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Waco: Food truck owners say red tape is putting them out of business

(KWTX)
Published: Jul. 5, 2016 at 8:28 PM CDT
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Some local food truck owners are upset with the health regulations which blanket the food truck community.

The Waco McLennan County Public Health District follows regulations passed down from the state level which states all food trucks—no matter the food or dessert sold—must have a vehicle, a servicing area for the vehicle, and a central prep facility, or commissary, where the food, dessert, or other item is prepared.

However, some food truck’s like Rico’s Italian Ice and owner, Hector Sotomayor say the central prep facility is not needed for some food trucks.

Sotomayor’s food truck serves Italian ice cream which he has shipped to him directly from a factory and serves the dessert straight out of the containers the ice cream is shipped to him in, causing there to be no preparation of the food.

“It is ready to serve when we buy it,” Sotomayor said.

“We take it from the freezer and we serve it from the freezer, so there isn't any preparation we need to do.”

But he is still required by the State of Texas to rent kitchen space at a separate facility where he can prep his product, even though it is served out of a the original manufacturer’s packaging.

“They need to understand our business has different types of food trucks,” Sotomayor said.

He said he understands food trucks which serve burgers or chicken need the central prep facility, but he said trucks like his which serve pre-made desserts do not need the added expense.

“Give us a different classification and maybe look at this from the bottom up instead of from the top down,” Sotomayor said.

David Litke with the Waco McLennan County Public Health District said the state guidelines are in place for a reason.

“The trucks need a place to go for food prep, storage, and cleanup,” Litke said.

Litke said the state re-looked at the regulations in October of 2015 and updated them, but many of the key rules are still in place to protect the public from food handling mistakes and other health issues.

“The misconception is people thinking there isn't a whole lot to (the food truck business), but actually a food truck is a kitchen on wheels or a food store on wheels,” Litke said.

Kitchen prep spaces, like the one Sotomayor is required to have to operate, cost between $200-500 per month.

In Waco, Sotomayor said food truck owners are limited to where they can rent central prep facilities. The main source of space being restaurants who are willing to rent out kitchen space.

“The problem is, not very many of the existing restaurants want to rent out kitchen space because of space limitations and the additional inspections,” Sotomayor said.

When a restaurant rents out kitchen space they are also accepting the fact the health department will make additional inspections of the facility.

“All of this has completely put us out of business for the Fourth of July weekend and we are still waiting on a commissary to fulfill the needs of the requirements,” Sotomayor said.

While his business is unable to operate according to code because of the lack of a central prep facility, Sotomayor said he will keep calling 40-60 restaurants a day trying to find a place willing to let him rent, so he can be in compliance with the regulations.

“But the kitchen is still unnecessary,” he said.

“We don't need preparation everything is done on demand when the customer asks.”