The temperature reached 80F in Raleigh yesterday (that’s almost 27C for the metric crowd) flowers are blooming and I feel like eating hot dogs. It stems from some weird memory from my youth – my parents always grilled hot dogs as the first outdoor meal of the year (my dad wasn’t into cold-weather grilling, or bbqing as it is called in Southern Ontario).
The family and I are on our way to Myrtle Beach this afternoon for the NC Meat Processors Association Educational Seminar so I’m not going to be able to grill up some dogs here at home — but as a fan of street meat, maybe we’ll grab some hot dogs on the way.
In North Carolina mobile food units (hot dog carts, taco trucks etc.) are inspected, are required to have an agreement with a commercial kitchen (usually a restaurant) for storage, refrigeration and for water source (for hand washing and disposal of gray water). But they aren’t currently required to post an inspection grade card.
In San Diego, where more than 1,100 mobile food vendors sell meals to folks on the street, there is a proposal to require food trucks to post inspection grade cards.
Supervisor Ron Roberts said the time for change is now.
"We all want A’s just like in school. This type of consumer awareness really creates incentives for the restaurants to make sure that they maintain the most sanitary conditions and the best conditions for public health," he said.
Roberts said when it comes to grading food safety it shouldn’t matter where you get your food from — you just need to know its been stored and prepared properly.
San Diego was the first county in California to grade restaurants on issues related to health in the 1950s. Now Chairman Roberts wants to apply the A,B,C’s to mobile food carts.
"An inspection report is kind of a complex thing, this really correlates to the inspection report and gives the public confidence that the system is serving them," he said.
"It’s food safety, that’s the key here," said Jack Miller, director of the Department of Environmental Health.
Miller oversees about 1,300 inspections a year of mobile food trucks in San Diego county. He said it’s important the refrigeration system is working properly — to avoid food borne illnesses. "Keeping food temperatures right, if there’s hot foods being held, they need to be kept at the right temperature," Miller said.
Roberts proposal is mainly designed for those who cook and prepare food on the trucks, not those who sell mostly pre-packaged items.
Mike Morton knows all about the grading system. He’s president of the California Restaurant Association, San Diego Chapter.
"Ultimately we’re all serving meals to the public and I think we should all be regulated by the same bodies to insure for safety for all of our guests," Morton said.
I’m a fan of posting grades, regardless of the type of food business. While grades represent a snapshot, and don’t correlate well with outbreaks, they create dialogue and can lead to greater public discussion.