Health inspectors try to keep up with growing number of food trucks

TJ Sherwood of Different Smokes BBQ is based in Maricopa County and has to get permits in every county where he sets up his food truck. He is one of a growing number of food truck owners doing business in Pinal County as health inspectors try to keep up. Photo by Jim Headley

The number of food trucks in Pinal County is on the rise, and it is becoming a little more challenging for health inspectors.[quote_box_right]“Food trucks can migrate to different counties. They don’t have to go through the inspection part before the permit.” Joe Pyritz, Pinal County[/quote_box_right]

Pinal County spokesman Joe Pyritz said environmental health inspectors will generally inspect food trucks when they locate them, but they don’t always have to.

“Some of them will come in to be inspected, and that is part of them getting a permit,” Pyritz said.

The permit system helps inspectors identify when food trucks enter or operate in Pinal County.

“Our environmental health inspectors that do food inspections will sometimes see them out and they will perform an inspection right there,” Pyritz said. “Sometimes, they see them out on a weekend at a food fair or just parked right beside the road. Inspecting a food truck is not much different than inspecting a restaurant. We don’t notify them beforehand.”

Lidia Alcazar said her food trailer Sonora Hot Dogs is inspected by the Pinal County health inspectors once a year as part of the county’s permit process.

She said inspectors usually call and find out where her trailer is parked at a specific time to perform an inspection.

The Arizona Food Code requires anyone wishing to operate a food establishment in the state of Arizona first obtain a permit to do so. In Pinal County, routine inspections of each food establishment permitted by the Division of Environmental Health are conducted throughout the year to evaluate a facility’s operations and compliance with the Food Code.

Pyritz said inspectors would also “probably” perform an inspection on a food truck if asked by the public.

There are some new state laws on the books regulating food trucks.

“Food trucks can migrate to different counties. They don’t have to go through the inspection part before the permit,” Pyritz said. “If a food truck from Maricopa County gets a permit up there, gets inspected and everything is OK, they can come down to Pinal County and operate down here as long as they apply for a permit.”

TJ Sherwood, owner of Different Smokes BBQ food truck from Maricopa County, has owned food trucks/trailers for about three years. He said he is inspected quarterly by county health inspectors and said he has to have permits in each county he takes trucks to.

“You get inspected every quarter and once a year you have to go down and be inspected at the location where you pay for your permit. Every quarter they come out and inspect your truck on site,” Sherwood said.

He said inspectors keep tabs on the food trucks via social media and plan their surprise inspections using the online schedules. “They just show up and do a surprise inspection,” he said.

With inspections already performed in another county, there is not always a reason to re-inspect them if they enter the county, Pyritz said. Like restaurants, food trucks are only required one inspection per year, not every time they set up for an event.

“Just as long as they get a regular inspection, they will be good. There is no timetable for that. We try to do it at least once a year with the limited amount of staff that we do have,” he said.

Restaurants are easier to inspect because they don’t move, but inspectors remain dedicated to inspecting food trucks. Pyritz estimated 100-200 mobile food units received Pinal County permits in 2018.

“With this new law, we have seen quite an influx of food trucks coming our way,” Pyritz said. “They’ve had 50 extra applicants that they have permitted.”

This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.