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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill Town Council will discuss food truck sanitation

Food trucks differ from brick-and-mortar restaurants in many ways, from target clientele to their lack of permanent address.

But there is one standard food industry leaders say the two should be held equally accountable to: sanitation.

As the Chapel Hill Town Council holds a public hearing on possible changes to the town’s food trucks ordinance tonight, some restaurant owners are challenging the measure not just because it could bring new competition, but also because they say the food vendors might be unsanitary.

Rob Moll, an owner of R&R Grill on Franklin Street, said he doesn’t think food trucks are equipped to safely prepare food.

Moll said his restaurant takes extra safety precautions when preparing food that he thinks food trucks don’t.

“We have fresh running water, and our utensils are washed with high temperature dishwashers,” he said. “They’re in a truck; where are they supposed to have space for that?”

Tom Konsler, environmental health director for the Orange County Health Department, said food trucks are required to follow the same rules as traditional restaurants when handling food.

Regulations governing food temperature, where food comes from, garbage disposal and the handling of equipment and utensils apply to both restaurants and food trucks, he said.

But Konsler said while traditional restaurants are required to post a letter grade of their sanitation score, food trucks sanitation are graded on a pass/fail scale.

If Chapel Hill’s ordinance passes as drafted, it would require food trucks to have health department approval for the restaurant that supplies the truck, and make plumbing and electrical connections in accordance with state code.

Isabel Guzman, owner of Captain Poncho’s Tacos food truck in Carrboro, said she thinks food truck vendors keep a clean and safe environment.

She said she has had experience running a traditional restaurant and thinks the sanitation standards of her truck are at the same level as restaurants.

“Now that I’m the owner of a food truck, it’s all the same rules,” she said.

Council member Penny Rich said she acknowledges that food trucks’ sanitation is a concern for some, but she thinks the complaint is incorrect.

Rich said she supports passing the ordinance and allowing food trucks downtown, which council has discussed for almost a year.
Town staff recommends that the council revisit the topic in January, but if the council chooses to pass it earlier, the ordinance could go into effect by Jan. 1.

Hillsborough passed a similar ordinance allowing food trucks last week, and Chapel Hill has looked for guidance from Carrboro’s food truck ordinance during its discussions.

“We’re a little behind the curve on this one,” Rich said. “I think we need to have a strong ordinance, but we need to catch up.”

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