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How Do Taco Cart Caterers Keep Food Safe?
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Not all U.S. states place regulatory requirements on taco carts and other food vendors. Fortunately, California does and certain SoCal cities are even more stringent.
Recent history suggests one should worry about the safety of foods they buy in grocery stores as well as meals they are served in restaurants. But what about food trucks and mobile carts, such as those that provide taco catering? Do food safety regulations apply to mobile dining as much as that from a bricks-and-mortar establishment?
Going back to 1985, the hazards of food-bourn illness first became understood in Southern California when as many as 40 people in Los Angeles and elsewhere died from listeria in Mexican-style soft cheese. A few years later, contaminated meat sold at a popular burger chain in California, Nevada, Texas and Idaho was found responsible for the deaths of four children and hundreds of other customers who suffered serious illness. An E. coli outbreak affected would-be nutritious eaters who bought uncooked spinach in 26 states; three people died, 31 suffered kidney failure and at least 200 (quite likely more) suffered diarrhea and dehydration from spinach raised on a cattle ranch, which likely was related to the contamination.
So if larger, multi-national companies cannot protect their customers from outbreaks, can smaller operations? Actually, many of those massive outbreaks involved small errors that multiplied themselves precisely because of the scale of their operations. Larger companies that are responsible for food borne illnesses have deep pockets, able to recall products from the market, compensate victims and cover legal expenses related to lawsuits.
What drives smaller companies - including taco cart catering firms - to prevent such mistakes from happening is preservation of their reputation. From a reputation standpoint, mobile vendors that sell tacos that operate under a brand name, that have multiple units that cater to corporations and major event planners, will have much more to prove than one-off vendors cited for their lack of licensing (LA County operates a Vehicle Inspection Program with licensed vendors). The Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association strongly advocates for an aggressive inspection program to make sure all vendors are compliant with health codes and laws.
What is required under the California Retail Food Code (effective 1/1/2014) includes the following:
Management and personnel - Access to cooking facilities only by authorized permit holders; employees must be trained in food safety and hygiene.
General food safety requirements - Very specific food handling rules on sourcing and handling of foods must be observed. Similar rules apply to employee hygiene and hand washing.
Special mobile food facilities rules - All matters pertaining to the physical makeup of the mobile facility, the means by which equipment and utensils are cleaned and used, as well as the means of storing and serving the food itself are regulated by the department.
To the diner and event planner, it is wholly legitimate and advisable that they ask questions about health code compliance by a mobile cart vendor. As they say, better safe than sorry.
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