HOUSTON -- Some Houston-area mobile food truck operators have complained in the past that local rules and regulations amount to a burdensome level of bureaucratic red tape.
But the co-owners of a popular Houston food truck say the propane explosion that critically injured two food truck employees in Philadelphia shows why that regulation is necessary.
"We're always getting inspected. So that's a good thing," said Carlos Villarreal who co-owns Skratch Food Truck with business partner and chef Paul Hill.
Every mobile food truck in Houston is required to pass a daily inspection at one of several city-approved commissaries. Each day of operation they are awarded a certificate that shows they have met cleanliness requirements and that they are disposing of fryer grease and waste "gray" water correctly. The commissaries are also locations where licensed and approved technicians install, repair, and refill propane systems as required by city rules.
Each year the mobile food trucks must also pass a top to bottom inspection at the city's Environmental Health Division at Park Place Blvd. and Telephone Road. Those inspections, conducted every Tuesday and Thursday morning, include a fire department checklist that covers propane and proper fire extinguisher requirements. Villarreal, whose city inspection is due for renewal at the end of this month, admits those checklists can sometimes seem tedious.
"But in the long run you see accidents like what happened in Philadelphia, I mean it's a fail-safe," he said. "You check and recheck and make sure that obviously the safety of us and my employees but also the safety of our customers."
The explosion in Philadelphia also injured at least 10 people outside the food truck.
Of course there are thousands of violations found each year in the multitude of food trucks throughout Houston. The health department does make surprise inspections. And food trucks can be temporarily shut down.
"I didn't know the city had such extensive regulations about mobile food trucks. It's kind of interesting," said Skratch customer Hal Elrod. "I'm glad that they're safe."
"We have to jump through a lot of hoops," said Skratch co-owner Paul Hill. "But it's for a good reason. And I understand why the laws are so tough."
Tough laws intended to keep customers safe, and to keep a Philadelphia tragedy from ever happening here.