A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: Food trucks are popular, here to stay, and capitalism at its best — but are they safe?

Are food trucks safe?

Restaurants on wheels are the new rage when comes to urban eating. On the surface, they threaten the brick-and-mortar restaurants as they have been eating into their profits. Some complain that these mobile businesses have an unfair advantage because they don’t have to maintain a building, and pay the same in rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, and property tax.

It’s easy to understand those concerns, but it’s capitalism at its finest, where entrepreneurs with the best idea and the best product always find a win to win the race.

Their humble roots began with plastic-wrapped bagels, baked goods, and sandwiches pulling up to construction sites, office complexes and county fairs.

Now that the COVID lockdowns have subsided, the food truck industry continues to grow according to data collected Zippia.com the food truck industry in the U.S. has an estimated 35,512 food truck businesses, and earned an estimated annual revenue of $2.7B, and has been growing 12.1% each year.

The food truck industry in Kentucky is a largely new enterprise with an evolving set of laws and regulations that can often be a tangled mess for food truck owners. Food trucks are inherently mobile, but food truck regulation is decidedly local, with differing sets of requirements across jurisdictional boundaries where each county and city can impose further requirements or restrict food trucks altogether.

The regulation of food trucks is left largely to local health departments. Food trucks can register and pay a fee small fee for a statewide permit in a particular county. For instance, in the City of Covington, Food Truck operators have to obtain an annual permit costing $500.

The surge in popularity of food trucks has also added a new challenge for insurers, health inspectors, and safety professionals with their unique set of risk exposures — But is the food they serve sanitary and safe to eat?

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@higusa.com

Local food trucks are licensed every year, but their initial inspection takes place when the mobile unit is not serving any food. Once the trucks go on the road, health inspectors must rely on spot inspections to evaluate how closely food-handling codes are followed.

In addition, to food safety concerns food trucks pose their very own special risks. When you’re getting a meal, it’s easy to forget sometimes that food trucks are actually heavy trucks, designed to be mobile. They can range in size from 16,000 pounds to 30,000 pounds, when compared to the average passenger vehicle of 2 tons (4,000 pounds), these are some heavy-duty size vehicles.

Only the largest models of food truck typically require a commercial driver’s license (CDL)—otherwise, anyone can drive one, with no special training required.
Mobile Food Trucks have restricted visibility and multiple blind spots around the vehicle. These trucks are often located in pedestrian-friendly areas and as such, make them more susceptible to pedestrian accidents. They also brake much more slowly due to their weight and size, and handling corners is also very different, too.

Food truck drivers sometimes have more experience behind the grill than behind the wheel. Practically any licensed driver can legally operate a food truck since only the largest models typically require a commercial driver’s license. Therefore, the operator might be inexperienced at handling larger vehicles, which can lead to accidents. Not to mention that many food truck drivers travel several hours to different events, and then will spend long hours in the kitchen before getting behind the wheel to return home, and this fatigue can put everyone on the road in jeopardy. There are several examples of fiery vehicle collisions involving food trucks on the internet.

Many food trucks cook from large propane tanks to supply heat to their cooking surfaces. Unfortunately, the constant jarring of these tanks due to road travel can weaken the propane connections, causing leaks and fire hazards. In a collision, a leak or the structural failure of a tank may result in a fire or explosion. Food trucks also often transport large quantities of fryer oil, which is highly flammable. Hot oil spilled during a truck accident can cause severe burn injuries.

Most will carry their own generators with extra fuel tanks and, large propane tanks to cook with inside these vehicles. These tanks are often large and mounted on the outside of the vehicle, posing a special risk of fire and explosion if the truck is in an accident and develops a gas leak. Because of the explosive power of these gas cylinders, the New York Fire Department even considers food trucks to be a potential terrorist threat.

While the use of propane tanks is quite common, when not handled and stored correctly the result can be a catastrophic explosion that causes horrific injuries and death to truck operators, employees, customers, and bystanders.

The truth of the matter is that food trucks are certainly here to stay and because of the hybrid nature of restaurant-meets-transportation, food truck owners could still improve their safety by adhering to the following safety recommendations:

• Only employee drivers 21 years of age or older and those that clear an acceptable motor vehicle records check.
• For larger commercial size food trucks, only employee drivers that carry the proper CDL.
• Install audible backup alarms on all vehicles and use a spotter whenever you are backing your vehicle.
• Safely park trucks away from main roads and on streets posted 25MPH to protect pedestrians.
• Install multiple wide angle convex mirrors on the front and back of vehicles and/or install backup cameras to reduce potential for vehicular and pedestrian accidents.
• Use four-way amber flashing lights, reflective strips, watch for children signage, rear bumper covers to prevent kids from climbing on the back of vehicles.
• Conduct a safety inspection on your vehicle daily prior to each use and maintain documentation for a minimum of 1 year.
• Limit amount of cash on hand and conduct periodic deposit to reduce the risk for robbery.
• Only operate vehicles with serving windows to the right side of the truck (curb-side) when parked on streets.
• Ensure there is no public seating within the mobile food truck and don’t provide seating for your guests.
• Check that there is a clearance of at least 10 feet away from buildings, structures, vehicles, and any combustible materials.
• Verify fire department vehicular access is provided for fire lanes and access roads and don’t block fire hydrants.
• Check that appliances using combustible media are protected by an approved fire extinguishing system.
• Verify portable fire extinguishers have been selected and installed in kitchen cooking areas in accordance with NFPA 10 and train employees how to use. Trucks should carry both an ABC and Class K rated fire extinguishers.
• Where solid fuel cooking appliance produce grease-laden vapors, make sure the appliances are protected by listed fire-extinguishing equipment.
• Ensure that employees are trained in the proper method of shutting off fuel sources, the proper procedure for notifying the local fire department & proper procedure for how to perform simple leak test on gas connections.
• Verify that fuel tanks are filled to the capacity needed for uninterrupted operation during normal operating hours.
• Keep generators separated from the public by barriers, such as physical guards, fencing, or enclosures & shut down generators prior to refueling from a portable container
• Make sure that exhaust from generators maintain at least 10 ft clearance in all directions from openings and air intakes, are at least 10 ft from every means of egress, and directed away from all buildings and from all other cooking vehicles and operations
• Inspect gas systems prior to each use and keep the main shutoff valve on all gas containers is readily accessible.
• Keep portable gas containers are in the upright position and secured to prevent tipping over.
• Perform and document leak testing on all gas connections affected by replacement of an exchangeable container.
• Ensure that on gas system piping, a flexible connector is installed between the regulator outlet and the fixed piping system.
• Where a gas detection system is installed, ensure that it has been tested in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
• Close gas supply piping valves and gas container valves when equipment is not in use.
• Keep cooking equipment, including the cooking ventilation system, clean by regularly removing grease.
• Don’t store fuel above any heat-producing appliance or closer than 3 feet to any cooking appliance.
• Don’t store fuel near any combustible flammable liquids, ignition sources, chemicals, and food supplies and packaged goods.

Be Safe My Friends

Related Posts

Leave a Comment