Every year, food-borne illnesses caused by bacteria such as salmonella and e. coli account for an average 76 million cases of sickness in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. Almost 30 percent of reported deaths from infectious food-borne illness in 2007 were credited to salmonella. In Texas, 14 outbreaks of bacterial and seven outbreaks of viral food-borne infection were reported in 2007. Because food-borne illness can have such catastrophic results, the Texas Department of State Health Services has issued strict guidelines for the operations of all food establishments, including street vendors.
State Versus City/County Codes
The DSHS Food Regulation Code is the minimum requirement; however, municipalities and counties have the option to enforce stricter rules. Vendors should always check the rules in their city or county as well. For example, the Metropolitan Health District in San Antonio has issued guidelines for various types of food vendors, including ice cream vendors, foot peddlers, sandwich trucks and shrimp/whole fish vendors. In Dallas, food vendor requirements are available through City Hall. In Houston, contact the Harris County Department of Health and Environmental Services.
Food vendors must purchase biannual permits which are available through DSHS or the municipality and are based on gross annual food sales volume. Permit cost ranges from $250 to $750 for establishments with sales of $150,000 or more. People who operate more than one food vending establishment must have separate permits, applications and fees for each. DSHS may conduct pre-permit inspections of all units to confirm compliance. Permits are reissued based on compliance. Vendors who reapply outside the expiration date, must pay an additional $100 fee. DSHS requires that all permits for mobile food units be displayed on the units at all times.
Most DSHS food vendor guidelines relate to potable water, sewage and sanitation. Vendors must have potable water from an approved source and three-compartment sinks must have hot and cold running water that meets minimum water pressure standards. Waste water retention compartments must have 15 percent more capacity than the potable water storage tank. Appropriate cleaning chemicals and hand sanitizers must be available at all times. A checklist of requirements is available from DSHS.
All food vending establishments that handle any potentially hazardous foods or beverages must have a certified food manager on-site at all times. DSHS has established guidelines for approved training centers that were updated as of January 20, 2010. Certified food managers are responsible for training any staff on proper food handling and for monitoring the day-to-day operations to ensure that customers are not exposed to potential food hazards.
DSHS rules provide exemptions to mobile food units that only serve ready-to-eat, pre-packaged, single-serve foods that are not potentially hazardous and are dispensed from protected equipment. These "restricted operation" vendors need not comply with water and sewage system requirements. They can opt to have required equipment for cleaning and sanitation at their central preparation facility, as well.