What’s for lunch? This age-old question haunts offices worldwide. You don’t feel like Italian, Tami wants an eggroll, I want something spicy, and Raheem brought his lunch — but maybe wants dessert. What are we going to order? This everyday dilemma can be solved by food trucks. If you’re lucky enough to work near a food truck rally point, like some areas in St. Petersburg, Detroit, Los Angeles, or New York City, you might end up with a spicy Korean Bibimpap bowl, a lobster dog, banh mi sandwiches, and a churro. Gross together, but food trucks’ offerings are super tasty on their own and help keep colleagues happy. If you’ve ever worked in an office, you dread these discussions. If you’ve ever been a foodie, may I have your attention, please?
Since the late 2000s, the food trucks have been on the rise. After the recession this type of business became a more popular food option. Compared to restaurants, the food truck industry has significantly fewer barriers to entry. They are less expensive, less regulated, and allow for more diversity in ownership and taste. In popular areas, there are even food truck organizers that help food truck owners connect with customers for catering gigs and food truck rallies. Food consumers, food trucks offer gourmet delicacies without the pomp (and price).
Like all good things, there are some pitfalls for owners and customers. Food truck locations vary daily. Their menu offerings are subject to change. And, if the boss didn’t think of selection you might only have a few options at your next training. Still better than a cold sandwich, but maybe you can’t eat fried macaroni and cheese. For owners, food trucks lack national fire safety regulations and each state has their own laws and regulations for owners.
Furthermore, toting around cooking devices and fuel is dangerous! For a tasty treat that won’t burn you, it’s time to get serious, what do food trucks need to be fire safe?
The National Fire Protection Association creates standards for fire safety. In recent years, the NFPA has updated their standards to include food trucks to help owners and operators stay safe. This is incredibly helpful for food truck owners. The previous lack of regulations was confusing. Especially if local and state authorities differed. It also led to accidents, mostly propane explosions. Depending on the size of the propane tank fires ranged from burning employees to damaging 20 residences and even death. Propane tank explosions can create damage comparable to sticks of dynamite. Food trucks and commercial kitchens have multiple fire safety hazards.
Most food trucks operate using propane and an open flame. Like any kitchen, there is an increased risk of fire. Fire suppression systems keep risks to a minimum by providing systems to extinguish/suppress potential fires. Like restaurant kitchens, each food truck configuration is differently. Burners, fryers, griddles, and salamanders (among others) all need fire suppression. Another way of determining this is, does the food truck have a solid fuel cooking device? Most likely the answer is yes. To be fair, some food trucks do use steam tables. These cooking devices do not require a fire suppression system.
If the food truck uses solid fuel cooking appliances, it needs a fire suppression system. The fire suppression system is installed in the exhaust hood. It can automatically detect fires, disperse chemicals to suppress them, and shut off the valve to the fuel supply. This eliminates room for error. Even the calmest employee might not be able to perform these tasks under pressure. Why risk it? These systems work by putting an automatic and manual shutoff valve on the fuel supply. They use a detection system to determine if fire suppression is needed, but also have a manual switch for operators to use as needed. In addition, they are installed in a way to save space, which is critical in a small vehicular kitchen. Food trucks also have a Class K (for kitchen) fire extinguisher installed for additional fire protection. Food trucks that operate using a generator also use a B:C fire extinguisher in case of electrical fire. Who knew you could be at risk of a grease fire and electrical fire at the same time?
Food truck fire suppression systems keep employees, customers, and vehicles safer. The cost of recharging and inspecting a suppression system after a fire is much less than hospital bills and replacing the vehicle. In many states, including Florida, these systems are mandatory. The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), in many places the fire marshal, can close down a food truck until they have passed the fire safety requirements. This costs the owner time and money they could have used to make a profit. It also leaves a taste of disappointment in customers expecting their favorite delicacies to arrive. Fire protection companies that offer kitchen suppression services are the best bet for outfitting a food truck with said fire suppression systems. Proper installation, inspection, and maintenance a critical for fire suppression systems to effectively function.
While it is important, and in many cases necessary, fire suppression systems are not the only way to keep a food truck safe. Owners need to train their employees in using the equipment and basic fire safety practices. Assuming employees have knowledge of basic cooking safety is a recipe for disaster. Important information for employee safety may include: keeping the food truck tidy and clean, not throwing water on a grease fire, reporting any wiring issues immediately, and cleaning the grease from appliances and the surrounding areas daily. Owners and operators are ultimately responsible for employee and customer safety. For day-to-day operations a checklist is helpful in aiding kitchen safety. Thanks to responsible owners, trained employees, and fire suppression systems, you are now safely ready to eat.
Still craving that vegan, bacon cheeseburger? Perhaps a buffalo mother-clucker grilled cheese? Me too! Maybe an ice-cream taco or maybe some mango sticky rice for dessert. Yum…Become a foodie and scope out your local food trucks. Thanks to the NFPA and local fire equipment dealers they are safer and yummier than ever. Preparing to start your own food truck? Be sure to bring your gourmet street food recipes and fire safety knowledge as well.