Mobile menus: Making the grade

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Dining out these days means dining outside for more people who love food trucks. Even in the winter, the mobile menus are hot!

“I made a trip to Wichita for Funky Monkey Munchies from El Dorado,” said Damian Mercer, standing in line at the ICT Pop Up Urban Park at Douglas and Main.

Benjamin Johnson also walks from work downtown to eat lunch at a food truck “probably two to three times a week.”

“There’s some amazing food on four wheels in this city,” said Lisa Palacios, owner of Funky Monkey Munchies.

From Asian fusion to vegan chili dogs, food trucks also serve up convenience and a cool atmosphere, with customers often sharing a picnic table or park bench.

“It’s fun,” said Palacios. “You come, and you get to chat with people in line.” 

FOOD TRUCK INSPECTIONS

Across Kansas, there are 884 licensed food trucks, including almost 150 in Sedgwick County alone. Still, some customers wonder how clean and safe they are.

“There’s some trucks that look a little worn down more than others,” said Damon Ramsey. “But usually the food is always quality.”

State inspector, Loree McBeth, says customers need not worry. Food trucks have to meet the same health codes as brick-and-mortar restaurants.

“We’re in every mobile unit at least once a year,” said McBeth, district manager for the Kansas Department of Agriculture. 

She let us tag along as she inspected the Funky Monkey truck, first testing the temperature of different foods by sticking a thermometer right in the center.

“When do you guys prepare your stuff?” McBeth asked Palacios.

“Right when we get here,” she answered.

Inspectors make sure the foods that are supposed to be cold stay cold, and the meats are hot enough.

“For it to be fully cooked, for beef, it’s 155 degrees,” said McBeth.

Pork and poultry have different cooking temperatures.

McBeth even checks for hot and cold running water in the truck.

“So we want it to be at least 100 degrees,” said McBeth, putting her thermometer under the tap water. “Oh, you’re perfect. Perfect!”

How long foods can be kept is the other big question. Bags and bottles must be date-marked showing when the foods were first prepared.

“You have until the 17th to use that,” said McBeth, pointing to a container of pico de gallo.

She found several sauces not labeled with a made-by date a violation that the inspector says is not serious, but needs to be corrected right away.

McBeth also checks the truck’s waste disposal and makes sure there are no bugs or rodents in the truck.

In all, there are 55 health standards that must be met, even if the mobile kitchen is under a tent, like Wheat State Dogs.

“Best vegan chili dogs in town,” said a happy customer, proudly displaying his lunch.

The owner, Pat Handley, told KSN that in the winter, the cold and windy weather makes it harder to maintain the proper food temperatures, especially since he’s cooking on a propane stove.

“I’m fighting to keep my fires going,” said Handley.

Not to mention water lines that can freeze up. 

In the summer, it’s the opposite problem. Heat and humidity make coolers work overtime. 

“We’re in every mobile unit at least once a year.”

 – Loree McBeth, district manager for the Kansas Department of Agriculture

That’s why at festivals, like the Kansas State Fair and Riverfest, inspectors go through all the trucks again, even if they’ve already had their yearly check.

“We are inspected three, four, fives times a year, and they are surprise inspections,” said Palacios. 

So what about this time, did Funky Monkey pass the test?

“We’re doing a great job, is what she said,” said Palacios, smiling.

But you don’t have to take her word for it. 

FINDING INSPECTION RESULTS

Anyone can go online and look at a food truck or restaurant inspection on the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s website, under Food Safety and Lodging.

Click here, and type in the name of the food truck you want to check.

It will show you when the mobile unit was last inspected, whether it had any violations, and what action was taken. 

State inspectors say they rarely have to revoke a license for a food truck or restaurant because they’re always educating owners on health and safety.

In fact, last year and so far this year, no food trucks in Kansas have lost their licenses, and only four restaurants have.

Most violations are corrected right away, but if not, inspectors do follow-up visits and impose fines, before eventually shutting them down. 

RELATED LINK | Click Here for Inspection Results

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