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Letter grades for food trucks get preliminary go-ahead from L.A. County supervisors

October 12, 2010 |  4:41 pm

Food trucks in Los Angeles County will soon be required to post letter grades from public health officials evaluating their food-handling practices, supervisors said Tuesday.

All five county supervisors voted for the new ordinance, which was granted preliminary approval on Tuesday but must be ratified in another vote next week. The ordinance would go into effect 30 days after the final vote in unincorporated areas of the county; local city councils must ratify the new grading plan for it to be effective within city limits.

The plan will expand the popular program that gives brick-and-mortar restaurants an A, B, or C grade rating safe food-handling practices to rolling food establishments in Los Angeles County. In recent years, some entrepreneurs have cast off the look of once-derided “roach coaches” into upscale, gourmet kitchens on wheels, offering exotic fused concoctions of kimchi tacos or the latest cupcake creation.

The first phase of the plan will expand the grading program to about  3,200 full-service catering trucks, and a second phase to begin next July will expand them to about 2,800 more limited food facilities, like hot dog and churro carts.

The board also approved an amendment by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas requesting that the county Department of Public Health brief the supervisors on how officials plan to educate the public and food truck owners on the new ordinance, how they plan to evaluate its effectiveness, and any options to reward vendors who sell healthier foods in low-income communities with limited access to nutritious foods.

The new ordinance would require twice-a-year inspections for mobile food facilities that will result in a letter grade, up from the current requirement of a single annual inspection. A separate certification inspection will still be required. It will also require them to file their routes to the county, so that officials can perform surprise inspections.

Those that aren't complying with county health rules could be shut down.

The proposed ordinance covers almost any truck selling any type of food, including vehicles, food carts and non-motorized vehicles and "any vehicle from which animal food, bakery products, fish, shellfish, fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, preserves, jelly, relish, milk or other dairy products, food or food products, ice or beverages, whether in bulk, canned, wrapped, bottled, packaged, or any other form, are sold."

One main question is how much the expanded inspection program will cost. Public health officials don’t have an answer, but say that they will monitor the cost of the expanded program and report back to the board next April on whether inspection fees should be raised.

Read more: A drive to grade food trucks in L.A. County

-- Rong-Gong Lin II at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration

Photo: Patrons order from a group of mobile food vendors in downtown Los Angeles in February. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times