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One Third of Rhode Island Food Trucks Lack Inspections

Thursday, August 08, 2013

 

Portu Galo is one of the hot new food trucks in the state -- and is also one of a number that the Department of Health doesn't appear to have an inspection on record

Food trucks have risen in popularity around the state in just the past few years, with popular mobile eating establishments becoming regular fixtures downtown, near the colleges, and in various other locations to provide an option for a quick bite from a number of eclectic cuisines.

GoLocal found however that based on information available, it appears nearly a third of the state's most popular food trucks are lacking in food inspections on the Department of Health website, with a number having been inspected last over two years ago -- if at all.

SEE SLIDESHOW BELOW

The Department of Health's "Office of Food Protection Inspection Report Access Page" has been plagued by technological issues, making the information on food trucks -- as well as restaurants -- difficult to uncover.

"The Department of Health has been following up with its vendor, Digital Health Department, to resolve a glitch in the department's online food inspection report database," wrote Dara Chadwick with the Department in an e-mail to GoLocal. "According to the vendor, this glitch may have been caused by its recent server upgrade."

"We realize that there have been issues with database, and we are working with the vendor to correct the problems," said Chadwick.

Public Record Access Hampered by Website Issues

Like their four-walled counterparts, food trucks are subject to state inspections by the Department of Health, with reports supposed to be made available online for the public. However, just how many food trucks the state is looking at isn't exactly clear, due to the issues with the state's database vendor.

A search function on the Office of Food Inspection Report Access Page is configured to allow website visitors to enter search parameters to look at any number of reports by entering either keywords, establishment types (which includes restaurants, colleges, hospitals, and nursing homes, among others) zip codes, locations, or dates.

When GoLocal looked at full-service restaurant inspections in Providence last month, a glitch in the website was uncovered. The first page of returns for a search would appear, but subsequent pages of search returns would kick the visitor back to the entire database, without getting the results requested.

Similarly, a recent search for "year round trucks" for the past two years in the state yielded dozens of results -- ten of which appeared on the first page of returns, but a click to the next page reverted back to the entire database, making it impossible to see the full results.

Do you know if that dog's passed inspection?

The Department of Health contacted the vendor to alert them of the problem, and requested the reports submitted for food trucks for the past two years. The report returned by the vendor (seen here) included all establishments under the category "mobile food service," which encompassed businesses that transport food, but aren't necessarily de facto food trucks. In addition, the last page of the report showed the search had "timed-out", again making it nearly impossible to determine the accuracy of the returns.

In the absence of definitive information from the Department, GoLocal instead turned to the web to find listings of food trucks in the state, and used the popular aggregator FoodTrucksIn (http://www.foodtrucksin.com) to find a comprehensive listing of the food trucks "in" Providence -- and used that information to comb through the back end of the Department's website to find what reports there were.  

Inspections Examined

Despite the increase of food inspectors in the city, a number of food trucks appear to be lacking inspections -- or else the department's beleaguered website is behind it.

Results on "FoodTrucksIn" showed nearly 40 food trucks (as well as some food carts and stands) listed as operating "in" -- or around -- the Providence vicinity currently .

Of those, a number of trucks -- Kona Ice, Lotus Pepper, Mootza, Mijos Tacos, The Sweet Shoppe Cupcake, Shuckin Truck, Like No Udder, Del's, and Paco's Tacos -- were inspected by the Department of Health, and found to have no health violations.

However, a number of trucks that received inspections were looked at last over two years ago now, including Eddie's BBQ, Like No Udder, Mama Kim's, Hewtin's Dogs, and Haven Brothers.

In addition, several of the trucks featured on the FoodTrucksIn site, including Championship Melt, Portu Galo, Noble Knots, Lady Copacabana, Presto Strange O, did not yield inspection reports when searched on the Department of Health website. Trucks associated with a number of restaurants, including Angelo's, Julian's, and Poco Loco -- did not appear to have inspections apart from the brick and mortar establishment.

On the upside, the food trucks mentioned on the site that had reported violations were few -- as were the citations, which fall into two categories.  There are "risk factor" citations, that if not in compliance could result in a foodborne illness.  The "Good Retail Practice" citations are preventative measures to control the addition of pathogens, chemicals, and physical objects into foods.  

"Trucks are inspected upon initial licensure. The timing of subsequent inspections is prioritized according to the level of potential risk to public health of the foods being served. For example, a cart serving frozen lemonade would be considered a lower risk, while a truck or cart serving foods such as chili or chowder would be considered higher risk," said Chadwick.  "Inspections are also complaint driven; the Department hearing a complaint of unsanitary conditions or of someone becoming ill after consuming foods from a food truck could trigger a priority investigation."

Chadwick noted that there are currently 19 food inspectors, 12 of whom have been hired in the last year and a half.

Editor's Note:  Noble Knots was inspected by the Department of Health on March 22, 2013 and is in compliance with health code.  However, a report is currently unavailable on the Department of Health website.  

See Slides of Food Trucks with Violations Below

 

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