The board of directors for Northeast Texas Public Health District approved amendments to regulations for food trucks Wednesday that will make it easier for food trucks to operate in Tyler and throughout Smith County.
The amendments, which will take effect Oct. 17, will make local food truck regulations comparable to surrounding big cities and jurisdictions, a Tyler city official and a property owner who wants to develop a food truck park said.
The board’s action followed nearly two years of efforts by the city of Tyler to bring food trucks into the city, a move that was hampered by NET Health District regulations.
Discussions on how to resolve the issue have been underway between the city of Tyler staff, restaurateurs and members of the food truck industry that resulted in the proposed amendments presented to the NET Health District board Wednesday.
After the board’s unanimous vote adopting the revised standards, Kyle Kingma, city planning manager, said: “We are happy with the changes. Net Health has responded appropriately to issues that were brought up.”
Saying the city had concerns with the way the district regulations are currently written, Kingma said in pushing the issue, the city wanted to bring an atmosphere into Tyler in a way that preserves public health and in which food trucks would be able to operate.
“Our primary purpose for going through this process was to make sure the health rules as they apply to food trucks are simplified and clarified so that we have a level playing field with other jurisdictions, other health departments and cities that regulate food trucks,” Kingma said.
Carlo D’Angelo, who wants to develop Tyler Food Truck Park, said, “I think it (the amended regulations) is tremendous.”
He added, “Thanks to the efforts of the city of Tyler, the committee that was formed to look into these standards and NET Health, we’ve come out of this with standards that are more in keeping with standards of surrounding jurisdictions and cities and standards that will now, I hope, open the door for more entrepreneurs who want to start food trucks to feel that they can do so in Tyler and be competitive.”
D’Angelo said he had noticed there were no food trucks in this market and after an exhaustive review of the standards, he came to the conclusion that the standards were much stricter than they needed to be and much stricter than surrounding cities.
With the new regulations soon to be in effect, D’Angelo urged anyone interested in starting a food truck to look at the new standards when they are posted Oct. 17 and contact him on the Tyler Food Truck Park Facebook page because he is seeking tenants for the park.
Now vacant except for a sign, the park is at 404 East Elm Street, between Broadway Avenue and Beckham Street.
The amended regulations, Kingma said, are more focused on food safety as it relates to food trucks where before there was language that was a extra relating to physical structure of food trucks.
“What we’ve done is put the onus (for) the electrical components and plumbing components onto the operator and not on the heath department to check. I think that makes everything easiter, makes it a quicker review process,” Kingma said.
Before, there was confusion over what was required, but the regulations adopted Wednesday simplify the regulations pertaining to food trucks and bring them in keeping with other jurisdictions, Kingma said.
George Roberts, NET Health’s chief executive officer, said food trucks are an East Coast and West Coast phenomenon that has made its way to the South and Midwest.
Studies show young consumers are most receptive to mobile food and approximately 67 percent of people ages 18 to 44 would visit a mobile food truck, but only 38 percent of consumers over the age of 65 would visit a food truck.
Roberts presented NET Health’s responses to various concerns about the food truck regulations that had been voiced by the city and the industry.
At the city of Tyler’s suggestion, Roberts said, the district created a separate section detailing a clear and complete set of requirements for mobile food units instead of having requirements for mobile food units embedded in its food establishments order.
One issue was GPS location and when there are a lot of mobile food trucks, they are sometimes difficult to find. The district changed its regulations to read that all mobile food units shall keep a current primary and secondary contact person, telephone number and social media contact information on file with NET Health. It is the responsibility of the mobile food unit operator to notify NET Health if the information changes.
One of the changes the food establishment roundtable talked about was to add the social media contact information, Roberts said.
Secondly, the district typically wants commercially manufactured units, Roberts said. In its initial discussion, the district said if somebody did not want to have a commercially manufactured unit, there should be a plumbing or electrical inspection. The food truck industry replied that it was difficult to find somebody to do the inspection.
“We changed our requirement to say basically commercially manufactured units are preferred, but not required. Plumbing and electrical inspections are no longer required, but the integrity and safety of the plumbing and electrical system are the responsibility of each mobile food unit owner/operator,” Roberts said.
Regarding equipment manufacturer spec sheets, the concern was that NET Health was requesting a listing of all spec sheets for potential units. “Our response is spec sheets are preferred but not required,” Roberts said. “We will evaluate equipment as necessary, the goal being that equipment is food grade and in proper working condition.”
Exposed conduits and piping was a point that was brought up. “Our response is NET Health’s focus is that mobile food units are easily cleanable,” Roberts said.
Responding to a concern over a fire protection system, NET Health’s revised standards state the Tyler city fire marshal will inspect mobile food units.
Roberts went through the 28 pages regulating mobile food units in its food establishments order as he examined individually numerous other concerns and NET Health’s response to each one.