7 On Your Side

Inspectors planning to better regulate food trucks

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Food trucks have grown in popularity these last few years and now county health inspectors are looking at better ways to crack down on rogue operators.

With these trucks roaming from place to place, even from county to county, it can be difficult for inspectors to keep track of them. That's raising concerns about some of the food they sell.

Mike and Daniella Patterson toast each other with the glasses they gave their wedding guests this past summer. Their reception was set in a beautiful backyard at their suburban Bay Area home. Everything was perfect except one important thing.

"I had to apologize repeatedly to our guests," said newlywed Mike Patterson.

The food truck they hired to cater their wedding didn't show up on time.

"Went on to our first dance and the hours went on and the food truck wasn't there," said newlywed Daniella Patterson.

The contract the couple signed with Gourmet Rockstars stipulates the company was supposed to begin set up at 5 p.m. Daniella says the truck finally showed up nearly five hours late.

That doesn't surprise the Alameda County Environmental Health Department. The department has been after the company for two years.

"In the case of Gourmet Rockstars, we have no idea where they are getting their food from, what kind of preparation they're doing, how they're treating the equipment on the vehicle," said Don Atkinson-Adams of the Alameda County Environmental Health Department.

The county ordered the food truck closed in 2011 for, "Failure to obtain a valid health permit," and for, "Operating with imminent health hazards."

Violations included not having hot water for hand or utensil washing and inspectors also found ground beef sitting on a steam table at 63 degrees. The proper temperature is below 41 degrees for cold food and above 135 degrees for hot food.

"We've had reports of them operating, we've not been able to actually catch them in the field," said Atkinson-Adams.

Mohammed Qadir of Gourmet Rockstars told 7 On Your Side by phone that the company is no longer in business.

He says it shut down a year ago, but only agreed to cater the Patterson wedding as a favor to a friend. He also says the contract didn't call for dinner to begin until 9 p.m. The contract did not specify the dinner time, only that the event was to be held from 7 p.m. to midnight.

Qadir declined an on camera interview.

The problem of unlicensed food truck operators is more common than inspectors would like.

Imelda Reyes is with the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

"There is a lot of illegal food vendors out there," she said.

Health inspectors from around the Bay Area have been meeting to discuss ways to better keep track of vendors.

Alameda County is implementing the most aggressive program in the Bay Area. It's been holding informational meetings to inform operators of the new policies. The new guidelines include a green, yellow and red scoring system which must be posted on the food truck.

Green means the truck passed its health inspection. Yellow means the truck passed with conditions. Red means the truck failed its inspection and has been closed.

Alameda County will become the only Bay Area county to require the scores to be posted.

"And as a consumer when you walk up, you have a little more confidence that that truck operates well, as far as food safety," said Atkinson-Adams

Adriana Rico operates the Tala Taco and Burritos truck in Oakland. Her truck passed inspection. She personally recalls an unpermitted food truck making a construction crew it served sick.

"The next day about 10 of the guys didn't show up because they had stomach, they're stomach was upset. So there is a lot of those trucks that are out there that don't keep up to code," said Rios.

Eric Rivera, who runs a Puerto Rican food truck, that also passed inspection, in Alameda, agrees more needs to be done.

"They obviously want to make it to where these food trucks are no longer the roach coaches that people would call them," he said.

Alameda County plans to implement its new rules in six months. Meanwhile, the counties continue to meet with each other in a bid to better keep track of food trucks that consistently move around.

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food, alameda county, alameda, oakland, 7 on your side, michael finney
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