues. You can use this checklist.
- Park the required distance from structures, fire hydrants, etc.
- No excessive use of extension cords
- Interior plans are properly approved
- Propane tanks are not expired and stored properly
- Propane tanks are located away from heat sources and properly vented
- Equipment is connected to propane tanks properly and piping is regularly tested
- Fire extinguishers are easily accessible
- Cooking areas are properly vented
Food Truck Maintenance Inspection
Some states require that motor vehicles, including food trucks, undergo regular inspections for safety and emissions. Other states have no such requirements.
Regardless, it’s a good idea to get your truck inspected on a regular basis. This can help you ensure your truck is in good shape and avoid expensive breakdowns.
If you need funding to cover a costly repair of your food truck, consider taking out a food truck loan might be a good idea. For an updated list of recommended funding opportunities, visit our page about the best food truck financing options.
Food Truck Maintenance Inspection Checklist
Even if you don’t get your truck checked by a professional regularly, you should do a quick self-inspection using this checklist.
- Check for dents, window cracks, and flat tires
- Check windshield wipers for damage
- Check oil and other fluid levels
- Clean your windows inside and out
- Ensure you have additional supplies, including
- Wiper fluid
- Jumper cables and a battery backup
- Ice scrapers and salt if you live in a cold climate
- Tool kit
- First aid kit
Daily Food Truck Inspection
Outside of inspecting your vehicle for safety, you should do a daily check to make sure your truck is ready for a day of business. That means checking that you have enough plates and plasticware or drinks.
Daily Food Truck Inspection Checklist
Use this checklist for inspections before you open for the day.
- Check levels of plates, plasticware, and other necessary consumables
- Check inventory of ingredients
- Check cleaning supplies
- Check beverage supplies
Tips On How to Prepare for a Food Truck Inspection
When it comes to preparing for inspections, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You usually won’t know when an inspector is coming, so you always have to be ready for one.
The most important thing to do is to train your staff properly. Make sure your employees know how to handle and store food properly and how to prepare it safely. Even if you’re doing everything right, if an inspector sees one of your employees cross-contaminating food, that can lead to a failing grade.
Appearances also matter. If your truck looks clean and tidy, it can create a positive impression on the inspector with regard to health and safety.
If you failed an inspection and know that you’ll be subject to a follow-up inspection, be careful to follow the inspector’s advice to the letter. If they say that you have to keep your propane tank at least ten feet away from the stove, don’t put it nine and a half feet away. The inspector relishes the opportunities presented by people who think the inspector “won’t notice” or said to themselves “close enough”.
What Happens if My Food Truck Doesn’t Pass an Inspection?
Depending on the violation, not passing an inspection can be catastrophic, or no big deal.
Major health code violations can mean big fines or even getting your food truck shut down. If an inspector sees you serving raw food, storing raw meat without proper refrigeration, or infestations of rodents, get ready for the worst.
You’ll need to work hard to get your food truck cleared to reopen if that happens.
Lesser violations are more realistic. You might have to deal with a small fine and a follow-up inspection at worst. You and your inspector shouldn’t be enemies. You should be partners in trying to make sure your business is serving customers safely, and inspectors don’t want to be the bad guys.
Just make sure to follow the advice you receive to rectify issues and you won’t have major problems if you don’t pass an inspection.
Business Mentoring Organizations That Could Help
Starting a food truck can be exciting, but it’s hard if you’ve never done it before.
Finding a good mentor through one of these organizations can help.
- SCORE. SCORE is a nonprofit organization with more than 300 groups across the country. It offers mentoring to small business owners.
- Local networking events. Many areas have local networking events where business owners can meet each other. These events can be a great way to find a mentor.
- Women’s Business Centers. These organizations connect women business owners and are a good place to find others who can help you through difficult decisions.
- Small Business Development Centers. The government offers a database where you can find these centers. Most have some form of mentoring program.
Food trucks have to undergo regular inspections and you won’t know when they’re coming. Make sure you’re running your food truck property and prioritizing food safety to give yourself the best chance of passing.