When you're hungry, they're a sight for sore eyes.
In the St. Louis area, food trucks serve anything from pizza, to cupcakes, to gourmet sushi. But how safe is the food you're eating?
You can get food-borne-illness from a meal at a brick-and-mortar restaurant or even your own kitchen. However, St. Louis city and county health inspectors say food trucks present their own unique sanitation challenges.
“They're on wheels in a small space so it's harder to manage,” said Katherine Boyer, an environmental supervisor with St. Louis County.
So the I-Team took a look at thousands of inspection records from St. Louis, St. Louis County, and St. Charles County to see what's been happening behind some of those shiny counters in the last year and a half.
Then we decided to go directly to the trucks to ask about some of their recent critical health violations.
First up: Slice of the Hill. They are well known for their pizza, but according to health inspection records, they could’ve served you something far less pleasant back in March.
That’s when St. Louis County inspectors found soil residue throughout their truck. And most importantly, their hand-washing sink had no water.
“Isn't that pretty important for preventing food contamination, having a working sink?” we asked a worker in the Slice of the Hill truck.
“Oh of course. I haven’t been here that long and that was a different guy managing the truck and now that it’s changed, everything is up to par,” said the worker.
“Does it work now?” we asked.
“Definitely,” he answered.
But Monique Hudspeth, a St. Louis health inspector says, “that's a bare minimum guideline. You have to be able to wash your hands, and you have to be able to rinse, and sanitize."
Before we left, we spotted something else: an employee with a big bushy beard without a net on it. Was that a violation, we wondered?
“I would have cited that man. He should've had on a beard net if he's preparing food,” said Hudspeth.
The owner of Slice of the Hill food truck later sent us this statement:
“Slice of The Hill Food Truck has been roaming the streets of St. Louis & the surrounding areas for over 4 yrs & in that time, we have never had a health department violation that has resulted in the Department of Health stopping a single service that we have been involved with. Unlike a regular restaurant our food truck is inspected as many as 12 times a year, because we are licensed in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County & several other surrounding counties. I always encourage any of our patrons to please visit these Counties Health Department websites, where they can see that we have never received a grade that wasn't in the 90's. As far as the NFC (non food contact surfaces) violation, we have recently hired new management and this problem has been addressed. The truck did have a major sink violation in St. Charles county in June of this year...The sink broke in transit, which can be a unfortunate byproduct of being on wheels. A new sink was ordered & installed right away. Complying with health department standards is something that we take very seriously & something that we do our due diligence on every day. We stand behind our record with the Health Departments & as in any business...when any problems have occurred, they have been dealt with immediately."
Next, we found the Rolling Grill food truck, which was cited two times this summer for having a cooler too warm to stop bacteria from growing.
“If the food is too warm, people could get sick, right?” we asked the owner of the truck.
“Of course yeah. Of course,” said Nermin Bobic, who owns Rolling Grill.
“All these problems have been fixed?” we asked.
“Yep, everything has been fixed,” said Bobic.
But at many trucks, the employees said they were unaware of past health problems, like when we visited Street Life Food Truck.
“We saw back in March you guys were storing food on the floor,” we told an employee of the truck. "What happened there?"
“Oh no, there's a couple of trucks who do that, but we don't do that,” said the worker.
But according to a St. Louis County inspection from March, there were ready-to-eat food items stored on the floor, and the hot water was too cool to effectively kill bacteria.
The Street Life staff invited us into the truck and everything appeared to be clean and in order.
But the real threat say county and city inspectors, are the trucks that never bother to get licensed. As a result, those trucks are never inspected.
“Not everyone comes and tells us when they decide to create a food truck. We have no way of tracking them all the time. We don't have GPS on anyone,” said Boyer.
All of the food truck workers we spoke with were open and inviting, and their past health violations were already fixed.
But experts say if you're going to eat anywhere, food truck or regular restaurant, you need to check not only their last inspection, but their inspection history. That's because each surprise inspection is just a snapshot of what was going on at that eatery at that moment. So to get a real picture of sanitation practices there, you need to see their history.
Want to know how your favorite food truck has scored in their past inspections? Just select them from the drop-down: