Uptick in food trucks in Utah causes waiting list for health department inspections

Posted at 9:50 PM, Jun 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-12 23:50:13-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake City’s popular food trucks will have to get in line to open any more in the county. An uptick in the businesses over the last few months has forced the Salt Lake County Health Department to start a waiting list for trucks coming to town.

“I called the health department, and they told me that there was three months of waiting list and 33 food trucks or trailers or carts ahead of us,” said Guido Romero, who co-owns the Red Food Truck with his wife.

The couple recently purchased a second food truck to expand their Peruvian sandwich business. However, when they went to schedule an appointment with a county health inspector, they learned food inspectors were backlogged with requests.

"It was very disheartening after working at least three or four months in our truck to put it together,” Romero said. “It’s kind of been disappointing.”

The wait began after the county received a surge of requests in April and May from potential food truck owners. While the food truck industry has grown in Utah over the last couple years, inspectors became overwhelmed in recent weeks.

“Two to five applications a day. We couldn’t get to them all fast enough, but we are catching up now,” said Eric Peterson, who is an assistant director of environmental health at the department.

A couple weeks ago, the county had 37 food trucks and carts awaiting inspection. By Friday, they had cut the list significantly, with only eight food trucks awaiting inspection.

Part of the problem is that the county has 18 food inspectors to oversee approximately 4,000 restaurants. While they’ve kept up with demand for trucks, thus far, the sudden spike in interest posed problems.

"We would love to have more,” Peterson said. “The food industry is growing is what we've seen across the board in Salt Lake County, but we have enough we believe to protect the public."

If requests subside going forward, they expect to get through the remaining eight trucks on the list within the next couple of weeks. However, temporary permits for special events, such as Pioneer Day, are also on the horizon.

"I wish they would have more inspectors, so they could take care of this situation a lot faster,” Romero said.