Monday, June 13, 2011

Food tents and trucks: Who inspects them?

My blog post on Taste of Charlotte brought an interesting comment from George 10:09 AM:

"Have these vendors been inspected and certified by the state or city? If I got sick on bean sprouts and decided to go to court, would the city have a bond to cover that?"

Excellent question, George. I called Lynn Latham, the environmental supervisor for the Food & Facilities Sanitation Program through the Mecklenburg County Health Department.

The answer, George: Yes, they are inspected. Anyone selling food to the public has to meet certain requirements. In the case of festival vendors such as the restaurants working Taste of Charlotte, they first have to apply for a permit. Their application has to explain what they're making and how they plan to handle it. Food & Facilities can approve or disapprove the application, and give them notes on what they need to do to get approved.

Then there's a site inspection when the tents are set up. "We go down there, we look at the setup, we make sure it matches what was on the application," says Latham. "We're making sure they have setups for utensil washing, for handwashing, that they have proper storage of the food, there's proper temperatures, that we don't have cross-contamination issues. Once we're assured, we issue them a permit. They're allowed to operate for that period only."

In the case of a recurring event with food, inspectors go every time to check the setup.

Food trucks have to get a permit that shows their setup has been approved, and they are then subject to unannounced inspections, just like stationary restaurants. That happens about every 3 months. The trucks have to supply the health department with a route and updates, so inspectors can find them for occasional inspections.

Bonding isn't part of what Latham does as an inspector. But I recently asked Robert Krumbine of Charlotte Center City Partners to address a question about the trucks at the Thursday night food-truck rally uptown and he indicated that trucks have to be bonded to take part in that event.

Whether you can bring a case against a vendor who makes you sick is trickier, says Latham. "When it comes down to proving foodborne illness, are people willing to go to the doctor and is the doctor willing to take specimens?" Sometimes doctors are more focused on making you feel better, or people skip getting tested if their health insurance doesn't cover it.

"That's a battle we fight all the time. Without a specimen, you can't pinpoint the organism. Actually proving a foodborne illness isn't easy."

Latham emphasized that you can help by letting the health department know if you see something that you think might be a problem.

"The important thing is, if there is food for sale to the public, there must be involvement from the Health Department. They can show you their permit, which is not the same as the business license. (You) can ask to see a health department permit. If there is not one, there is no assurance that everything is approved."

To contact the health department or to see the regulations or report a possible violation, go to and click on "Environmental Health," or call the department, 704-336-5100. It's also very easy to see the inspection report on a restaurant:


Anonymous said...

I've worked with some area festivals and the food vendor requirements are getting so strict lately that it's not worth having them anymore. If a festival is uptown and it's not primarily a food festival, then most people are likely going to hit the restaurants around the area instead.

camping tents for sale said...

I was wondering if they have permits form the Food $ Facilities Sanitation Program. Good to know that they have, it makes me think that it is safe to buy their products.