A food truck is a mobile food unit or motorized vehicle used to sell food to the public. The truck typically has a full kitchen and refrigerator needed to prepare and cook food. They may often park in front of busier areas such as shopping centers, office buildings, parks, and other similar places.

Due to their mobile nature, food trucks provide the advantage of being able to serve food in multiple places and at different times. Starting a food truck business requires more legal work than one may realize. However, it can still be a profitable business venture.

The exact type of truck needed depends on the jurisdiction as well as state and local laws. Some jurisdictions require a food truck owner to have a standard size delivery truck with heating units in the rear of the truck. Food trucks range from 14 to 30 feet and have a fully functioning kitchen.

Do I Need a License to Operate My Food Truck?

Prior to launching a food truck business, an owner must obtain a business license. A business license is needed to operate from city to city. Again, the process for obtaining a proper license can vary from place to place. However, as food trucks are becoming more popular, the laws governing their operations are also becoming more standardized. 

Having a business license is important for the protection of the consumer public. The legal consequences of not having a license includes:

  • Suspension of operating a business;
  • Fines; and/or
  • Possible criminal consequences.

This will also include any certifications/permits for the food handlers. The employees in the truck that will be cooking, serving, or will be working with the food will need to be certified to handle food. While the requirements may depend on the jurisdiction, many cities will view food trucks like a restaurant.

While they may not be able to require the food truck to have a permanent like to fresh, running water, they can require that any individuals handling the food are certified to avoid foodborne illnesses and contaminated foods.

Do I Have to Meet Certain Healthy and Safety Standards?

In addition, before a food truck owner can sell food, all health inspections must be passed. For example, in Washington, DC an inspection is conducted for the following:

  • Copy of license for the service support;
  • Commissary, deport, or service support facility meeting the correct operating needs;
  • Record keeping and food purchase record storage in order;
  • Proof of an identification card. This care is for district-issued food manager;
  • Proof of ownership;
  • Proper identification; and/or
  • Vehicle license.

Also, the inspection will also cover the safety and sanitation of the food itself. This may depend various factors, such as:

  • The type of food involved;
  • Whether the food is cooked on site or pre-prepared;
  • Warning labels and information regarding food allergens;
  • How the food is handled; and/or
  • Various other factors.

Food Trucks are Everywhere, So Expect Strict Regulation

Food trucks have been a growing trend since the early 2000’s. Now, most major cities have food truck events or fairs where food trucks come and sell their wares. Due to the rising number of food trucks, and a limited number of parking spots that can accommodate them at popular, high traffic areas, many cities are limiting food trucks to sell in certain locations.

This will ensure that there are minimal disputes over territory and that health inspectors can regularly visit and keep track of these mobile eateries.

While it seems like everyone has a dream to open a food truck, the reality is that food trucks are not that easy to start and maintain. Their growing popularity has increased their regulation, and what might be considered a free/relaxed venture actually has a lot of requirements.

Do I Need to Consult a Lawyer Prior to Starting a Food Truck Business?

While food truck businesses can be smaller operations, they often involve many different requirements and legal regulations. It may be in your best interests to talk to a local business lawyer about starting and operating a food truck business. If you have any legal issues or conflicts, your attorney can provide legal advice and representation in court during a lawsuit.