When it comes to regulating food trucks, mobile food vendors and restaurants in general, Shaun May from the Okaloosa County Health Department says the process can be a little tricky.
"It's a story that's really fascinating in the state of Florida," said May, the organization's environmental health director. "I believe we are one of the only states where the health department doesn't inspect restaurants."
In Florida, those responsibilities fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Business and Professional Regulations, which monitors and issues licenses to lodging partners (hotels, motels, bed and breakfast inns, and dwellings), free-standing restaurants, fast food services, mobile units/food trucks, and bars that serve food.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is tasked with licensing bakeries, grocery stores and convenience stores, while the Department of Health licenses bars that do not serve food and institutions such as schools and hospitals.
Samantha Stratton, a representative for the DBPR, told The Log via email that the licensing requirements for mobile vendors are very similar to those of a standard brick and mortar restaurant licensee, including "stringent inspections."
"All new establishments are required to submit plans for review to ensure compliance with minimum sanitation and safety standards," she wrote. "In addition to approved water sources for all food service establishments, mobile units must provide proof of adequate wastewater tanks and disposal."
According to the DBPR website, food service inspections are done multiple times annually, and as part of the inspection "handwashing, food temperatures and food handling practices are of critical concern, and the inspector places major emphasis on these areas when conducting the inspection. Other areas covered during the inspection include: hot and cold food holding; food protection; food equipment and utensils; water and sewage; plumbing; toilet and wash facilities; garbage and refuse disposal; insect/rodent control; floors, walls and ceilings; lighting; ventilation; dressing rooms; and general safety."
More information about the process can be found at http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/index.html.
In the city of Destin, any food truck or other mobile structure on a fixed site must apply for and receive a city of Destin portable building permit, which is reviewed by the planning division. They must also apply for and receive a business tax receipt which is reviewed by the planning division, as well.
Officials from the city estimate that about five mobile food truck/trailers have been permitted in Destin throughout the last couple of years.
When it comes to temporary food carts, May told The Log that the "vital question" becomes where the entities "commissary" is located, or basically where they store food.
"Depending on where the food is stored, depends on who is going to regulate that operation," he said. "We have a very long matrix that we use telling people where to go for permitting."
"At the end of the day, if you come to Florida and want to open a restaurant or a food cart or whatever it may be, there is a lot of education and things to learn," he added.