April 16, 2024
  • Awnings out and customer windows open, the line of colorful food trucks looks like a street fair is about to break out.

    Taco trucks, pizza purveyors, ice cream vendors, momo movers, Sinaloan and Michoacano cuisine connoisseurs, sushi slingers, falafel fanatics and satay suppliers line up, bumper to bumper. All these, however, are gathered for serious – it’s not an overstatement to call it deadly serious – business.

    Once a year, food truck operators and mobile food vendors are required to renew their permits and pass an inspection from the County’s Environmental Health Services.

    This article is part of an occasional series that seeks to help answer the question, “What does government do, actually?”

    For several weeks, Grant Yard, the Department of Public Works facility in Redwood City, draws vendors selling home-style food from the corners of the earth.

    First-time applicants come, too, sometimes in vehicles built in the 1980s that have passed inspections for years. Food trucks can have long careers, as they are bought and sold among vendors.

    The goal: get a yellow 2024 decal for the back of the rig and a green “Pass” placard for the customer window.

    “These trucks are some of most inspected food facilities in the area,” said Edmond Tong,  whose team inspects about 450 trucks and carts. “Many also operate in other counties, which require their own permitting and inspections.” It’s not uncommon to see permits from San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties on the upper left rear portion of a food truck or trailer.

    Alexander Alvarez of Anabelita’s Pupusas said his family has been running food trucks since 2006. Now they operate four trucks, serving construction sites in and around Atherton.

    Environmental Health Specialists Edmond Tong and Jeanette Gorecho compare notes and information on a food truck during the annual permit renewal and inspection process.

    Alvarez, 36, has been driving and working as a cashier for his family’s business for two years. Before that, he worked in construction as an assistant superintendent. Asked what he likes best about the mobile food business, he said, “Freedom. I can set my own schedule and pick up my kids from school. It can be stressful, of course, since if we don’t work we don’t make money. But I love the freedom.”

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    At Grant Yard, Tong and his inspection team of Jeanette Gorecho and Juan Carlos Quevedo meet the truck operators, who prop up the concession window awnings, power the generators and open the kitchens. The team checks the wastewater line to make sure it’s capped properly and not leaking onto the road, a common problem in older vehicles.

    Next they verify the commissary address, which is required to be legible on the exterior. Since it’s illegal to park and service a food truck in a residential driveway, operators must use a restaurant or commercial kitchen as a home base. Commissaries are also permitted and inspected by EHS.

    Inside the vehicle, inspectors check the temperature of refrigerated food, look for fire extinguishers and first aid kits and examine the food prep and serving areas.

    “We look at the menus, too,” Tong said. “If they are serving ceviche or something raw, we make sure they follow proper guidelines and post customer warnings.”

    Tong has worked in Environmental Health Services for almost 19 years, after nearly 12 years in a similar role in San Francisco. He especially enjoys doing the mobile food inspections, since the industry is a mix of operators who have been in the business for years, along with new applicants just starting a business.

    “You get to meet, greet and talk to people.” he said. “When they get the little yellow sticker, the smiles come out.”

    Media Contact

    Preston Merchant
    Communications Officer
    San Mateo County Health