Rolling Restaurant Health Standards

Food truck sensation in Pinal County comes with regular inspections

By Joe Pyritz

It’s no doubt that food trucks have grown in popularity across the nation.  You see them everywhere you go. From construction sites to NFL games, if there is a crowd, a food truck is more than likely to be there.

Food trucks have also grown in sophistication as well. At one time, you could only find a standard fare from hot dogs to fries. Today, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to find a food truck serving fresh curry to just out of the oven pizza. In fact, some restaurants have started after beginning as a food truck. Pinal hasn’t missed out on the food truck craze.

“There are specialized food truck gatherings in the county where trucks congregate and customers can pick and choose what they want from a variety of trucks,” stated Public Health Manager Chris Reimus. “We also now have food trucks run by professional chefs. These are the types of things we didn’t see much of a decade ago.”

This begs the question, are these trucks inspected?  If so, how are they inspected since they are mobile and not like a brick and mortar restaurant?

“Yes, Pinal County Environmental Health does permit food trucks and inspect them. The permit that applies is a ‘Mobile Food Unit,’” said Reimus. “A food truck is basically a brick and mortar food establishment on wheels, and the food safety requirements are the same.”

The big difference Reimus points out is that the food trucks have much less meal prep and cooking space than a brick and mortar location. Not only that, the equipment that comes with a food truck is much different than that of a restaurant.

“This leads to some necessary changes with regards to food safety in a food truck,” stated Reimus. “They typically have a much more limited menu and specialize in one or two main menu items.They also have limited preparation facilities and deal more with made to order items than items with advanced preparation.”

Reimus said those food truck operators who understand and recognize that they are limited to what they can do and what they can cook are more likely to be better prepared for an inspection than a more complicated operation.

“Food trucks can run into challenges when they are trying to do too much with their limited facility,” Reimus said. “Food trucks simply do not have the space or equipment to do complex food service such as advanced preparation, cooling and reheating. Their kitchens are much more appropriate for made to order foods like hamburgers or tacos. When we see food trucks try to do too much is where we see challenges with food safety.”

So if someone is out at an event somewhere in Pinal County, how would they know the food truck they are ordering from has been inspected?

“When you go to a food truck, look for the Pinal County Environmental Health Permit sticker on the truck. If you see a permit sticker, you can be assured that the truck is permitted and operating under the guidelines of the food code,” said Reimus.

If someone has concerns that something is not right, the Environmental Health Division investigates complaints of illegal or improper food service from food trucks.The public may file a complaint by calling the office at 520-866-6864 or online on their website at: www.pinalcountyaz.gov/ehs.

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