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Whether you're a full-on foodie or just plain hungry, food trucks are cranking out some amazing — and affordable — options for your next meal. But all food trucks are not created equal, and before you grab that grub there are a few things you might want to check out first.
You can't just set up a food truck and start serving up sandwiches. Food trucks need a license to operate and sell food, and licensing requirements help your local health department track food trucks for inspection purposes. Many cities require the food trucks to post their license somewhere visible to customers. Don't see one? Ask to see their license and if they don't have one, don't order.
Are the employees wearing gloves? One of the leading causes of food-borne illness is poor hygiene. Wearing gloves to handle food and changing them frequently to avoid cross-contamination is the best way to avoid passing along germs to the customers. But all food handlers won't use gloves, and it is possible to have good hygiene without them. Frequent hand washing with soap and using utensils to handle your food is a must when gloves aren't used.
When your favorite food truck passes a health department inspection they are given a grade. Some cities require this grade to be posted and visible, but if it's not displayed you might have to look them up online. A grade of A is an indication that the food is being prepared and served in a sanitary manner, workers are properly cleaning and washing their hands and food is stored properly and at the right temperature. A grade of B is questionable and a C should be avoided.
Step up to the window of a food truck and you can see everything in the kitchen. These small spaces are perfect for preparing a short list of menu items, but they can also be a recipe for germ soup. Even if you've checked the license and the employees are wearing gloves, these red flags should make you back away from the window and order elsewhere.
Check the sink. Food trucks are small, so there is most likely only one sink. Not only will pans and knives need to be washed there but it's also where employees will wash their hands. Peer into the sink area if you can. Are there stacks of dirty dishes covered in potential contaminants? Do you see soap and clean towels nearby?
Check the temp. Is hot food really hot? Are cold foods at the right temp, or a bit warmer than they should be? Storing foods at the proper temperature is one of the most important things you can do for food safety. If the temps seem off, there is more potential for contamination. Because temperature is so important, it's more risky to buy seafood or burgers from a food truck because raw meat and seafood need to be stored at the proper temperatures.
Personal hygiene. Do the food truck servers and cooks look like they wash their hands frequently? What about long-haired employees — how do they handle their hair? Frequently reaching up to move hair out of their eyes is a way bacteria can be transferred to your food. And check under their fingernails, too. Underneath your nails is a prime spot for bacteria to grow — and wind up in your food.
Grabbing dinner from the food truck can be a wonderful way to experience many different types of cuisine. Just make sure to check these key food safety points before eating and keep your family healthy.