portlandfoodtrucks_406x250 Chef Roy Choi eight years ago moved on to the mean streets of Los Angeles looking for customers in his Kogi Korean BBQ truck. In his rear window came a never-ending parade of food trucks that would revolutionize street food, seemingly overnight. By 2008 when Kogi Korean BBQ set the new standard, street vending of simple items like hog dogs and burritos had been around for about 100 years. Panel vans selling food and beverage at construction sites had been long accepted. But street food usually operated in the shadows. Their units were often called “roach coaches” because food safety was far from guaranteed. Would chefs in food trucks costing $100,000 or more with menu offerings to  attract foodies as customers do any better with food safety? Did mobile mean unsafe? Worries were high, but now, as everyone major city seems to have 800 to 1,000 food trucks, those concerns seem to have evaporated. How quickly did this all occur? Four years ago, economic forecasters at Intuit Inc. made the bold forecast that by 2017 the food truck industry will be generating annual revenue of $2.7 billion. partec-sponsored-graphic-1-of-4-2016 Within a decade, many an American community has seen food trucks go from being a troublesome series of issues that included food safety to an economic contributor that’s even worth celebrating. Food truck festivals in the next week or are occurring in Fort Collins, CO, and Lawrence, KS. Others will follow, mostly over the spring and summer. While food trucks are now part of trendy landscapes from Austin to Boston, and Los Angeles to Miami, some places still have food truck issues but food safety does not seem to be among them. The City Council for Knoxville, TN, earlier this month approved a “mobile vending” ordinance that, among other things, set application, permit, fee and insurance requirements for food trucks. And while food safety and health inspections are routinely included in the Knoxville law, the City Council spent close to two hours debating how far food trucks with meat smokers should stay back from residential areas. Knoxville food truck owners agreed they could deal with the 100 foot setback as long as it only applied to those smoking meat. Setbacks are typical of the zoning restrictions cities impose on food trucks. Cities and towns never seem to cease telling food trucks where they can park. Aztec, NM, might open its public parks to food trucks this summer after nearby Farmington opened up its places to the commercial activity. Local ordinances can provide structure to support local food truck industries, but owners say they can also be too restrictive. Caps on the number of permits and licenses, bans on parking in public spaces, and arbitrary setbacks from brick and mortar restaurants are among the restrictions food truck owners are most likely to contest with local lawmakers or in court. While the zoning issues may never really go away, food trucks have for the most part accepted food safety as part of their business model.  Experts have told Food Safety News that food trucks present a little more challenge than brick and mortar restaurants when it comes to food safety, research shows their violations are roughly on par. Food trucks also seem to have embraced mobile regulation when it comes to food safety. Its not uncommon for food trucks to accept GPS tracking so health officers can find them for inspections.  The public can use the systems to find out where to go for lunch. http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-customers-order-meals-colorful-atlanta-food-truck-ga-usa-october-popular-their-lunch-hour-thursday-image47786802 Vendor applications are often made online, and in Portland the “Chefs Connection” is done especially for food truck owners to help them keep up on sanitation. Improving its reputation for food safety may also be a sign of a maturing food truck industry. Dr. Dick Carpenter, author of “Upwardly Mobile: Street Vending and the American Dream,” surveyed 763 licensed vendors in the 50 largest U.S. cities. He found 96 percent own their own businesses and 39 percent employ full or part-time workers, most for 11-12 hour days.  And, his study found, the typical food truck is turning about $35,000 in profits. Carpenter says all cities need to do to “unleash” the economic power of food trucks is to eliminate outdated and anti-competitive regulations. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)