Food Safety Tips when operating your Food Cart Business

When running a food cart, there are strict guidelines regarding pre-cooked food.  It is crucial to understand the laws and regulations of hot dog cart food safety.

Here are six food safety tips you need to know when operating your food cart business.

Temperature Requirements

  • For cooked meat:

Once the meat is cooked you must keep it at a consistently higher temperature than the minimum temperatures set by the health department. This needed storage temperature changes from one location to another. For example, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) advises a holding temp of 140°F or higher for infectious diseases. Depending on what County or State you are in, you should check the minimum requirements at the local health department with jurisdiction over your cart. 

A thermometer must also be kept on hand by the hot dog vendor to keep track of the temperature of the food.

  • For refrigerated meat:

You must keep refrigerated meat at a temperature below the recommended cold temperature. 

The health department recommends that potentially dangerous items such as meats be kept at or below 41°F (4°C). You must have an additional thermometer on hand to keep track of the temperature. Additionally, the temperature of the icebox and refrigerator must be monitored by the cart operators frequently throughout the day by the cart operator. We recommend that you do so every 2 hours. It is important to ensure that refrigerator panels or icebox coverings are not left wide open since this could increase the inner temperature above the cold storage threshold. As soon as you receive food from a supplier, check it for temperature deviations from the acceptable ranges and discard it. Put all perishable goods in appropriate storage containers as soon as possible after they are prepared.

To be stored properly, pre-cooked meats and fresh meats must be chilled to the refrigerated temperature within one specified amount of time after they’ve been prepared. Example: The IDPH requires that cooked beef be brought to 70°F (21°C) in 2 hours and 41°F (4°C) for another 4 hours after it has been brought to 70°F (21°C) (6 hours total). You should bring down fresh meats to 41°F (4°C) after 4 hours of being brought to room temp. Again, the minimum requirements may vary depending on the county you are in.

  • Uncooked Meats:

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH),  uncooked meats must be cooked to the following recommended temperatures:

Chicken = 180°F (82°C)

Beef – Medium = 160°F (71°C)

Beef – Well Done = 170°F (77°C)

Ground Beef = 160°F (71°C)

Pork = 170°F (77°C)

The internal temperatures shown above should be reached and kept for a certain minimum period to ensure that the food is completely cooked before distribution. For instance, the IDPH suggests that beef, chicken, fish, or pork in the shape of steaks, chops, or entire pieces be cooked for at least 15 seconds to reach the appropriate temperature. The meat can then be placed in a storage area and kept at a temperature just above the required temperature (140°F or 60°C) until it is ready to be served. Once all these baseline cooking temperatures have been attained for the specified timeframes, you can serve the meat to customers.

  • The Danger Zone

Following the guidelines outlined above helps keep the product fresh and avoids the development of microorganisms. Briefly stated, a health department will require that hot foods like sausages be kept above 140°F (60°C) and those frozen perishable goods be kept below 41°F (4°C). The temperature range around 41°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C) is in the danger zone for the growth of bacteria and food degradation.

Preventing Cross-Contamination

During the preparation and cooking process, you must exercise extreme caution to prevent the risk of cross-contamination between meat or any food items on the table. When working with raw, fresh, or frozen meats, exercise extra caution to avoid cross-contamination. You and your consumers can become ill and perhaps die if you serve meat with potentially harmful bacteria. The area used for meat preparation should be cleaned and disinfected before using it for any food preparation.  Using a cutting board to divide frozen meat portions, requires the board to be cleaned and sanitized before you use it to chop onions. Every piece of equipment that comes in contact with meat MUST be cleaned and sanitized in the same manner as the meat. Alternatively, you can add one teaspoon (5ml) of chlorine bleach to 1 quart (1L) of water to create sanitizing solutions.

  • Use separate plates for raw, cooked, and frozen meat

Avoid re-using the same plate or surfaces used to prep or transport the raw (frozen or fresh) meat after it has been cooked. For example, if you were using a tray to carry frozen sausage from the icebox to the grill, you should not place the cooked sausage on the same trays you used to carry them. The tray has been polluted by undercooked meat and should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before using it again.

  • Use separate tools to handle raw, cooked, and frozen meat

You should not handle raw, cooked, and frozen meat with the same tools. Fresh, raw, and frozen meats should all be viewed as potentially harmful.  Anything that comes into contact with them should be considered contaminated, including blades, forks, or tongs that have been used to handle the meat throughout the preparation. They will have to be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized before you can use them again.

Organizing your food storage to keep raw, fresh, or frozen meats away from other foods is essential. You cannot allow cross-contamination with other ingredients. 

Always remember to completely wash and disinfect food prep surfaces, equipment, and utensils after each use to prevent cross-contamination.

Keeping Condiments Safe, Preparing, and Serving

Some health agencies prohibit hot dog cart vendors from offering dairy-based condiments like mayonnaise, grated cheese, or even squeezed bottle cheese.  They only allow condiments that do not need to be refrigerated after opening.  It is important to verify with your local health department to comply with all applicable local codes. If any such perishable condiments are permitted, you must adhere to the health regulations that all these condiments stay in good health throughout your working day. If you are authorized to use refrigerated condiments, store them at or below the prescribed temperature (typically 41°F or 4°C or lower). To do so, you will require a thermometer to keep track of the temperature.

You must store food in clean, reusable containers that are well sealed to prevent pests, dirt, foliage, and rain from getting into the containers. According to several health regulators, glass jars with screw-on lids are not suitable as serving containers. If any condiments get contaminated by the end of the workday, you must thoroughly clean them before being replaced with new content. Alternatively, you could always supply condiments in single-serving plastic packaging.

It is not recommended to place condiments directly on the ground or floor, and store foods in a cabinet or on a shelf. Among them are items that have been prepackaged, like certain condiments. Keep your condiments apart from your meats by storing them in a separate cooler or on racks below them. Keep your condiments away from any cleansers or chemicals to avoid contamination. All of these regulations are in place to ensure that the condiments do not become tainted in any way.

Safe Food Handling 

Measures must be taken to ensure safe food handling.

  • Avoid reporting to work when sick

If you are sick, avoid working in the preparation of the food or service industry. It is when you are sneezing, runny nose, diarrhea, sore throat, vomiting, dark urine, yellowing of the skin, or are experiencing a fever or other symptoms of infection. If you have an untreated cut or burn abscess, or blister, you should avoid handling food. 

  • Use Food Service Protective Gear

Always use foodservice protective gear over any scrapes, scratches, or burns to prevent further infection.

  • Proper use of Gloves and Utensils

ALWAYS wear gloves and use forks, tongs, spoons, or other utensils to avoid contamination when working with food items.  Maintain a clean stock of spare utensils inside a clean, closed container on hand for emergencies. 

  • Anything that falls and touches the floor, whether food or a utensil, is deemed contaminated. 

Food that has been tainted in this manner should be discarded immediately.

For utensils, they should be cleaned with warm soapy water and disinfected before use again. A disinfecting solution is typically made up of one part chlorine bleach to two hundred parts water.  There are chemical sterilizing solutions that you may buy that are pre-mixed and ready to use off the shelf.

  • Make sure you have enough food wrappers and utensils ready

Keep a stash of food wrappers and an adequate number of utensils on hand for your clients to ensure that they never come into direct contact with any food items. Please make sure to give consumers any guidance they may require so that they can guarantee food hygiene.

Important Food Safety Tips you need to know when operating your Food Cart Business

crumbs to keep the space looking clean and orderly.

You want to open a food cart business but, where do you start? What do you need to learn first?

Drafting your business plan is a given, but what is the second most important thing you need to master before you dive into this business venture? Yes, you guessed right. Food Safety is KEY.

There are generally strict guidelines regarding the sale of pre-cooked food offerings on food carts which is why awareness of the laws and regulations is important. 

Studying your food cart business in-depth for the first time may seem overwhelming. The vast amount of resources available may confuse you. To guide you to know what’s essential, we have gathered six key bullet points on important food safety tips you need to know when operating your food cart business.

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