vised a colorful matrix that very cleanly
tailors requirements to these attributes.
While many DEHs have developed
helpful guidelines, these resources are
static and can fail to address emerging
trends and technological improvements.
Many DEHs have already developed
a framework for communicating with
industry stakeholders. SFDPH periodically engages industry in mobile-food
roundtable events in collaboration with
other local DEHs in the San Francisco
Bay Area. In addition, the City and
County of Denver agencies, along with
other local health jurisdictions, host the
annual Denver Food Truck Symposium.
As MFFs increasingly fulfill online
orders across the U.S., industry stakeholders have an interest in working
with regulators to bolster consumers’
confidence in MFF hygienic design and
operations. If you would like to help
MFF operators in your county, consider reaching out to DEHs that have
established a communication framework
with industry. And keep updating those
Making Innovation the Positive
It’s Meant to Be Wins the Race
The ever-evolving food industry
continues to advance at a pace well
beyond regulatory capacity to quickly
address emerging issues. At the same
time, illness investigation and reporting
methods have greatly advanced and re-
sult in quicker and often more frequent
and smaller outbreak investigations, and
regulatory resources are taxed to address
new, novel, and emerging issues con-
stantly. Today, new food business ideas
expand across the country in a matter
of months rather than years. The rate of
innovation makes it difficult for regula-
tors to adapt regulations for new models
and obtain the resources to address the
issues with the speed desired by the
plan to conduct reduced-oxygen packaging (ROP), loading ROP food onto an
MFF may be prohibited in your state. If it is allowed, documented measures to
ensure temperature control are essential to prevent the growth of Listeria and
toxin formation by Clostridium botulinum.
MFF manufacturers and software providers are tackling major risk factors, like
improper holding temperature, in innovative ways. For example:
• Consumers’ real-time geo-location data can be used by brick-and-mortar res-
taurants and MFFs to triage orders to the most conveniently located facility,
allowing operators to cut down on holding and delivery times while maximizing
• Order tickets can be based on the customer’s (or courier’s) ETA for pickup, further reducing the time between prep and consumption.
A panelist at AFDO’s annual conference (2019) from Uber eats shared that delivery times average below 20 minutes. While this may contribute to time as a public
health control, it is still dependent on how long the food is held (and handled) during prep.
Authoritative hygienic design standard for MFFs
One would assume that food safety design requirements for MFFs would be consistent, given that all states (to some extent) have adopted some version of the FDA
Food Code, which sports a sleek Mobile Food Establishment Matrix. However, the
sections mentioned in the matrix fail to provide an exhaustive list of design requirements. In this vacuum, local departments of environmental health (DEHs) have created food safety criteria that are frequently inconsistent and occasionally in conflict.
Counties across Maryland require that sinks be equipped with air gaps. Code of
Maryland Regulations does not specify the size of the air gap, but Prince George’s
County requires a 1-inch air gap, while other counties in Maryland require a 2-inch
air gap. Virginia (except for Loudoun County)is indifferent about the air gap, while
California prohibits air gaps. Some counties allow casters, while Los Angeles prohibits them. Denver requires hand sinks that have a width and length of 10 inches,
while most counties in other states allow for 9 inches.
There is clearly a disagreement on how an MFF ought to be designed hygienically, which prompts the question of when and how industry and regulators will
harmonize design requirements. MFF regulations are especially complex because
they are a confluence of food safety, mechanical, electrical, Occupational Safety and
Health Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, and fire safety codes.
Perhaps the most effective way would be for the topic to be considered by a cross-functional working group for the FDA Food Code, which could then be incorporated into existing (or new) sections applicable strictly to MFFs. States would then be
able to adopt the standard, paving the way for a less burdensome permitting process
and a higher degree of confidence in MFF hygienic design.
Impact of complexity of the food produced and sold by mobile food trucks
Baked into many DEH MFF plan-check requirements is a sensitivity to the complexity of food and food handling operations. For example, is the food packaged or
prepackaged? TCS or non-TCS? Raw or RTE? DEHs across the U.S. may want to
take note of San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH), which has de-
“...the popularity and need for incubator
kitchens has also increased.”