Food Management & Operations for Food Trucks

Good Food or Safe Food

Avoiding litigation and complaints over food and its preparation keeps you in business and keeps the food truck industry generally well-received. One bad food truck can affect the local industry so helping motor each other provides some assurance you remain in business.

When creating a menu, a food truck chef must anticipate using only products that comply with regulations from the Washington State Retail Food Code. Further, a chef’s preparation methods, preparation sites, presentation, and labeling must also comply with local, state, and federal laws.

Sourcing Ingredients
Every respectable chef seeks to source the finest ingredients they can afford. Economics aside, sometimes ingredients that make a great dish may not comply with health regulations. Mindfully source your ingredients from reputable sources.

As an example of a local threat, a number of illegitimate shellfish suppliers may market stock that can lead to problems if stored incorrectly or if they intentionally misrepresent the site of the harvest, which may make it illegal and possibly a federal crime to accept or purchase. Legitimate suppliers could potentially purchase inventory from poachers that illegally harvest their catch.

As another example, most forests in Washington prohibit the commercial harvest of wild mushrooms. In fact, rules often prohibit selling mushrooms harvested in most Washington forests. Anyone caught selling such mushrooms faces stiff fines and jail time. On top of that, anyone engaged in mushroom harvesting for commercial reasons may not take the time to identify lookalike mushrooms toxic to humans.

…most forests in Washington prohibit the commercial harvest of wild mushrooms. In fact, rules often prohibit selling mushrooms harvested in most Washington forests. Anyone caught selling such mushrooms faces stiff fines and jail time.

Other commonly-used ingredients sourced from organic producers that may not use pasteurization sometimes create problems for consumers too. Dairy products like fresh eggs and raw milk sometimes carry bacteria responsible for salmonella or listeriosis.

Preparing your food must comply with specific regulations designed to minimize the risk of illness to humans. A big part of that preparation includes the mandatory use of a commissary kitchen to which the chef’s truck must return each day.

The commissary kitchen must also meet certain physical standards and supply the truck with certain items. For example, the commissary kitchen must come equipped with:

  • Potable water
  • Cooking equipment
  • Mop sink
  • Restrooms
  • 3-compartment sink for washing
  • Garbage disposal
  • Food preparation sinks
  • Back up refrigeration

Always follow clean, separate, cook, chill guidelines as posted on but also pay attention to the state code and local regulations, which require all food trucks include the following to help prevent food borne illness:

  • Enclosures, screens, or fans
  • Potable water
  • Hand washing sink
  • Sanitation sink and drain boards
  • Ability to control air, water, and food temperatures to meet health code requirements
  • Mechanical refrigeration
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Fire suppression systems
  • Waste disposal systems
  • Power source
  • Countertop/prep space

According to the CDC website, one in four burgers turns brown before it reaches a safe internal temperature.

Some foods traditionally fare best when served raw or only lightly cooked. However, they also carry a greater threat for transmitting bacteria that can cause fatal illnesses. Consequently, to avoid potential allegations of illness because of such preparations, per Food Code § 3-603.11, food trucks must:

  • Disclose raw or undercooked animal food and egg ingredients.
    “Raw Oysters”
    “Hamburgers (Can Be Cooked To Order)”
  • Remind consumers of the significantly increased risk of consuming such foods.
    “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.”

Although some of these may seem excessive or even draconian, preventing illness and disease transmission lies at the heart of healthy and robust food truck economy. Each chef warrants the food they serve as standard in the industry and fit for the purpose of consumption. Customers rely on the food truck chef for the edibility and safety of the food. Bear in mind that any customer may ask to inspect the food and request replacement if defective. For details see RCW 62A.2-314, 315.

Every chef, food truck or brick and mortar, also faces the fear of allergic reactions to their preparations. According to information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), incidents of food allergies and allergic reactions increased at least 50% in the fifteen years from 1997 through 2011. As food allergies continue to climb, the CDC and other government agencies improved awareness to slow the pace but many remain unaware of the threat some foods present to humans. Making your customers aware of the potential for allergies or allergic reactions may reduce your exposure to lawsuits and your customers’ exposure to a life threatening allergic reactions.

According to the CDC, over 90% of all documented food allergies in America relate to one or more of the following eight products:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Crustacean shellfish
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans

Eliminate or reduce the risk of a customer falling into anaphylactic shock by making yourself, your employees, and your customers allergy-aware. Try the following tips:

  • Ask customers about allergies when they order.
  • Prevent cross contamination.
  • Never assume anything about your ingredients.
  • Modify recipes to let customers “customize” their orders to avoid allergens.
  • Conspicuously post well-lit, easily readable signs warning about any ingredients you might use that include allergens or about allergen foods themselves.

Adulterated/Contaminated Food
Sometimes even taking all the steps to avoid contamination fails to prevent using an ingredient with contaminants entrenched in the food itself. One common bacteria, E. coli, sometimes eludes even the best cleaning and preparation procedures. Other times, production introduces non-digestible items like tiny shards of glass, plastic, or metal into the items.

When sourcing ingredients, know your suppliers/vendors and the producers they use. That way you can monitor vendor and producer websites for recalls or read or watch the daily news. Many national suppliers and producers issue recalls when they learn of an illness related to their products and such recalls often make national news headlines. Defective food such as spoiled food may allow the customer to request a refund or give rise to a lawsuit.

FDA 2013 Food Code §3-601.12 requires:

  • Food honestly presented;
  • Food offered “in a way that does not mislead or misinform the consumer”;
  • No food or color additives, colored overwraps, or lights that misrepresent the true appearance, color, or quality of a food.

In other words, a chef may not use food that even appears defective, even if edible and otherwise healthful, and use methods that disguise the defective appearance.

Nutritional Information
Each chef/vendor should also accurately monitor and display nutritional information regarding the products including ingredients, weight or serving size, method of production, origin, and any applicable certifications.

Restaurants, including food trucks, remain primarily exempt from nutritional information labeling requirements, but must accurately reflect any information offered. If the food truck chef offers any health claims he must support the claims within FDA requirements.

Health Regulations Resources
All food truck must comply with the 2013 FDA Food Code. For more information visit:

Also the WAC 246-215 offers the specific guidelines to the Washington State Retail Food Code.

Taking a little extra time and care with your food sourcing, preparation, and presentation can help keep customers from accusing you of a number of potential issues. Research the matter thoroughly and if you require further resources to address unanswered questions, let us know.