Watch the video below or scroll down to read the recap
In this live Q&A session, Matt Bragg from our local Mercer County Health Department answered attendees' questions about procedures, inspections, required documents, and more on running a food-related business.
*This training is geared toward our Food Truck Incubator Program participants, but the information is valuable to anyone seeking Health Department guidance concerning running a food business.
To learn more about our Food Truck Incubator Program click here.
The following information is questions and answers that were covered within the session. Matt also covered several important documents related to food businesses within the session, you can view or download the documents below. Note, some of these documents are Mercer County specific, so be sure to obtain the correct documents from your local county Health Department if you are not located inside Mercer County. Jump to Q&A Information.
Matt informed attendees that the form "SF-5 Food_Establishment_Permit_Application" must be completed and turned in to your local Health Department 15 days prior to opening. The "plan-review-packet" needs to be completed and turned in to your local Health Department 45 days prior to opening (this specific document only covers Mercer County, so be sure to obtain the correct form from your local Health Department if you do not reside in Mercer County)
Q: If food is not prepped on the food truck but inside a separate facility, what would I need to do?
A: That facility must be permitted in accordance with the State Code and in accordance with the 2013 FDA Food Code. It cannot be done in a private residence, it must be done in a location permitted by your Health Department, otherwise, all prep must be done on the food truck. You can also prep the night before and store inside coolers/freezers as long as those coolers/freezers maintain proper temperatures.
Q: What if I want to produce my own foods, say I own a farm and we have our own eggs?
A: If you're producing your own eggs or meat, they must meet USDA Standards and be approved as such. You must have both state and federal authorization before you can distribute your own foods. You would need to contact the WV Department of Agriculture and the U.S. WV Department of Agriculture and get their authorizations. Now, if you'd want to go to a store and buy foods, those are considered "potentially hazardous foods" and you would have to note that as such (at least they are in Mercer County, unsure about other counties)
Q: If some of my equipment goes down and we have to add new equipment, do I need to let the Health Department know?
A: Say you are already approved and you get your permit, if you're replacing equipment such as a fridge, oven, or fryer, with similar or same equipment, you do not need to let the Health Department know you just go about fixing your equipment. But if you are adding new equipment, like a blast chiller, a pizza oven, a smoker or broiler that was not originally part of the plan, you'd need to let the Health Department know what you're adding, how it's changing your plan, and provide the equipment specifications sheets.
Q: What is a common major problem that food vendors run into?
A: They do not thoroughly evaluate their menus and offer way too much. Having one or two or three specialty items on your menu with all the various things you can put on them, that's usually enough. More than that and you run into problems with storage, prep, and run out of space very quickly.
Q: When you go to do inspections, what are some of the issues you may typically find with folks who do mobile food?
A: One of the major issues we see is they do not have a good setup of how they're going to maintain food safety. What I mean is, they don't have any idea of how they're going to keep their cold foods cold, hot foods hot, or how or when to sanitize surfaces. Their process needs to be looked at. How are we going to fix food, how are we going to hold food or sanitize?
Q: What is required to get a food handlers card?
A: For your food handlers cards, it's usually a 2-hour class (at least it is in Mercer County), an hour and a half of video and lecture followed by a very short 25-30 question test. This is basically a general knowledge overview of food safety, it's not an in-depth food safety test, but this is what the state mandates before we can issue each individual a food service worker's permit.
Q: Who will need a food handler's card in my food business?
A: Employees that need a food handlers card/food service worker's permit are any employees that fix or prepare any food in any way or those who wash dishes. Servers themselves do not need a permit unless part of their duties is preparing food. For instance, servers that prepare desserts as part of their duties must have a permit.
Q: Am I required to wash my hands before handling money?
A: If you're going from a clean operation (washing dishes, prepping food, or cooking) to what we call a dirty operation (taking cash or payment), then you do not need to wash your hands. Once you move back (from handling money to prepping food) you must change gloves, and wash your hands (20 seconds, or your ABCs twice, in warm water, then rinse)
Q: What are some suggestions for folks who are new to preparing and serving foods?
A: You are not in your kitchen at home, that's one of the biggest things you need to remember. You are putting food into other people's mouths. Be thinking about not just how good the food is, but think about if you or a family member were eating food from a food truck, how clean would you want that. One of the biggest points for me is if I go out to do an inspection and say "I'm not sure if I would want my child eating here", that's a question I ask myself before I shut a place down or keep them open. Another big thing I can think of is your process, have you thought it through? Have you looked at your menu? Thought about how you're going to store your food and where you're going to store it? How are you going to prep and hold your food? And then how are you going to serve your food?
Q: What are some of the red flags you look for as an inspector?
A: Your bigger parts of hazard avoidance, we cover this in our training, for instance, sourcing. If we go in to do an inspection and you can't tell me where your food is coming from, that's going to be an issue. Or if you don't have enough holding, cold or hot, to meet your daily needs. Think about your water, where is it coming from? Do you have enough for your daily needs? If I get on the truck and there are flies everywhere, that's going to be a red flag. If I get on the truck and it's dirty, that's going to be a red flag. If I see there is a lackadaisical attitude when it comes to food safety, I'm going to dig into that and it's going to be a red flag.
Q: Is there one thing that you’ve had to fail someone for that may be easily overlooked?
A: Yes, sanitizer. When we are between operations, or when we're sanitizing between our prepping, one of the first things I'm going to look for is your sanitizer buckets or sprays. Are they proper chemicals, are they quaternary ammonium or are they chlorine? Are they proper concentration? I'm going to test them with test drips, and this happens even in regular restaurants, I'll go through the restaurant and none of their wipe buckets have chlorine in them. That's going to be a massive red flag, that's going to mean I pull the manager aside immediately and we have a conversation about food safety.
Q: (Special question that WV SBDC Business Coach Harold Patterson answered) Of all Matt has covered today, how do you see that fitting into developing a business plan? *Note: If you are a participant in our Food Truck Incubator Program, you are required to create a business plan for your food truck business.
A: This would fit into the Operations part of their plan. They should be thinking about the different steps they would take to prepare the food, the process of how they will clean the Food Truck, and even down to how they will dispose of the old oils.
Q: What if I want to take my food truck into multiple counties?
A: There is legislation before the WV Legislature right now about allowing mobile food vendors to move across State lines on a state permit. That would be issued on a county-by-county basis. You could contact your delegates or your state senators and tell them you're in favor of it, that way if you want to move across counties, you wouldn't have to get a new permit or a temporary permit, you're covered. Also, If you're moving out of WV it's going to depend on the state, I would say at least you need to let the state know or the local sanitarian where you're going at least 15 days in advance. Even 30-45 days in advance would be doing them a huge favor.
Q: What would I need to do if I wanted to sell some of my food in cans?
A: If we're canning food and we're not falling under the special provisions of what we call the "cottage industry rule", if we're serving them off the truck and we're serving them what's called "retail", that's perfectly fine as long as you are still conforming to the 2013 FDA Food Code. So if you're making something that requires refrigeration, you'd keep it refrigerated, then once you sell it, it's on the customer to hold it properly.
Q: What if I want to buy local produce to stock my food truck?
A: Local produce that still looks good, and is in good condition, for instance, let's say my neighbor grows tomatoes and wants to sell them at the local farmer's market. In WV, if you want to purchase uncut leafy greens, uncut tomatoes, whole vegetables, or uncut melons, those are perfectly fine. You can buy those from a farmer's market just as long as they're in good condition. Once they're cut or prepared, they must be stored appropriately. Say you wanted to buy cut tomatoes from someone, those would be considered "potentially hazardous" and you'd need to get them from an approved source.
Q: Can I buy meat from a USDA-certified Meat Processing Plant?
A: Yes, you can buy meat. So if you're going to buy meat from Cook's Processing Plant or from Taylor's Processing Plant, there is also one over in Summer's County that a lot of folks around here use. Yes, as long as it's a USDA-approved Processing Plant, that's fine.
Q: Does the health department have a specific definition of “potential health hazard” as far as food goes?
A: If you're looking for a list or definition for potentially hazardous foods, you can find it inside the 2013 FDA Food Code. In the definitions section, it will define this. Note, it is 800 pages, so don't print it. Also, anything meat-related or eggs-related it's going to have to be USDA approved. So if you are getting your lunch meats or other sandwich stuff from retail locations, as long as on your receipt you're noting where and when you are getting them from inside the Limited HACCP Plan on the truck, you should be fine. Just be sure you're getting those from a USDA-approved source.
Q: How often does the FDA policy change?
A: The USDA policy changes usually every 4 years, we're actually looking at a 2022 code at a state level, but those will not be approved until 2025. So you've got at least 2 years left under the 2013 FDA Food Code. And be sure you check with your counties, some counties I think have moved to the 2017 Food Code, but the state of WV has authorized the 2013 version. Also, I know this can all be daunting, but I recommend developing a relationship with your local food sanitarian and inspector and run things past them. If you have questions, the best people to ask are your local sanitarians.
Q: What may be the standard guidelines for having a food business from home?
A: If you're going to store, prep, or serve food at home, you must have a facility that is permitted with the local Health Department. That means there must be a clear dividing line between that kitchen and the rest of your house. There must be doors that self-close, there can't be access for children, that sort of thing. If you're wanting to do this in your home, it gets difficult. We have to come in and check sewage, water, restrooms, all that still has to meet the 2013 FDA Food Code.
If you have additional questions for Matt, feel free to reach out to him at his contact information below or get in touch with your own county's Health Department.
Let's Get in Touch!
Matt Bragg, Lead Sanitarian Mercer County Health Department | email@example.com | Office: (304) 324-8367 | Work Cell: (304) 320-7891
Jim Spencer, Executive Director Bluefield WV Economic Development Authority | firstname.lastname@example.org | (304) 902-2332 x 2405
Faith Blackwell, Administrative + Marketing Assistant
Bluefield WV Economic Development Authority | email@example.com | (304) 902-2332 x 2408