How to Start a Mobile Food Truck Business
STEP ONE: Obtain a Certified Food Protection Manager Identification from DC Department of Health (DOH)
Mobile food unit operators are required to have their District-issued certification identification present during all times of operation. Enroll and complete a Food Manager Certification Course, contact one of the national providers listed below to arrange for training. Complete the process to receive a valid certificate. For questions regarding how to obtain or renew a “Certified Food Protection Manager Identification” contact the Food Safety & Hygiene Inspection Services Division, 899 North Capitol Street, NE, 8th Floor, Washington DC, 20002, 202-535-2180.
Several providers offer the class at a variety of locations and times. It is suggested that individuals contact the national providers to schedule a class for their convenience. The providers are as follows.
Thomas Prometric (Certified Professional Food Manager Exam)
ServSafe (National Restaurant Association)
National Registry of Food Safety Professionals
Once you have received your certificate, bring the original certificate and test score(s), (no photocopies, no faxes, no instructor letters) along with a check or money order (No Cash) for $35 made payable to DC Treasurer and two forms of identification (one must be photo). Your card will be valid for a period of three years from the date of the exam. For additional questions regarding how to obtain or renew a “Certified Food Protection Manager Identification” contact the Food Safety and Hygiene Inspection Services Division, 899 North Capitol Street, NE, 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20002.
STEP TWO: Conduct Plan Review (Equipment and Food) with DC Department of Health (DOH)
The next step is determining the type of food items you want sell and then determining how you're going to prepare it - or the your food process. Some foods you're going to be able to construct right in the truck, other you’re not going to be able to do in the truck because of health concerns or size limitations. The idea is to determine what needs to be made in the truck and what can be made in a commercial kitchen. Once you have a solid plan, you need to take your proposed menu to the Department of Health’s Food Compliance.
Plan Review submission fee and initial health inspection Certificate: $100.00
Please note: The fee must be paid by check or money order made out to
“DC Treasurer”. Credit Cards or cash are NOT accepted.
Building, Renovating Your Mobile Food Truck
Once you determine the food process and it has been approved, you can begin to design your truck based on this process. You need to determine what type and size of grill, refrigerator, hood suppression system, deep fryer, etc. and how much storage is needed and how the food needs to be stored.
You next need to find a truck designer. There are a number of custom shops nationally that design food trucks. While we cannot recommend a truck service, an online search will quickly turn up several option. The company will then create a blueprint for the truck. Once your blueprint is complete, you take the plan back to Department of Health to ensure if built as designed will pass inspection.
DCRA’s only restrictions involve the size of the truck. The maximum dimensions are 18.5 long, 10.5 tall, 8 feet wide. Once truck is completed, the Department of Health will do a final inspection of the truck and the cooking and storage units. This inspection involves turning on and testing all of the equipment. DCRA inspects the truck for compliance with size regulations. And checking to make sure.
If you are cooking or cooling using propane or have a fire suppression hood for a grill or deep fryer, you need to get an inspection permit from the DC Fire Marshal.
STEP 3. Submit Vending Application to the Department of Health
All new vendors must complete the vending application provided and submit to the Division. Fill out as much information as possible and bring a copy during the inspection of your vending unit. The application includes information about the vending unit, vendor contact information, hours of operation and other relevant information pertaining to your operation.
STEP 4. Submit Depot Letter to the Department of Health
All vendors must maintain access to an approved depot location. The depot should have the ability to support your operation with regard to food supply / storage, Water Supply, Food Preparation, General Supply Storage, Storage of mobile food vending unit, Repairs, Cleaning of Equipment / utensils, Waste Disposal and Cooking Oil Recycling (provide copy of contract) Complete the attached depot letter. Approval for the health certificate may be delayed if completed and signed depot letter is not on file.
STEP 5. Get a Health Inspection
Inspections occur on a weekly basis at 1100 4th St SW (at the rear/east side of the building).. Inspections will be performed by the Department of Health on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between the hours of 9 am and 12 pm. Inspectors may also perform inspections as part of their regular schedule while in the field, given the proximity of the vending unit to the inspection route. Please call (202) 535-2180 if you need an inspection at any other time.
It is strongly encouraged that vendors attend the scheduled inspection location during the designated time frame. Vendors who pass their inspection will receive a pink copy of their inspection results to be used as a temporary health inspection certificate. This temporary certificate will be valid 30 days from the inspection date of issue. Vendors should obtain their permanent health inspection certificate from our office prior to the 30 day expiration.
Inspection will verify the following:
- Proof of ownership, proper identification and license.
- Proof of District-issued Food Manager Identification Card.
- Food purchase record storage and record keeping.
- Depot, commissary or service support facility meets vending unit operation needs. A copy of license for the service support facility and/or a recent inspection report is required to be presented.
If the proposed facility does not have prior approval or is new then plan submission requirements must be fulfilled. If the service support facility is located outside the District of Columbia appropriate information must be provided for verification and approval of this facility.
When the above requirements are met; your vending unit will be inspected while operating to determine compliance with operational requirements for health inspection certificate renewal approval.
STEP 6: DCRA Licensing
Once the Department of Health and DC Fire Marshal inspections are complete, you begin the DCRA licensing process.
The person who will be operating the truck, and received their must apply for a Roadway Class A License.
How to Operate Your Business
The licenses are issued to individuals not businesses and the truck must be operated by the individual who is issued the license.
Once granted this license, you agree to operate according to the law. You can only solicit customers who flag you down. The 35-year-old law was intended for ice cream trucks and obviously did not foresee social media playing such a vital role. Please understand that this is current regulations and we will enforce the rule for vendors who do not follow this rule, traffic and parking rules.
For example: If a Mobile Vendor parks on A Street NW for 5 customers who flag them down or alerted the vendor they were waiting via social media, the vendor needs to find a legal parking spot to serve customers and then must leave once all customers are served. Anybody found not following these rules is subject to fines and possible revocation of their license.