Our good friends at Multnomah County Environmental Health wrote up the following article for you, our readers, eaters and potential cart owners. A big thanks to them for putting this together.
Whether they serve tacos, sandwiches, chicken, donuts or soup, all of the unique food carts in Portland started the same way; a creative idea, hard work and a health department license. At Multnomah County Environmental Health we help operators understand the Food Sanitation Rules and protect the safety of Food Cart employees and customers alike. Now, it is no mistake that the Oregon Food Sanitation Rules are often referred to as the food code. This long document can be complex and a bit convoluted at best. That is what we are here for, to crack the code. To help you navigate your way through the rules so you can open a creative and safe business. As many of you know, opening a food cart, or mobile food unit, is a process and for those toying with the idea of opening one, we wanted to provide a distilled version of that process, a nitty-gritty quick look. So here you have it…
Not all food carts are created equal
There are four classes of food carts, each have varying levels of what can be sold, cooked, prepared, created etc, onboard. Check out the classes and think about which one will best fit the needs of your operation.
- Class I units are allowed to sell pre-packaged foods and non-potentially hazardous beverages. An example of a Class I unit could be a unit with pre-wrapped hot dogs or a mobile food unit with pre-wrapped sandwiches.
- Class II carts can sell anything allowed in a Class I plus they can have a hot or cold holding display for unpackaged foods. No cooking or assembly can be done onboard. An example would be a unit that sells chips, soda and hot food items held in warmers made at an approved commissary.
- Class III can sell anything allowed in a Class I or II, plus assembly and cooking is allowed onboard. The one exception is that no animal products (meat) can be cooked from a raw state onboard. An example would be unit that sells burritos or bento where any meat is precooked at an approved commissary and then assembled per order.
- Class IV has no menu restrictions; you are a restaurant on wheels.
There are some other important features that all food carts share regardless of class. The application packet explains these features in more detail. Some of these common traits are:
- All food carts must be “mobile”, meaning they need to be on wheels at all times and ready to move in case of an emergency.
- All food carts that have unpackaged foods must have a way to wash hands.
- All food carts need to have a base of operation, often referred to as a commissary, (or warehouse if you only serve packaged foods). There is an exception, you do not need a commissary if:
- The food cart has all of the equipment on board to ensure foods can be kept out of the temperature danger zone (41°F – 140°F).
- You can adequately wash your hands with warm water.
- You can do all warewashing with hot water onboard and have a way to store them.
- The food cart contains both freshwater and wastewater.
- You can dispose wastewater via an approved sewage system.
Building or Buying?
Whether you plan to build a food cart from scratch, renovate an existing one, or take one over that has been inactive, you need go through the plan-review process. The plan review process is important because it helps determine if you will have the capacity to hold enough water, if you can support all of the equipment necessary for your kitchen and which class of unit is best for your business. The plan review specialist will look over blueprints and your menu with you to help you ensure that the food cart will meet your needs and be in compliance with code. Check out the application for all the details on the plan review process. Be sure to plan ample time for this process. We get a lot of plan reviews so a response may take up to ten business days. In a hurry? We offer rush or expedited plan reviews for an additional fee.
Time to open!
Once your plan review is approved you can start building or renovating the unit. When construction is done and you are ready to open, complete a mobile food unit license application and submit to Multnomah County Environmental Health Department. An Environmental Health Specialist will then do a pre-opening inspection to help you with any last minute adjustments and then you are good to go! After that you will get a visit from an Environmental Health Specialist twice a year. Explore our resources page for more information about food safety and what to expect during an inspection.
One important thing to note is that there may be other agencies you will be required to obtain approvals from. These include, but are not limited to:
- Planning (zoning)
- Building codes (structural, electrical, plumbing, prefabricated structures)
- Fire Marshal
- City or county authorities
Review the City of Portland Bureau of Developmental Services website for additional information or call them at (503) 823-7300.
Interested in learning more about opening a food cart? Review the Mobile Unit Operator’s Guide or call our office at (503) 988-3400.