RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Food trucks are extremely popular in Richmond. You'll find them outside businesses at lunch time and catering to crowds at special events. But do these mobile kitchens meet the same health standards as restaurants? How can you be sure the food is safe to eat? We investigated in this special edition of the Restaurant Report.
Food carts and trucks. Mini kitchens on wheels. You'll be glad to know the state Health Department inspects them often, sometimes monthly, to make sure they meet the same health and cleanliness standards as any restaurant.
"He shows up anytime. You want to make sure your cutting boards, your knife is very clean, all of your cart is sanitized, because he will inspect every single item," said Tico Sanchez, co-owner of Kenn Tico Cuban Bar & Grill.
We asked some vendors to show us how they keep the carts clean.
Sanchez showed us how everything is wiped down with a rag and sanitizer.
"Over here you have to constantly clean your bottle, all your bottles, have to be cleaned constantly," he said.
Eliza Diner of the Café Tara cart told us, "I keep a bucket of sanitizing solution back here. I have a clean rag that I use to wipe down after every few customers. I find glove changes are important, of course."
And they showed us how they make sure hot foods stay at least the required 135 degrees, and cold foods the required 41.
"We keep coolers with plenty of ice, keeping the temperature 41 degrees," said Sanchez.
"Everything is cooked and prepared in-house in his restaurant," said Gerardo Fuentes of Thai Cabin. "Then its all wrapped up, made sure it's all correct temperatures, and shipped here to the carts."
Now the big question: How do food trucks fair on inspections?
As the Restaurant Reporter, people ask me all the time, why they don't see food trucks more often in the Restaurant Report. It's actually because food trucks overall score very well on their health inspections in Richmond. And that's very impressive because they have to keep their kitchens clean and food at the right temperatures when they're outside in the elements.
We did discover a Boka cart recently had 6 critical violations. But owner Patrick Harris showed us he immediately had the cart completely refurbished with new equipment.
"So we have a hand-washing sink. We have a refrigerator, cooler, everything's been rebuilt and refinished and polyurethaned, so it's all easily cleanable surfaces," said Harris.
A follow-up inspection report shows all critical violations were fixed. Harris also told us the employee that had been managing the cart was terminated and replaced.
The Olio cart has earned perfect scores on five health inspections, so we gave operator Q Johnson the NBC12 Hall of Fame Award.
Johnson explained how they keep the food hot. "We use an actual oven, as opposed to using open pots or things, so keeping things hot or cold isn't really an issue."
So next time you're considering dining "a la cart," you can expect it's likely been inspected and is meeting food safety standards.