AirTalk for April 8, 2014

40 percent of LA food trucks and carts unchecked by health inspectors

Beef, black bean taco, corn chips and guacamole AUD15 + sign - Taco Truck at Melbourne Central

Alpha/flickr Creative Commons

Of the roughly 3,200 licensed food trucks and carts wheeling meals around Los Angeles County, about 40 percent have never been inspected by the Department of Public Health. The rest are checked less frequently than guidelines require, according to a Los Angeles Times report.  

Those troubling figures come from Angelo Bellomo, the Department’s director of environmental health, who oversees restaurant and food truck inspections, who told the L.A. Times that, "this is an area that needs improvement."

The Vehicle Inspection Program, which mandates letter grades for food trucks, was first introduced in 2011, and county health guidelines require two annual field inspections. However this hasn’t happened for a significant number of mobile eateries on the road and consumers still cannot review health inspection information for many of these trucks. 

The 40 percent report does not include any unlicensed vendors that are currently doing business in the city.

"[The Health Department] estimates around 11,000 illegal vendors operate every day here in Los Angeles County," said Matt Geller, Co-Founder & CEO, Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association on AirTalk. "So they have a huge task ahead of them. I'm sure that there are lapses at times, but 40 percent seems like a very high number to me."

The term illegal vendors refers to any person selling food or beverages without a license, from the person selling sodas out of a cooler to a food truck roaming the streets without a license. 

There are two different programs under the LA County Health Department for inspecting mobile restaurants: The Vehicle Inspection Program deals with licensed vendors, and a separate Street Vending Compliance Program deals with unlicensed. Geller says the Health Dept. is doing its best to get every one of these legal vendors, which are often difficult to track down for surprise inspections because of their mobility.

When an unlicensed operation is discovered, the consequences are significant. 

"What we have is a program that's…routinely going out, trying to find illegal vendors, confiscating the equipment and giving tickets," said Geller. "So if it's an unlicensed vendor, the Health Department does act pretty quickly and harshly when they can catch them."

Fifteen field inspectors and two supervisors with the Department of Public Health are responsible for food service inspection in L.A. County. Trucks and carts that receive complaints are highest priority.   

Would you have thought inspection rates for food trucks were this low? Are you willing to take your chances with food trucks? How should consumers get safety information about trucks and carts? Should there be more field inspectors monitoring L.A.’s mobile eateries?

Guest:

Matt Geller, Co-Founder & CEO, Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association


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