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L.A. County wants food trucks to carry health letter grades

September 13, 2010 |  3:23 pm

Get ready, food truck owners: Those letter grades certifying cleanliness at restaurants may be coming to you.

Los Angeles County public health officials are asking the Board of Supervisors to expand to food trucks the county’s popular letter grading system that evaluates safe food handling practices. The vote, originally scheduled for Tuesday, has been pushed back a week.

If approved, 6,000 full-service catering trucks and 3,500 hot dog, churro and other limited food service carts would be covered by the ordinance. If the supervisors approve it, enforcement would first begin in unincorporated areas of the county.

County health officials said they anticipate that cities will adopt the county ordinance as well, which would permit the county public health department to enforce the rule within city boundaries.

The move to grade trucks, just as restaurants have been for more than a decade, is another sign that the burgeoning food truck movement has taken a prominent place in L.A.'s dining world.

“Even before this trend, we felt people were asking us: We go to a restaurant, we like the grading system, but what about all these trucks that are coming? How do we know?” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the county Department of Public Health. “We’ve been looking at this for some time.”

Public health officials said the current program does not meet annual inspection goals because they cannot locate food vehicles that move constantly. The new ordinance will require vendors to give information about their vehicle whereabouts and mandates that the trucks be inspected twice a year.

Currently, legal trucks are certified annually. To get the county’s seal of approval, food truck owners would have to provide detailed arrival and departure times for each location where food will be sold, details that will remain private. “We’re going to go find them and do an inspection, so it’ll be unannounced,” Fielding said. “We think there’s real value in unannounced.” Food trucks have long been feeding Los Angeles’ laborers. 

The addition of so many high-profile and haute food vendors has shifted debate in some circles. The trucks -- which are far less costly to operate than stand-alone restaurants -- have generated anger among restaurant owners, already struggling in the current economy. Some restaurants have fought back by joining in, with chains such as Sizzler and Subway going mobile.

“As long as enforcement is fair, and the inspectors treat local food vendors with respect, just like they do with the brick-and-mortar establishments, hopefully the inspection standards are the same, I think the regulations are fine,” said Erin Glenn, chief executive officer of Asociacion de Loncheros, an association of lunch trucks. “It think it’s a step in the right direction to improve public health, and we’re all for it.”

-- Rong Gong Lin II