More Food Truck Inspectors Needed Says County Grand Jury
A new report titled “Temporary Food Facilities in Ventura County” has just been published by the 2013-2014 Ventura County Grand Jury on its website,http://grandjury.countyofventura.org.
The Grand Jury investigated methods for providing inspections and permits for temporary food facilities, known as TFFs, based on an Environmental Health Division (EHD) report presented to county supervisors in May last year.
The purpose of the Temporary Food Facilities Program is to regulate food operations at community events and certified farmers’ markets throughout Ventura County. The EHD evaluates such events to see if they meet the California Retail Food Code’s definition of a “community event,” then ensures that all required paperwork is submitted and that all food vendors are prepared to serve food in a safe and sanitary manner. The EHD offers a monthly TFF class that aims to reduce chances of food-borne illnesses. Event organizers and food-truck operators who take this class receive waivers or reductions of permit fees.
In the past five years, the public’s desire to attend fun, family-oriented events—a lower cost alternative to vacations—has increased. This increase has not been met with an increase in the number of EHD staff to inspect TFFs. The insufficient number of inspectors led to eliminating inspections of TFF-Type 2 operators—those who sell prepackaged, less hazardous foods.
The Grand Jury interviewed EHD staff and County Fair operators, attended an EHD food-handling class and a food truck start-up and event organizer seminar and researched newspaper articles and various websites to obtain a more thorough knowledge of the county’s Temporary Food Facilities Program.
Among other conclusions, the Grand Jury found that:
- Waived or reduced fees have amounted to annual program losses of about a quarter of a million dollars;
- The EHD has created a condition for possible safety hazards by eliminating inspections of TFF-Type 2 operators;
- Current food-handling classes are not making operators more compliant with requirements of the California Retail Food Code; and
- Content for online certificate-renewal training is not adequately kept current.
The Grand Jury recommends that the Board of Supervisors eliminate its policy of fee reductions and the total waiver of fees for food operator permits; this would significantly add revenues to the EHD operating funds. These revenues would allow the EHD to hire additional full-time inspectors to facilitate inspections of all food-handling operations, develop time-saving computer programs to efficiently track the permit process and develop more comprehensive food-handling classes. These steps would help to assure the public of continued safety from food-borne illnesses even in an environment of increasing community events and TFFs.
The Ventura County Civil Grand Jury is a panel of 19 volunteer citizens, mandated by the Constitution of the State of California, to serve as “a voice of the people and a conscience of the community.”