Above else, food safety must be the priority of mobile food entrepreneurs. Knowing how to properly store, handle, and cook ingredients can prevent any risk to the health and welfare of customers, not to mention damage to your food truck business.
Consequences of Unsafe Food Truck Operation
Mishandling food being sold to customers can have a huge impact, not just to your business but to the food truck industry as a whole. According to a recent article in the TIME Magazine, the initial findings by the World Health Organization shown that there is a growing problem when it comes to food-borne illness worldwide. There was 582 million cases of 22 different food-borne diseases documented in 2010, with associated deaths of 351,000.
These trouble figures should serve as a reminder to food truck operators that the threat of improper buying, handling, or storing of food can be a great threat to the lives of their customers. The negative effect of mishandling food served to the public is not only a health issue but can also become an economic problem. A bad experience due to a contaminated food truck product can result to negative publicity that the industry cannot afford to have. At the moment, the food truck market is still growing and even though many customers have embraced mobile cuisine, the industry is still under great scrutiny in many places.
Even one case of food poisoning can become a death sentence for a food truck business. Consequences of such incident can include legal liability, victim compensation, loss of sales, and damage to reputation, not to mention the stress of knowing your business is the reason for another person’s suffering. These consequences can also affect other business and the food truck industry as a whole.
Which is why mobile food businesses must put food safety at the top of their priorities. Time, skill, and money should be invested in making sure that customers will receive food that are delicious, affordable, and above else, safe.
Depending whether they are bought fresh or frozen, fruits, vegetables, and meat have different requirements when it comes to their preparation. Fresh produce must be inspected for bruises or damages. If buying pre-cut fresh produce, only purchase those that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice. Also, only buy the amount of fresh ingredients that can be used or consumed immediately. Some fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those sourced from far places, are harvested before they are ripe to prevent damage while shipping. They can travel for days or weeks, arrive in the local grocery store, and then sit on the shelf for several more days. At this point, they have ripen but have less than optimum quality and nutritional content. Buying locally sourced fresh ingredients is the best assurance that they are safe, have high quality, and still retain their full nutrients.
Frozen ingredients may not be appealing to some but frozen produce and meat can provide great benefits. Freezing ingredients extend their shelf life and in most instances, lock-in nutrients and prevent moisture loss. Some frozen fruits and vegetables can have more nutrients compared to those that have been left on grocery shelves for several days.
A series of studies have shown that after three days of storage, frozen blueberries contain higher polyphenols and anthocyanins, while frozen broccoli has higher vitamin C and beta-carotene. Frozen sprouts have higher over-all nutritional content compared to shelf-stored fresh variant.
Some vitamins and minerals may be reduced or damaged by the freezing process, but if fresh ingredients are unavailable or need to be sourced from long distances, frozen ingredients can be a good alternative.
Food Handling and Preparation
The bruise and discoloration in fresh fruits and vegetables is often just physical damage to the produce’s cells, letting oxygen in and break down the cell walls. But it is advisable to use bruised produce immediately as they can experience deterioration and development of molds if left too long. If there are indication (through smell or sight) that the fresh produce has fungal activity, discard it immediately. If the fruit or vegetable is already showing signs of infection, do not attempt to salvage it by just cutting away the uninfected part. It is better to be safe than sorry, as the saying goes.
Also, hand washing before and after handling ingredients (even fresh produce) is extremely important. The United States Food and Drug Administration suggest washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. Washing the ingredients under running water, regardless whether they are grown conventionally, organically, or harvested from your home garden, is also vital. Drying produced using a paper towel or clean cloth after washing can help reduce bacteria that may still remain.
Handling potentially hazardous foods (those that require to be refrigerated or frozen) can be a challenge. Never take potentially hazardous foods out of storage unless they will be used immediately. Rotate inventory by implementing a “first in, first out” system to ensure ingredients are used before their expiration dates. Use separate containers while preparing or thawing frozen ingredients to prevent water or juices from contaminating other ingredients.
Also, ensure to thaw frozen ingredients safely to limit bacterial growth before cooking. Thawing frozen meat inside the refrigerator is the best option, though it can take a long time. Another way is to defrost frozen ingredients inside sealed packages using a basin of cold water (a pot, a bowl, or in the sink) and leave it submerged for 30 minutes, then change the water until the food is defrosted. Never use hot water to defrost frozen ingredients because the heat can warm the surface of the food and can lead to faster bacterial growth. Some frozen pastries can be defrosted at room temperature or using a microwave but it is not advisable to use these methods to thaw meat, fish, and vegetables.
Some suppliers of frozen food also put instructions on how to handle their products and it is best to adhere to these recommendations.
Fresh ingredients usually only last for several days. Never buy and store fresh ingredients if they cannot be used or consumed immediately. Store perishable ingredients at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Always refrigerate pre-cut or peeled ingredients to keep their quality and nutritional content. It is always advisable to store fresh ingredients (even fruits and vegetables) separately because various types of food can degrade in different rates.
You can freeze almost every food to store them but whether their quality will remain after defrosting is another matter. Having separate thermometers for refrigerators and freezers is the best way to make sure that safe temperatures are being maintained. Safe temperature for refrigerators is 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius), while for freezers is zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) or lower. Storage equipment must be checked and cleaned regularly.