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Inside The Inspections: How Safe Are Food Truck Meals?

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(credit: CBS) Liz Collin
At 15 years old, Liz Collin made her broadcast debut covering...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When food trucks park for lunch, people line up. The trucks have become a summertime staple in the Twin Cities. In just two years, there are four times as many food trucks in Minneapolis. In St. Paul, the number has doubled.

So with business booming, we wondered how are the cities making sure our meals are safe?

WCCO checked the records and found the top three problems trucks are having and the close eye inspectors keep on all of them.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have a long list of guidelines trucks must meet before they open for business. They’re similar to the standards brick-and-mortar restaurants are held to.

Customers can easily check if a truck has a current city license. It’s supposed to be displayed where people can see it but it’s what customers can’t see that inspectors keep an eye out for.

In St. Paul, trucks are checked once a year before the season starts. In Minneapolis, it’s the same except inspectors also do another unannounced inspection during the year.

It’s turning into a big job for both cities.

Two years ago, there were 10 trucks in Minneapolis, this year there are 38. In St. Paul, the number of what they call mobile food vehicles, like trucks and trailers, went from 50 to 90.

WCCO examined the health inspection records from food trucks in both cities. In Minneapolis, we found most trucks have had violations. The majority are for what inspectors consider minor — like not wearing a headband or hairnet and using a handwashing sink for preparing food.

In all, inspectors uncovered 66 problems over the last two years. Sixteen were considered critical.

In St. Paul, where inspections are scheduled only at the start of the year, there were fewer serious issues but many more violations — 129 problems were found this year and four were critical.

Daniel Huff is the Environmental Management and Safety manager in Minneapolis.

“A critical violation is something that can actually get someone sick right then,” Huff said.

Of the three serious complaints trucks see the most, food temperature is the top problem.

In one case, a truck’s coolers were broken when inspectors stopped by and workers were serving warm food to customers, anyway. In another truck, the heat lamps weren’t working and food was served up to 40 degrees too cold.

Contamination concerns are another problem — trucks storing water and pop in melted ice tubs so any germs from a worker’s hands could spread to your drink’s container.

Lastly, a few trucks didn’t label toxic substances they’re storing or don’t put them in the right place. Inspectors don’t want those chemicals stored next to food to limit the risk of mixing cleaning solutions with meals.

But remember, most of the violations we found aren’t a serious health risk. In fact, no truck in either city has ever been shut down after an inspection and there are no substantiated reports of anyone getting sick.

“Part of my job is to make sure all of our food trucks and brick and mortor restaurants are places I would want to take my family,” Huff said.

To see how your favorite food truck is doing, check out the links below:

Anchor Fish
Aussie Kabab
Barrio Tequila Bar (Previous: 9/26/11)
Bloomy’s
Chef Driven Companies (Previous: 9/29/11)
Chef Shack (Previous:
10/08/10 | 7/09/11 | 9/15/11)
Cook’n Wheels
Cruzan Cafe (Previous: 12/06/11)
Cupcake
A Cupcake Social
Dandelion Kitchen (Previous: 10/13/10 | 5/19/11)
El Perico (Previous: 11/07/11)
Felipe
Flavor’s
Freezies
Harvest Grill
Hola Arepa (Previous: 9/14/11)
Imed Benrabeh
Lemire Sales
Little G
Mustachios
Nicolas Lema
Original Turkey (Previous: 10/06/10)
Red Smoker
Rusty Taco
Sandys Italian Ice And Delights (Previous: 6/02/11 | 5/26/11 | 10/25/10)
Scratch
She Royal Coffee & Deli (Previous: 10/18/10 | 9/13/11)
Simply Steve’s (Previous: 9/08/11)
Smack Shack (Previous: 10/08/10)
Sophea Fresh Fruit
Taco Taxi (Previous: 11/29/11)
Tacos El Primo (Previous: 11/29/11)
Taqueria El Primo
Twisted Sister House Of Hunger (Previous: 9/08/11)
Vellee Truck (Previous: 9/13/11)
World Street Kitchen (Previous: 10/14/10 | 4/22/11)
Yummi
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St. Paul Food Truck Inspections (.XLS)

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