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Inspectors Scramble To Keep Up With Explosion Of Food Trucks

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Investigator Rick Sallinger
(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4) – Inspectors are scrambling to keep up with the explosion of food trucks on the streets. They offer everything from slices of pizza to exotic gourmet dishes, but CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger wanted to know how safe it is to eat their food.

It’s not like going into a restaurant that is in the same spot day after day. They are moving targets that health officials acknowledge should be inspected a lot more than they are.

“I look at them. I look at the trucks and look inside and see if they are clean or not,” a woman told Sallinger.

“It’s probably cleaner than my kitchen,” a man said. “It doesn’t concern me.”

But it does concern the inspectors. Sallinger inspected hundreds of reports from Denver, Boulder, and Tri-County Health and accompanied inspectors as they made their rounds.

Sallinger found that there aren’t enough inspectors to visit all the trucks, they’re not notified where they will be, and problems found are not electronically shared between different jurisdictions. That makes tracking them for inspections an issue.

“You can try and track them down but sometimes you can’t get ahold of them,” David Hooker with the Jefferson County Health Department said. “They have either moved or they changed phone number; don’t know if they gave a correct number or not.”

The problems found in food trucks include food not kept at the proper temperature, cleanliness issues, hand-washing and food handling. They may not sound terribly important, but they are called “critical” violations because they can get people sick.

“It’s very important that food is maintained at certain temperatures, that good hygienic practices are used, and other regulations are followed to keep food safe,” Danica Lee with the Denver Food Inspection Program said.

The food may look delicious, smell delicious and even taste delicious, but what people don’t know may harm them.

Cooks and servers must use gloves for handling ready-to-eat food. Every truck should have a hand-washing station inside and customers should watch to see if the employees wash after touching something dirty, but there is a lot that can’t be seen.

On the ride-along Sallinger got to witness several trucks that had problems.

- At Denver’s Civic Center Eats, Sweet Cow wasn’t off to such a sweet start. They didn’t have their Denver license or hot and cold running water. They were briefly closed and an “imminent hazard” summons was issued.

- Down the row at Baba’s Falafel a food thermometer wasn’t available and the inspector used her own. The staff was using a common towel to dry their hands. That’s a no-no, which was corrected.

- Bistro Colorado’s food sure looked tasty, but it was cited for tomatoes and cheese not being kept at the proper temperature and poor hand-washing practices. The operators assured the inspector they addressed each concern.

- At Fat Sully’s Pizza inspectors found the pizza wasn’t being kept at the proper temperature.

- Mythos was written up for improper hand-washing and inadequate water.

All the trucks corrected their problems and there are been no confirmed reports of illnesses.

In Boulder they can’t get to every truck regularly saying they are short four inspectors. Tri-County Health says food trucks must come visit their office for inspection. They perform complaint and surprise investigations.

LINKS: Food Inspection Reports: Denver | Tri-County Health | Jefferson County Health 

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