LOS ANGELES -- Thousands of food trucks that line the streets of Los Angeles County would be rated with the same letter grades health inspectors give restaurants, under an ordinance that received tentative approval today from the county Board of Supervisors.
The ordinance, passed unanimously by the five-member board, comes up for a final vote next week, said county spokesman Brian Lew. If it is passed it will take effect 30 days from that date, Lew said.
It will require food trucks and also smaller pushcarts operating in Los Angeles County to provide health inspectors with their routes so they can be scheduled for surprise inspections, just as restaurants are. They will be issued A, B and C grades, depending on their cleanliness. Any vendor who scores lower than a 70 -- the lowest C grade -- can be shut down immediately.
Food truck operators, who are quick to point out they already are inspected twice a year, said before Tuesday's vote that they welcomed the opportunity to be graded. Current regulations call for them to be inspected annually on the road and also at the commissaries where they park their trucks to be cleaned overnight. But they are not issued grades.
"It's like a course in college where you do all the work and don't get the letter grade," said Matt Geller, vice president of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association. "One of the things you see as a result of that is this myth that gets propagated that, 'Oh, those trucks aren't even regulated, they're rogue trucks.' There's a whole lot less opportunity to say that when there's a big A staring you in the face."
For trucks that operate inside one of Los Angeles County's 88 cities, that city must also pass a companion ordinance before health officials can conduct the inspections.
An estimated 10,000 food vehicles traverse the streets of Los Angeles County when both small carts peddling things like churros and hot dogs are counted alongside the full-scale, rolling restaurants like the Kogi Korean BBQ wagon that launched the so-called gourmet food truck phenomenon in Los Angeles County two years ago.
Since then trucks offering such delicacies as crepes, exotic desserts and various forms of fusion food have proliferated in front of office buildings, nightclubs and a handful of lots set aside just for them.
Dr. Jonathan Fielding, head of the Los Angeles County Health Department, said they won't charge the operators additional fees for the first year after the changes, but will study whether the cost of regulating the trucks increases. He said having them post their schedules may make it less costly to find them.
The trucks' explosion in popularity called for health officials to push for the grades, Fielding said.
"We had people say, 'Why can't you also give us a grade for food trucks?'" Fielding told The Associated Press before the vote.
"Like everybody else, I'd like to know the grade," he added, acknowledging he eats at the trucks from time to time himself.
Associated Press Writer Daisy Nguyen contributed to this story.