Food trailers face health inspection challenges



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Posted on November 25, 2013 at 8:05 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 25 at 10:37 PM

AUSTIN -- How often do you eat at one of Austin's food trailers? 

Such mobile food vendors have exploded on the local scene in the past decade, offering anything from simple treats to elaborate, gourmet meals.

But they also face challenges that cause them to fail health and safety inspection at higher rates than their sit-down-and-eat counterparts.

A KVUE Defenders/Austin American-Statesman analysis found that among about 1,500 inspections in the past two years, 194 such inspections -- more than 10 percent -- resulted in a failure for a food trailer.

By comparison about two percent of traditional restaurants failed an inspection during that period, although they faced a more expansive inspection process.

Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services officials say trailers face particular challenges -- including a lack of running water -- that can cause them to fail more frequently.

“Another issue is refrigeration,” said Marcel Elizondo, a sanitarian supervisor for the local health department. “Here in the Texas heat, you have refrigeration equipment that is normally used inside an [air conditioned] kitchen. Well here in Texas you get temperatures reaching 120 to 130 inside a mobile food unit, and the refrigeration isn’t always able to keep up.”

According to the analysis most of the vendors who failed were able to quickly correct problems and reopen. However a few failed twice, and three failed three times in a two-year period: Kathy's Taco's #8, Short Bus Subs #2 and Snappy Snacks #20.

Inspection records show Kathy’s Tacos #8 failed after inspectors twice found that workers were serving food prepared at a home in an unpermitted kitchen. They were ordered to remove those items from the trailer. The owner of Kathy’s Tacos #8 could not be reached for comment.

Short Bus Subs #2 failed inspections after officials discovered wastewater leaks coming from the trailer and found that it had no water supply at the time of an inspector’s visit.

Dane Klusman, co-owner of Short Bus Subs # 2, said his operation doesn’t rely on water, and that employees use the water from businesses where they are parked to wash their hands.

“The big thing is that we don’t do any dishes on the bus and so we don’t use the sink really,” Klusman said.

Tom Ramsey, owner of Snappy Snacks Mobile Catering and Food Court La Placita, said he leases mobile units to independent operators, but did not own unit #20 at the time of the inspections. He said that unit has since been taken out of service and replaced with a newer vehicle.

According to inspection reports, Snappy Snacks #20 failed inspections because of a lack of adequate refrigeration and food, including cheese and pork, stored at improper temperatures.

Officials said in the past three years, they have gotten about 20 reports of food trailer customers that said they were sickened from eating from a mobile food vendor. However officials said they have not confirmed any illness outbreak -- meaning that one or more patrons got ill.