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Mobile Food Facilities (MFF) FAQs



What is the definition of a mobile food facility?
According to the California Retail Food Code (CalCode) Chapter 2, Section 113831, "Mobile food facility" means any vehicle used in conjunction with a commissary or other permanent food facility upon which food is sold or distributed at retail. "Mobile food facility" does not include a "transporter" used to transport packaged food from a food facility, or other approved source to the consumer.

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What is a permit to operate?
"Permit" means the document issued by the enforcement agency that authorizes a person to operate a food facility (CalCode Section 113851). As the local enforcement agency for the State Retail Food Code, Alameda County Environmental Health Department issues a Permit to Operate for mobile food units including trucks, trailers, and carts.

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Do I need a permit to operate any kind of mobile food facility?
CalCode Section 114381 states that: A food facility shall not be open for business without a valid permit.

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I am only selling drinks (e.g., tea or hot chocolate), do I still need a permit?
Yes. Beverages are considered food and a permit is required. Selling beverages comes under "Limited food preparation" under CalCode Section 113818(a)(6): Preparing beverages that are for immediate service, in response to an individual consumer order, that do not contain frozen milk products. Espresso and/or coffee carts must comply with the same structural requirements as a limited cooking cart or truck.

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How do I get a permit?
If you are not remodeling or building a new truck, but are a new business, you can download and complete the "Mobile Food Facility & Caterer's Registration" from the following website: www.acgov.org/aceh/food/mobile_food_units.htm. You must pay your appropriate fees prior to obtaining an appointment for the structural inspection that may result in a permit being issued by Alameda County Environmental Health (ACEH). You must also obtain a business license from the city or cities where you plan to operate.

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Do I need other permits besides County Environmental Health?
Yes. If you are doing new truck construction or remodeling, you will need to contact the State Housing and Community Development department (HCD) for an inspection to meet California construction standards. Once an HCD insignia has been issued, you may call ACEH to schedule the County permit inspection. In addition, you will need to obtain a business license from the city or cities where you plan to operate. You may also need a seller's permit from the State Franchise Tax Board.

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Where can I operate my mobile facility in Alameda County?
Contact your local municipality zoning or business licensing department, as each city or unincorporated community may have different regulations. You may also choose to operate under a permitted sponsor at a special event, such as a County Fair, Street Fair, Farmer's Market or other sponsored event such as "Off-the-Grid". The event-type operations require approval from the event sponsor.

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How much does a permit cost?
There are several different types of permit fees depending on the type of unit and menu. Rates may vary in any given year. Check the following website for the most current rates: www.acgov.org/aceh/billing/index.htm. There will be a onetime application fee. Mobile food cart permit fees are approximately half the cost of the catering truck/trailer. There are also fees for re-inspection and follow-up inspections.

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I already have a permit for one truck. Do I need a separate permit if I want to operate a second truck with the same menu?
Yes, every truck is considered a separate business and must have their own inspection and permit fees. The trucks may have the same names followed by a number as the identifier (e.g., Pasta Plate #1 & Pasta Plate #2).

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Can I consult with County Health staff before I embark on my new MFF business?
We are more than happy to consult with you on your business plan, food menu, equipment needs, etc, but we ask that you have a well thought out plan before requesting a consultation. A fee will be charged for an office consultation. Due to the high volume of consultation and plan review requests, please allow ample time for plan review of your new or remodeled mobile food unit, as well as time for your initial truck or cart inspection.

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I want to barbeque. What am I allowed to do?
CalCode Section 113843 defines "Open-air barbeque" as: a piece of equipment designed for barbecuing food, where the food is prepared out of doors by cooking directly over hot coals, heated lava, hot stones, gas flame, or other method approved by the department, on equipment suitably designed and maintained for use out of doors. Solid fuel such as wood or charcoal must be located outside the kitchen. After food is cooked, it must be brought into the kitchen or mobile food prep truck/trailer for further processing. Selling cooked food off the grill directly to the customer is not allowed.

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I want to design a custom food truck. What basics do I need to consider?
It may be a good idea to decide what type of foods or menu you want to sell before you start designing and building a custom truck. Simple menus are often the most successful for MFF vending. For detailed design and construction information, refer to CalCode Chapter 10. Mobile Food Facilities, Section 114294. CalCode can be accessed on the County Website: www.acgov.org/aceh/food/calCode.htm.

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I am considering buying an older/used truck from someone who was in business before. Will I need to make modifications?
An older/used truck may have equipment that was installed before changes were made to the CalCode law or before CalCode superseded CURFFL. As a new business, you will need to modify any equipment that is not in compliance with current CalCode regulations. Check CalCode, Chapter 10 for the most up to date requirements for MFF equipment (https://archive.cdph.ca.gov/services/Documents/fdbRFC.pdf (PDF - 68kb)*).

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I understand that restaurant operators in California need a certificate in food safety. Do I need a certificate to run an MFF?
Yes. Per CalCode Section 113947.1(a): Food facilities that prepare, handle, or serve nonprepacked potentially hazardous food, except temporary food facilities, shall have an owner or employee who has successfully passed an approved and accredited food safety certification examination as specified in Sections 113947.2 and 113947.3. The certified owner or employee need not be present at the food facility during all hours of operation, but must be in charge and actively managing and training staff on safe food handling practices and employee health and hygiene.

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Do my workers need any special certifications?
Any individual who is involved in the preparation, storage, or service of food in a food facility, other than an individual holding a valid food safety certificate is considered a "food handler" and must obtain a food handler card from a food protection manager certification organization per CalCode Section 113948. See the link for more information from ANSI: http://bit.ly/YhIAdT.

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Do I need my own hand-washing facilities - even if I am right next to the public restrooms?
Yes. Hand washing facilities are always required in each booth where open foods or beverages are handled.

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What is a commissary?
A commissary is a fixed food facility permitted by the State or local health department that services mobile food facilities, mobile support units, or vending machines where any of the following occur (CalCode Section 114295):
  1. Food, containers, or supplies are stored.
  2. Food is prepared or prepackaged for sale or service at other locations.
  3. Utensils are cleaned.
  4. Liquid and solid wastes are disposed, or potable water is obtained.
All mobile food facilities shall operate in conjunction with a commissary, mobile support unit, or other facility approved by the enforcement agency.

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What is a commercial kitchen?
Commercial kitchens are food facilities permitted by the local health department or State Food and Drug Branch where food can be manufactured or prepared and stored. If you are planning to sell food or beverages to the public, you must prepare and/or store the foods in a commercial kitchen.

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What kind of inspection will the County Health Department conduct on my truck/cart?
There are essentially two types of inspections conducted on mobile food facilities.
  1. Structural Inspection. Conducted when you apply for a new permit or renew an existing permit. This inspection covers all equipment on your MFF and checks that you have all required licenses, certifications and paperwork required by the necessary agencies related to your type of business. This inspection is conducted at the Alameda County Environmental Health offices.
  2. Operational Inspection. Conducted "in the field" while you are in-service on your route or at a special event. This inspection ensures you are operating correctly so that hot/cold food temperatures and food handling are being conducted in a safe manner. We also check whether your permit is current and displayed properly.


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Can I sell at a Farmer's Market?
Yes. County Health Inspectors visit events such as Farmer's Markets and recurring food truck corrals, and other temporary food events where MFFs may be found. Inspectors plan to start a more rigorous inspection program for new areas where MFFs are regularly operating.

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I am organizing an event this summer. Can someone from the Department of Environmental Health come to one of our meetings, to explain the requirements?
Many Farmer's Markets accommodate MFFs in addition to the booths that sell produce or other food items. To sell within the boundaries of the established market, you must obtain approval from the sponsor of each separate Farmer's Market to operate at their event. If you want to operate outside the boundary of an established Farmer's Market (e.g., park on the street nearby), you are still required to obey the laws of the municipality related to parking, zoning, etc.

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Where is your office located?
We are located at 1131 Harbor Bay Parkway, Alameda, CA 94502.

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What do I do if I have questions?
Research the sections of CalCode that pertain to mobile food vending topics. Contact a reputable mobile food facility builder in your area to get estimates and/or to look at available units.

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Who can I call at the County if I have a specific question?
See the contact information here: http://acgov.org/aceh/food/mobile_food_units.htm

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Online Services
> Restaurant Inspection Results
> Mobile Food Facility Inspection Results
> Submit a Foodborne Illness Complaint

Forms
*Requires the free Adobe Reader.
> Temporary Event Booth
Pre-inspection/Self Inspection Form
(PDF - 95kb)*
> Temporary Events Food Booth Operator Application (PDF - 649kb)*
> Temporary Events Sponsor Application (PDF - 478kb)*
> Food Safety Certification 2017 Schedule and Registration: classes taught in English (PDF - 164kb)*
> Food Safety Certification 2017 Schedule and Registration: classes taught in Spanish (PDF - 308kb)*

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