Members of the county health board are looking to more efficiently regulate food trucks.
Sanitarian Madeline Moon said 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.
And without a county policy in place to make sure everyone is following the same rules, it’s created an often confusing situation.
“There’s a new (food truck) every time I turn around,” she said at the County Health Board's regular monthly meeting on afternoon Wednesday at Good Samaritan Hospital. “So I started looking to other counties to see what polices and procedures they have in place.”
Mobile food vendors have to apply for permits through the health department; what was lacking, Moon said, was a deadline by which they had comply.
She’s drafting a policy, she said, that would require food trucks to apply for the permit 14 days ahead of an event.
Currently, she said, she’s been operating on a 10-day mandate, but without an official policy, it’s been difficult to enforce.
“We really need a written policy so it’s standard for everybody,” she said.
Food trucks and mobile food vendors, Moon explained, can 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, would apply to both.
“If they’re just coming for a festival or for one food truck night, they can do a temporary permit, and most of them want to do that,” Moon said. “But if they’re going to be here on a recurring basis, we have them get an annual permit.”
Moon said she hopes to have the policy drafted and ready for the health board to approve at its September meeting. Then, she said, she’ll need to get the information out to the food truck owners.
She hopes to 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.
“I’d love to have links that say, ‘Looking for a temporary permit?’ or ‘Do you own a food truck?’ to tell people exactly where they need to go,” she said. “I want it to be accessible to those who need it.
“I’m happy to see all these food trucks in our community,” she said. “We just want to make sure everybody is doing the same thing. We need consistency.”
Health board members also reflected a bit on what they considered a job well done in responding to a case of hepatitis A at Buffalo Wild Wings last month.
An employee there worked at the restaurant on June 30 — preparing food, too, for July 1 — and was admitted a few days later to Good Samaritan Hospital with confirmed hepatitis A.
Health officials, according to county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart, were mobilized at Buffalo Wild Wings, 2407 N. Sixth St., within 30 minutes of the patient’s diagnosis.
They were fortunate, he said, in that former mayor Howard Hatcher, now the county’s contracted emergency preparedness director, had, just a few days before, held a disaster preparedness drill. It was geared, Stewart said, toward an anthrax scare, but many of the lessons learned there by local officials translated well to the hepatitis A scare.
“That served us very well for what we were doing here,” he said. “We were down there within 30 minutes and had (BWW) back open by the next morning.”
Local health officials, too, cooperated with the state Department of Health, which overnighted free vaccines for a clinic that was held for anyone who had eaten at Buffalo Wild Wings on either of those days.
Stewart said 245 people took advantage and received vaccines.
A hotline, too, was set up specifically for those with questions.
And Stewart praised the management at Buffalo Wild Wings for its swift, cooperative response. They were quick to adhere to the county's directions, and mandated that all employees — if they hadn't already —receive the vaccine before returning to work.
There have been no other cases of hepatitis A reported since then, but Indiana is one of several states experiencing an outbreak; state health officials have reported nearly 1,700 cases here since November of 2017.
Knox County has reported five cases, although this is the first case involving a local eating establishment, therefore constituting a public risk.
The patient was from Illinois.