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A Guide to Food Truck Inspection: Food Truck Inspection Checklist in California

Nick PerryAuthor

Running any kind of food establishment is a huge responsibility. While it may cost less to operate a food truck than it does to open a restaurant, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier. And it definitely doesn’t mean you’re subject to fewer regulations or exempt from restaurant inspection.

Food truck operators must obtain a number of licenses and permits, and are responsible for maintaining a clean, healthy cooking environment at all times. California is one of the most popular regions in the country for food trucks, but it also has some of the strictest health codes and regulations. Getting your food truck shut down for a poor food truck inspection is a terrible look for your business and will cost you money every day that you can’t operate.

In this article, you will learn how to pass your food truck inspection in California with help from a food truck inspection checklist you can reference at inspection time.

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Understanding Food Truck Inspection in California

You need several licenses and permits to operate a food truck in California. The core licenses and permits you need include:

  • Business license: Any business in any state needs a license to operate. Business license requirements vary between city and county, so search your city or county + “business license” to find out what’s needed for your food truck.

  • Mobile food facility permit: This permit ensures that your food truck is compliant with local food safety and worker safety standards. You can’t operate your truck without it.

  • Public health permit: Some California counties, including Los Angeles county, require food trucks to apply for a Public Health Permit/License. This binds food trucks to California’s Health and Safety Code.

  • Food Seller’s Permit: California requires any business that sells tangible to get a seller’s permit. That way, they can charge sales tax on their goods.

  • Food Handlers’ License: Anybody who handles food in your food truck must have a California Food Handler Card. This permit certifies that employees have been trained in safe food handling best practices.

The local health inspector’s job is to enforce these permits and the California Health and Safety Code. They’re on the front lines trying to protect the public from foodborne illnesses that can thrive in poorly maintained food establishments. 

Preparing for a Food Truck Inspection

No restaurant wants to get a health code violation. Not only can a serious violation shut your business down for a period of time, but when you reopen you’ll have to display a less-than-stellar grade from the California Health Department. No diner wants to see a “B” or “C” health code rating at a place they’re about to eat. As such, it’s crucial to prepare proactively for a food truck inspection since you probably won’t get much warning.

When you start a food truck, you have to prepare for a proactive life. Running a food truck means being willing and able to proactively search for areas to set up shop and prospect new potential areas. That goes double for cleanliness. Proactive preparation and maintaining good hygiene in the truck will help you stay ready for when the health inspector drops by.

Part of that proactive preparation includes training your staff in cleaning routines and making sure they’re up to date on food handling certification. A daily checklist of cleaning and chores that need to happen before you close for the day is a great way to build good habits. And when you and your staff have those good habits, it’s even easier to create a complete a pre-inspection checklist.

Components of the Food Truck Inspection Checklist

Inspectors in California typically work off of an evaluation sheet that includes the following categories:

  • Cleanliness

  • Proper storage and labeling

  • Food preparation

  • Employee behavior

  • Ventilation and running water

  • Equipment and evacuation safety

  • Paperwork and other legal requirements

Some of the most common violations in food trucks are centered around cleanliness and storage. Proper food storage in a mobile setting like a truck can be difficult, and the frantic pace of fulfilling orders can lead to hygienic oversight. That’s why it’s especially important to build good habits and instill them in your employees, as well.

Tips for Passing a Food Truck Inspection

Now that you know the primary categories that inspectors focus on during an inspection, you can prepare appropriately to pass the inspection. Some tips and best practices include:

  • Food temperature control: One of the primary sources of food-borne disease is undercooked meat, so keeping a food thermometer handy is a good idea to demonstrate that you check that meat is fully cooked before serving it to customers. Likewise, you should also ensure you’re always storing food at proper temperatures.

  • Cross-contamination prevention: All employees should learn about cross-contamination when they get their Food Handlers’ Card. Cross-contamination is especially easy in a small, fast-paced kitchen like a food truck so it’s especially important to clean surfaces regularly, especially when working with raw meat.

  • Food labeling compliance: A core part of food storage is proper labeling. It may seem like the inspector is regulating your food truck management, but labeling is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy food truck. You can still organize your storage however you see fit, but everything must be properly labeled to remain compliant.

  • Handling customer complaints: While you won’t get shut down for one customer complaint on social media, inspectors may use these reviews to look for potential violations. It’s good business to make things right with customers who had a bad experience, but it’s absolutely vital to correct any health or safety violations that a customer highlights publicly.

  • Corrective actions: Food safety and health compliance sounds straightforward, but it’s more complex than you might think. You’re bound to make some mistakes, and that’s alright. The more important thing is that you take corrective action whenever mistakes are made and build a culture of accountability where all staff members feel responsible for staying up to code.

Dealing with Health Inspector Interactions

Any time you’re dealing with a power dynamic, it can get testy. But it’s important to remember that the health inspector has the power to shut your business down. Most inspectors are reasonable, responsible, and ethical, but you never know if someone is having a bad day. Ultimately, what qualifies as a violation is up to their discretion, so don’t give the inspector a reason to dock you.

Make sure to be cooperative and professional when the inspector arrives, and ensure your staff has the same attitude. Give the inspector free range of the food truck and only come in if the inspector asks for help to reach a certain part of the kitchen. Don’t hover.

If the inspector is chatty or proactive in their questioning, be respectful with your answers and always be honest. There might be a gray area that you could be docked for but if you’re forthright and respectful with the inspector, they could give you a pass.

Sometimes, inspectors will identify issues that aren’t necessarily failing, but still need to be cleaned up. A good inspector will give you some time to fix those issues, so make sure to take their generosity seriously and resolve them quickly.

Post-Inspection Follow-Up

After the inspection, the health inspector will give you a comprehensive inspection report with areas that, if applicable, need improvement. Take some time to review the report to confirm the things you’re doing well and acknowledge the ones you’re not. Feel free to reach out to the inspector for clarity on any items.

From there, correct any violations promptly to avoid getting shut down. Few violations will result in immediate license suspension, but there isn’t an infinite amount of patience either. Repeat violations will come with heftier consequences, so correct violations for good the first time.

Finally, once you’ve got your inspection report, you can work on instituting systems to help you prepare for the next food truck inspection.

Pass that Inspection! 

Running a food truck in California requires rigorous compliance with local business and public health codes. This guide will help you stay up to date on those codes and licenses, and should also help you prepare accordingly for food truck inspection.

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