Monday, April 11, 2011

Food truck permits - keeping it legal

BY: Denamarie Ercolani

Food trucks are hotter than ever in Philadelphia, but the city has rules to keep expansion in check. Owners of food trucks in the city are limited to certain areas and districts depending on which permit(s) they obtain.

Meanwhile other cities, such as New York, have experienced turmoil within their food truck movement. There are over 5,000 mobile food vendors in New York City. These vendors are free to roam the city unlike Philadelphia.

Though trucks are a small business, they require a significant investment. Costs include the truck, permit acquisition, supplies, security and insurance.

Food truck experience is longer a prerequisite for success in the food truck business. Restaurant owners, such as Jose Garces, are seeking an extra boost in revenue and sales without having to pay a high monthly rent. Although overhead is lower, the permits needed to legally operate a food truck are pricy to get and tedious to obtain.

In the city of Philadelphia, a food truck is required to have:
1)         Motor Vehicle Vendor License, $300,
2)         Non-Permanent Food License, $150
3)         Business Privilege License, $300.

To speed up the permit process, the food truck vendor can obtain a Business Tax Account number. If this number is presented, the vendor can secure a Motor Vehicle Vendor and Business Privilege Licenses on the same day according to the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I).

The Motor Vehicle Vendor Licenses expires at the end of December each year. The Non-Permanent Food License also expires annually during the month of April. The Business Privilege does not expire; however, the Department of Public Health must inspect and approve the truck prior to the vendor receiving certification.
(Clip deals with with permit issues in Ohio)

Inspectors determine whether a vendor has met standards stipulated in a 13-page document of code of the Mobile Food Vending Unit-Plan Submission Guide.

According to the Department of Public Health, the guidelines for mobile food vendors regulate the size of trucks, as well as the food preparation surfaces, sinks, freezers, and cookers.

Prior to construction and fabrication of the truck, all new mobile food vending units are required to have properly prepared plans drawn to scale submitted and approved by the Office of Food Protection. 

A Food Establishment Self-Inspection Checklist is provided in which owners have to self-inspect their trucks for rodent infestation, food contamination and maintain sanitary utensils and cooking equipment. They also have to monitor employee hygiene, such as the washing of hands, pulled back hair, etc. 

All food handling requires that an individual within a valid City of Philadelphia Food Establishment Personnel Food Safety Certificate be present during vending unit operation.

Maura Kennedy, director of strategic initiatives at the Department of Licenses and Inspections explained that they do not write the vending code, they just enforce these regulations set by City Council.

Within the city, there are certain areas where vendors are allowed to park their trucks while a permit and fee are needed in others.

“We have special vending districts within the city, but the only one that permits truck vending is University City. The fee for a motor vehicle truck in this area is $2,750 a year and it expires in December. Otherwise, if they are not vending in this area, they can set up on a street that is not on the Prohibited Streets List as long as they abide by the traffic regulations concerning parking,” said Kennedy.

Unlike New York City, Philadelphia has approximately 250 licensed food trucks according to the department of licenses and inspections records.

There is no limit to the number of operating food trucks in the city, but in University City, only 75 truck vendors are permitted.

Although Philadelphia requires vendors to obtain permits that only allow them to park and operate in certain areas, food truck entrepreneurs want to be able to roam the city. The city is weary on what tension and hostility the ability to roam could cause.

Denamarie can be reached at


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