SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – They seem to be popping up everywhere – food trucks on Bay Area street corners, selling everything from chicken curry to teriyaki tacos. But a KCBS investigation finds that Bay Area health inspectors are struggling to keep track of all those meals on wheels.
Tripling over the last three years, Bay Area food trucks attract diners like Peter Bersons, who said grub-on-the-go has come a long way from stale sandwiches and greasy tacos.
KCBS' Doug Sovern Reports:
"It's designer roach coaches. But when you're hungry, you're hungry," he said.
But from Jack London Square in Oakland to downtown San Jose, the trucks are posing a challenge for health inspectors. Heather Forshey directs the Consumer Protection Division of Santa Clara County's Department of Environmental Health.
"Unlike a brick-and-mortar restaurant, we may not have any idea where they are and we've got to inspect them out in the field somewhere," Forshey said.
In San Francisco, trucks must get a permit for a specific location but in other counties, they're free to roam, leaving Alameda County inspector Don Atkinson-Adams chasing trucks around.
"They don't talk to us when they go out of business and there are some others that we're trying to catch up with that are not talking to us and they are in business," said Atkinson-Adams.
At the weekly Off the Grid event at UN Plaza, Anthony Sullivan with Kung Fu Tacos said he runs a tight ship – and a clean one.
"We have a hand-washing station, a bleach bucket," Sullivan said. "Everything in here is just as clean and safe as a normal kitchen. It's just on the go."
Aboard Senor Sisig's Filipino fusion truck, owner Evan Kidera said he doesn't just show up and sling spring rolls.
"We have permits in five different counties. There's health permits in each county, there's a business license in each county," he said.
But most counties don't have the staff to go out and do surprise spot checks, so truck owners come in once a year for a scheduled inspection. Santa Clara County has one person to inspect 350 trucks, Alameda County has one and a half for 350 and San Francisco, which does do random inspections, only has one inspector to spot check about 300 trucks.
Atkinson-Adams said the most common violation is not having any hot water on board.
"Some are good and some are not as good," he said. "And those are the ones that we're trying to address."
While also addressing rising tensions between truck operators and restaurant owners.
Listen for Doug's Cover Story reports, "Watching What You Eat," Monday through Friday, Oct. 22 – 26, at 6:20 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 12:20 p.m., 4:20 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. on All News 740 and FM 106.9 KCBS.
(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
for more features.