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Roach Coach Woes: 40% Of Food Trucks Have Never Been Inspected

Photo by savemejeebus via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
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Back when the gourmet food truck movement first got rolling, there was a bit of a free-for-all. So when the county decided to start rating the road stoves with the same letter grades and inspections as brick-and-mortar restaurants in 2011, there was a bit of a hullabaloo. How would the Department of Health be able to inspect the estimated 3,200 food carts throughout the county?

Well, it turns out they haven't been able to at all. In fact, about 40% of food trucks and carts cooking up meals in the area have never been inspected in the field by health officials since letter grades were introduced.

Angelo Bellomo, director of environmental health for the county Department of Public Health admitted to the Times that the area "needs improvement." Lazarus spoke to the DOH and Vehicle Inspection Program after being tipped off by a reader sickened at a food truck. After a ton of run-around and being told that the department simply didn't have enough inspectors, they finally reached the right person. Then they were told the name of the truck wasn't enough, they needed the actual license plate number of the truck in order to make an official complaint. Really? A day later? We have trouble remembering that when one of those "How Am I Driving?" trucks cuts us off.

The Times' reader did some digging and got back in touch with the Vehicle Inspection Program, they learned that there's no record of it ever having been inspected in the field since 2011. This was a food truck from which hot dogs that have been sitting in warm water for hours are being sold to the public, and it hasn't been given a once-over by field inspectors once in three years.

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Embarrassing, but not shocking, given the numbers.

In addition to the aforementioned 3,000 trucks on the road, there are an additional 1,800 "low-risk" trucks on the move serving packaged goods, such as ice cream, meaning that L.A. health officials have roughly 5,000 vehicles to keep track of.

The Times suggests equipping the food trucks with GPS systems to make it easier to keep track of their whereabouts for random inspection. However a solution similar to Portland and Austin's food truck pods could be a better alternative. Their vehicles are permanently parked in lots, which makes cleaning, refrigeration, and perhaps most importantly, tracking easier. Not to mention the carbon footprint factor. (Most food trucks average around 10 miles per gallon.)

Los Angeles food trucks are required to return to their commissaries on a daily basis according to law. But by their very nature they're out until the wee hours, and when they get back to the lot at 3 a.m., the minuscule staff on task at the DOH clearly isn't out inspecting. Instead of trying to chase them around via GPS trackers, what about giving them a permanent home in designated parking lots?

Not only would this make life easer for inspections, but it could also make sure that bunk trucks were weeded out before opening in the first place. Of course that would surely require some other zoning and retrofitting, but considering the current state of affairs, it might be what's best for the health of the consumer—and maybe the sanity of the governing body itself.

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