Members of the Knox County Board of Public Health on Wednesday made good on a promise made last month to more efficiently regulate local food trucks.
Board members unanimously approved a new policy that applies to those who need either temporary or annual permits to sell food, specifically food trucks and food vendors that set up for festivals like the Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous, Festival Latino, the Watermelon Festival, and many others.
Sanitarian Madeline Moon told the board last month that she's had a difficult time keeping up with what she called a recent "food truck explosion," what with summertime festivals and the addition of Food Truck Mondays to the city's Riverwalk last fall.
Without a county policy in place to make sure everyone is following the same rules, Moon said it’s creating an often confusing situation.
So the board approved its first-ever food vendor policy, which states that all vendors must secure their permit from the health department a full 48 hours ahead of the event itself.
That, Moon said, should alleviate the often frequent demand that she visit the vendor on site, at the actual event, on the day-of, to collect money and, if all the boxes are checked, issue the permit.
The new policy also makes specific requests of event coordinators. They must now submit to the health department 14 days ahead of time a full map of food vendors, restrooms and hand-washing facilities. The map, too, should include the location of any animals on site, rides and other attractions.
Moon said she’d run it by a couple of long-time event coordinators and that they gave it their full support, even arguing that it would make things easier.
Food trucks and mobile food vendors, Moon explained, can still seek either a temporary permit or an annual permit; food trucks that operate on a regular basis, like Thainamite, usually get an annual permit to avoid having to constantly fill out health department paperwork.
But many, she said, seek temporary permits, which are good for three days, as there is often less red tape to navigate.
The timeline, she said, will apply to both.
“This is really going to help me see who is from Knox County and who isn’t,” she said. “And I can chase anybody down that needs a permit.”
The 48-hour guideline, too, she said is good for the vendors themselves. Securing that permit ahead of time — thereby eliminating the possibility that it won’t be issued at all — will ensure they don’t waste valuable resources and time.
“That way, they won’t buy food they can’t sell,” she said.
County health officer Dr. Alan Stewart applauded Moon’s efforts in creating the new policy, adding that it’s meant only as a way to make things easier on everybody.
“We’re not creating any new laws. We’re not raising any more money or raising fees,” Stewart told the board. “What we want to try to avoid is someone showing up at an event that day without a permit. If we say, ‘You don’t have a permit,’ but they say, ‘Well, you do this for everyone else,’ we can turn around and say, ‘No we don’t. And here is our policy.’”
“I really think this will help things run a little smoother,” Moon said.
Moon plans to send the new guidelines out to all local food vendors. She also hopes to, at some point, see a downloadable form added to the county's website, although that will take some work with county officials in seeing the current website updated.