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KCBS Cover Story: Watching What You Eat – Part 4

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Customers line up at a food truck. (Fred Dufour/AFP/GettyImages)

Customers line up at a food truck. (Fred Dufour/AFP/GettyImages)

DougSovern20100908_KCBS_0208r Doug Sovern
Doug began his career as a copy boy at the New York Times, and then...
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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Restaurant owners throughout the Bay Area have complained that food trucks get to play by a different set of rules when it comes to health inspections. A shortage of inspectors tracking those moving targets has added to the tension between brick-and-mortar eateries and those on the go.

Joe Durso doesn’t understand how the creaky, mobile eaterie that hawks stir fry just down the block from the Durso Deli, a business he’s sunk his life savings into building, managed to pass its health inspections.

“I’m surprised it runs,” he said.

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:

San Francisco only has one health inspector assigned to keep tabs on more than 300 trucks.

“And those trucks are moving around,” Durso said incredulously. “How are they inspecting them?”

San Francisco does random spot checks. Santa Clara and Alameda counties, however, have the trucks come in for an annual inspection, a double standard that bugs Mark Everton at Miss Pearl’s in Jack London Square.

KCBS Cover Story Series: Watching What You Eat

The co-founder of the Oakland Restaurant Association noted that counties do surprise field inspections of restaurants in order to keep them on their toes.

“If I could schedule when I was going to get the health inspection of my kitchen, my kitchen would—while it does very, very well—would do even better. That is a little bit of a disparity between the two sides of it,” Everton said.

At a San Francisco parking lot turned into SOMA StrEAT Food Park, Carlos Williams, a driver on leave from Muni, defended his fellow food entrepreneurs as he fried chicken and slung sliders at his Let’s Eat Grill Stop truck.

“My cuisine is kind of a southern soul meets southwest with Mediterranean influences,” he said.

Williams resents the suggestion that the trucks don’t produce safe, delicious food.

“People are putting out a lot of good stuff out of these trucks. I know I am,” Williams said.

Mayor Ed Lee defended the food truck stop as a great way to defuse the tension between established restaurants and the meals on wheels.

“We’re really trying to direct them to places that could be future oases and not compete with established restaurants,” Lee said.

Holding food trucks to the surprise inspection standard has created its own tension in Alameda County, said health inspector Don Atkinson-Adams, who no longer sends his staff out on a field inspection without a police escort.

“Some of the customers are more than a little upset when we come to inspect a vehicle and, if there’s something wrong, we try to close it,” he said.

His boss, Ronald Browder, acknowledged that health departments throughout the Bay Area have not been able to keep pace with the food truck feeding frenzy.

“We need more than what we have,” he said, adding that his department has just two inspectors, “which is not enough.”

There are some solutions in the works, explored in the conclusion of this series.

Listen for Doug’s Cover Story reports, “Watching What You Eat,” Monday through Friday, Oct. 22 – 26, at 6:20 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 12:20 p.m., 4:20 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. on All News 740 and FM 106.9 KCBS.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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