County evolves with growing food truck industry

Published on July 03, 2017

Lobster rolls, tacos, shaved ice, barbecue, grilled cheese sandwiches, wood-fired pizza and so much more.

Is your mouth watering yet?

The mobile food truck industry has exploded over the past few years, and Placer County is no exception. As a result, the county is adapting its regulatory practices to make it easier for truck owners to operate, while ensuring their food products are safely prepared.

“It’s not just greasy food anymore,” said Jim Sweet, co-owner of JJ’s Smoke ‘N’ BBQ out of Loomis. “People are really doing unique items on the menu. Here on our truck, everything is pretty much made from scratch.”

Earlier this month, in an effort to make the required health and safety inspection process easier and more accessible, the environmental health division of Placer’s health and human services department held its first “food truck roundup.” The county invited food trucks to line up for inspection at a parking lot at Sierra College in Rocklin, where they can pass a health checkup and receive their yearly health permit. Previously, a much less efficient practice had the truck owners make individual appointments at county offices in Auburn — a longer trek for hefty food trucks carrying loads of commercial-grade kitchen equipment, and especially costly for trucks based in south Placer or Sacramento.

Paul Sharkey operates the Sacramento-area franchise of Cousins Maine Lobster. His two trucks serve everything from lobster to whoopie pies, with seafood shipped from the east coast weekly.

“Our motto is ‘work clean, stay clean,’” he said. “(The roundup) worked out perfect, getting everything taken care of in one shot.”

“It’s really easy to get in and out of here,” said Sweet. “It’s quicker and closer for a lot of us.”

Environmental health staff conduct their inspections, checking to make sure that food is stored at proper temperatures, basic sanitation practices are followed and commercial-grade equipment meets standards, among other items. Then, the trucks are permitted for another year, in time for the June 30 deadline when all health permits for food facilities need to be renewed.

The county has explored other innovative ways of making the regulatory process more convenient for food truck operators, such as working with neighboring environmental health departments at nearby counties to honor a food truck’s last inspection report without imposing additional fees, so they don’t need go through another full inspection in Placer County. If the initial check of a new food truck’s build and equipment has been approved by a neighboring county, then they are good to go.

“We don’t like to come in and wag our fingers. I live here. I drink the water here. I eat the food here, and so do my kids,” said Michael DiPietro, one of the county’s registered environmental health specialists who spearheaded the food truck roundup. “This is our home. We’re just trying to do everything we can do get the trucks operating in a clean and safe manner, and get them out there making money and thriving.”

Learn more about operating food trucks in Placer County.