Taco Trucks Busted For Wide Ranging Health Violations

Based on the “A” placard posted in the window, this taco truck appears to be in compliance with local health codes. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with many mobile food vendors.

“There were several ‘potentially hazardous’ issues regarding the temperature and time of food storage… These were repeat violations.” Location: The Villages, FL

Food trucks can fill a huge void right now when most restaurants are either closed or operating far below their capacity. Here we take a coast-to-coast tour of food trucks in the news – some because of their shortcomings, others because of their in-demand services … 

May 17, 2020

Food Safety Network – Tacos el Guero, a mobile food truck found operating at the corner of Juanita Drive NE and NE 141st St, in Kirkland, WA 98034 was shut down by a Public Health food inspector at 1:15 p.m. Friday for operating without a valid mobile food service permit and failure to submit plans for review and approval.

The food truck will be allowed to reopen once the operators secure a permit by following the instructions for plan review, according to Public Health for Seattle and King County

Tacos el Guero first needs to complete final plans for how it will be set up for business and submit them to Public Health’s Plans Examiner for review. Tacos el Guero is the sixth street food vendor shut down by Public Health since Feb. 12. The shutdowns include:

  • LaFondita, a food truck, in Seattle on Feb. 12.
  • A Bao Time, a food truck in Seattle on Feb.16.
  • A vendor selling food out of a private car on Feb. 26 in Bellevue, WA.
  • An unapproved food cart in Federal Way, WA on Feb. 27.
  • An unapproved food cart in Auburn, WA on April 2.

All six remain closed at this time.

Public Health offers food truck and food cart applicants guidance on its website, including:

  • For those applying for both a new mobile food service plan review and commissary exemption concurrently, the base fee charge is $888 for up to 4 hours of plan review at the time of plan submittal (plus $222 for each hour after 4 hours).
  • For those who currently hold a mobile food unit permit and are applying for commissary exemption, you the base fee charge is $444 for up to 2 hours of plan review for a change of operation at the time of submittal for such change (plus $222 for each hour after 2 hours).

[Perhaps a substantial incentive to operate a food truck ‘off-grid’ is the steep hourly rate of $222 (four-hour minimum) for ‘new mobile food service plan review and commissary exemption’ by municipal health officials. – Ed.]

To be considered for approval of a commissary exemption, in either case, the application must completely address each of the ten questions that are listed. Draft guidelines are included along with the application for commissary exemption as a useful resource and toolkit designed to help in formulating answers to these questions.

Seattle-King County Public Health is the largest metropolitan health department in the Pacific Northwest with 1400 employees, 40 sites, and a biennial budget of 686 million. It serves the Seattle urban area with more than 2.2 million people. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

This is far from an isolated case … 

CALIFORNIA – “Oakland’s ban on food trucks and street parking around Lake Merritt got very little compliance on Friday. City leaders went ahead with the ban after seeing large crowds and gatherings there on previous weekends. City officials said Friday they would start to hand out tickets because people weren’t taking the ban seriously. One taco truck defied the ban and sold food right next to the lake. A city employee and a park ambassador warned the business owner he could get a ticket.” KPIX, May 15, 2020

CONNECTICUT – “Food trucks are allowed, but not on (Torrington) city property or on a public sidewalk. Owners and staff will be expected to wear masks and gloves, and keep customers from standing close together while they’re waiting for their food.” The Register Citizen, May 17, 2020

FLORIDA – “A food truck is returning to serve residents of the Village of Fenney after an inspection last month turned up several health code violations. A report on file with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation shows that an inspector on March 20 found 11 violations at the Rita’s Cocina Mexicana food truck. There were two high-priority violations:

  • There were live mosquitoes/small flying insects in the food preparation area.
  • There were several “potentially hazardous” issues regarding the temperature and time of food storage… The report noted these were repeat violations.”

– “Tierra Caliente Food Truck #2, 4103 S Orlando Drive, Sanford; Routine inspection April 24. Met standards. Six total violations, with two high-priority violations” News-Journal, April 29, 2020

HAWAII – “The Hawaii Department of Health said Monday that it issued a cease-and-desist order to the Malama Meals program over “multiple food-safety issues” found during an inspection last week, but the founder of the program that delivers meals to older adults isolated because of the Covid-19 orders said the violations were fixed on the spot and the program was never shut down … ” Pacific Business News, May 18, 2020

OHIO – “On April 21, debate at the Toledo City Council meeting centered around a food truck. Local politicians discussed recent arrests of young black people at house parties, some contrasting them with a large, white crowd standing close together in line outside a BBQ stand, undisturbed by police.” ProPublica, May 8, 2020

– “In Toledo’s Old Orchard neighborhood, the sight of food trucks is causing concern for some people as the coronavirus pandemic continues. ‘The main concern was, you know, we still have a stay-at-home policy,’ a neighbor who didn’t want to be identified said. The man reached out to Action News after a Deet’s Barbecue truck showed up near Meadowwood and Christie on Monday. He said a neighbor brought in the rig which in turn brought out a large crowd.” WTVG, Apr 23, 2020

VIRGINIA – “On Wednesday, April 29, the Town of Rocky Mount announced police officers responded to two separate yet valid trespassing complaints against the same food truck. According to officials, the food truck operator set up on the property without permission and was required to stop serving due to a lack of owner permission or zoning approvals.” WFXR, April 30, 2020

Other food trucks seem to be doing a great job … 

ARIZONA – “Grade A restaurants and establishments:

  • Arizona Wings N More Food Truck.
  • Wicked Eats Food Truck.
  • Saucy Pasta Food Truck.
  • Morning Kick Food Truck.
  • Tacozona Food Truck | Source: Maricopa County Environmental Services” AZCentral.com, May 13, 2020

CALIFORNIA – “A popular Bay Area restaurant and favorite among the food truck scene is mobilizing to help feed low income families, seniors, and others who are struggling financially. Señor Sisig in San Francisco is marking its 10th year in business by giving back during the pandemic. The restaurant specializing in Filipino street food has partnered with a group called The City Eats to feed underserved communities. In addition to delivering food at senior centers and other locations, the restaurant is also deploying its food trucks across the Bay Area to help feed people working from home.” KPIX, April 28, 2020

CONNECTICUT  – The town of Bethel’s popular Food Truck Friday event will become Takeout Friday this summer. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the town has canceled the annual event series featuring food trucks and live music on the lawn of the municipal center every other Friday during the summer. Instead, residents are encouraged to order food from their favorite restaurant and bring it home for a picnic or socially-distanced gathering with neighbors, said Dionne Craig, office administrator for the first selectman.” New Milford Spectrum, May 17, 2020

FLORIDA – “Craft breweries around Florida were allowed to reopen over the weekend. The Florida Brewers Guild alerted its members Saturday that they could operate at 25% capacity with the proper social-distancing measures in place, as long as the brewery has a licensed on-site food service provider. On Monday, breweries and restaurants will be able to operate at 50% capacity. Momentum Brewhouse in Bonita Springs thanked customers for coming out to support it and the H-Anger Management food truck Saturday. It did not have an all-day food truck lined up for Sunday, and was forced to return to a takeout-only system for the day. In Cape Coral, Scotty’s Bierwerks reopened noon Sunday with the help of MUNCH food truck. Millennial Brewing in downtown Fort Myers reopened Saturday and again Sunday with the food truck JP’s Hot Fish.” News-Press, May 17, 2020

MARYLAND – “At the Broadway Square (in Baltimore), people sat on benches with beer and food from various restaurants with carryout or a nearby food truck; rarely were there any groups larger than five people in one spot. An officer was parked inside his police cruiser near the corner of Thames Street and South Broadway but did not ask anyone outside to disperse as people walked by around 3:30 p.m.” BALTIMORE SUN, MAY 17, 2020

MINNESOTA – “The pandemic put Alberto Lara’s aspiration to open his own restaurant on hold. It also put Pierre Sadaka’s restaurant into financial hardship. So the employee and owner of Charley’s Restaurant and Lounge teamed up to open a taco food truck that has quickly attracted a following. They ran out of food in less than an hour on their opening day and the line stretched up to 40 people long on Cinco de Mayo. ‘It took off a lot quicker than we expected,’ said Sadaka, who took over his father’s namesake restaurant off Madison Avenue.” Mankato Free Press, May 9, 2020

OKLAHOMA – “Andolini’s Pizzeria Mobile Food Truck, as a to-go kitchen / take out window, will continue to operate and will be available to businesses who have workers who can’t work remotely and who want to feed their workforce without having them travel to restaurants or gather in a cafeteria.” Tulsa World, April 30, 2020

PENNSYLVANIA – “At this week’s Bellefonte Borough Council meeting, which was held via Zoom, borough manager Ralph Stewart said that he received an email from a local establishment concerned about the ‘abundance of food trucks and mobile vendors on public streets.’ Stewart said that the business owner wanted council to consider an ordinance that would prohibit food trucks on public streets. The borough already has guidelines for mobile food vendors. Chapter 364 of Bellefonte Borough Code is a six-page document that outlines rules and regulations for food trucks.” The Express, May 2020

– “A new food truck is making the rounds in Central PA neighborhoods. Saturday afternoon, the 717 Tacos truck made an appearance at the Good Hope Farms South neighborhood in Mechanicsburg. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in over 100 cancellations for the 717 Tacos food truck. But now, employees said they are ready for a spike in demand when Cumberland County moves to the yellow phase next Friday.”

SOUTH CAROLINA – “It all started during Harley Bike Week with the motto: ‘We fill ‘em deep and we sell ‘em cheap.’ Jimbo’s Tacos food truck was such a hit during the annual bike week that owner Jimmy Motley decided to open the truck year-round in the Murrells Inlet area. The most expensive item on the truck is $5, with most tacos costing $3, and the motto explains how full each taco is with your choice of meat or a vegetarian option.” Myrtle Beach Online, May 13, 2020

TEXAS – The following all got an “A” on their most recent inspections in Grayson County, Texas:

  • McKinney’s Sweet [email protected] Truck Park, 723 River Oak Ln, in Denison
  • Food Trailer Martinez, 225 Crawford, in Denison
  • Ruby’s Cuisine Mobile, 1523 Texoma Pkwy. in Sherman
  • Gentry’s BBQ Mobile, 708 E Sycamore, in Sherman … Herald Democrat, May 11, 2020

– “In downtown Dallas, food trucks will once again be allowed to serve customers at Klyde Warren Park. Starting Monday, food trucks will be back in the park for the first time in two months — with additional restrictions. ‘We will have, instead of the typical 18 or so food trucks and carts, we’re going to have half that amount this first week. Then, the other half for the second week,’ Klyde Warren Park President Kit Sawers said. The staggered schedules will give trucks more space and make room for customers to socially distance as they line up. There will be stickers on the ground and security on hand to remind people to maintain a 6-foot distance, according to Sawers.” NBC/DFW, May 17, 2020

– “Casa Jalisco Taco Truck, Mobile Unit, Victoria; Demerits: 0.” Victoria Advocate, May 5, 2020