Bend's mobile eateries: What are the health rules?

Food cart rules nearly the same as restaurants -- with one exception

Health: Food carts vs. restaurants

BEND, Ore. - There's something about summer and food carts.

"The food is really good," a Bend resident said Friday while ordering lunch at The Lot, the outdoor food cart pod off NW Columbia Street.

And each year, there seems to be more options rolling into town.

To be exact, 107 mobile food carts are operating in Deschutes County, as county health officials said they licensed 11 new trucks this year.

But is food from mobile eateries as safe to eat as restaurants?

"There's the same rules as a restaurant," said county Mobile Food Unit Program Manager Tim Foley. "But they're definitely limited, with space and with equipment."

Foley said food carts operators are licensed and every six months they must pass the same random safety inspections as restaurants.

Mauna Kea Grill is one of five food trucks operating out of The Lot. Owner Adrianne Davis figures her business has inspections more often.

"We probably get inspected more than restaurants do, because at each event there is an employee from the county that comes around and inspects each food cart," she said.

There is, however, one major difference separating the meals provider on wheels from the grounded variety.

"They do not receive a grade," Foley said.  "They are cited for any infractions of any violations."

Restaurants are graded on a 100-point scale and  food carts are simply graded pass or fail.

Davis hopes that  will soon change.

"So we can show we're doing a good job, not just that we passed," Davis said.

Foley said state officials have discussed changing the system, but there aren't yet in plans in the works.

"It's a tool to motivate operators," Foley said. "You give them a score, and all of a sudden they're ranked with all the other mobiles. And it gives the public another tool to decide, 'Hey, what's a good place?'"

It's a popular option for an industry becoming more popular.

"It's worked out in our favor, that more laws are coming out that we can actually follow, instead of operating in a gray area," Davis said.

You can check out how local restaurants and food carts did on inspections here:

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