Tags Posts tagged with "Sustainability"


farm to food truck

“Farm to food truck” isn’t a new concept to the mobile food industry, but at the same time, it is a term that some food truck owners aren’t aware of.

This is a concept of purchasing locally grown food directly from the source. The term which was adapted from “farm to table” comes from the idea that with less time and fewer hands for the food to get from the farm to the food truck, the fresher, more environmentally sensitive and community minded it is. This can include growing your own garden for sustainable consumption at home or for your mobile food business.

food farm food truck
FoodFarm Food Truck from San Diego, CA

Outside of the fact that you can greatly impact the economy of your community, health of your customers as well as the bottom line of your food cost budget as a result of buying from a local farm as your main food supplier.

Some of the benefits that come from the farm to food truck concept are:
  • Support the local economy. Money stays within your community, which in turn directly supports your food truck business. Advertise the information about the farm that grows your food. Engage your customers with your locally-minded concept and inspire your neighbors to support local commerce as well.
  • Keep inventory longer. Food that is purchased directly from the farm will naturally last longer on your storage shelves. It hasn’t spent time in a processing plant or on a delivery truck during the shipping process. It came straight from the ground to you, meaning you just bought yourself more time to think creatively.
  • Invest in value. Many local farmers will compete with nationally recognized grocery store chains, but at times may charge a bit more because the quality of product that is being sold may be greater. Local produce and meat is more likely to be organic which increases the value of your menu.
  • Create a local partnership. Building a business partnership between your business and local farmers, and other food trucks that support local business, can create a marketing network that promotes and sustains the local economy.

While it may seem as though there is no reason to join this movement, it isn’t without it’s challenges:

  • Buying meat locally. Buying locally raised and processed meat, fish and poultry can be challenging. The U.S. Department of Agriculture restricts the number of birds a farmer can process on site and does not allow any red meat processing for small farm operations. Because of this, the meat may have been locally and organically raised with an emphasis on humane standards, but the slaughter and processing of the meat animals are probably (with the exception of poultry) handled off site.
  • Finding off-season produce. There will be periods between planting and harvesting when produce may not be as bountiful. However, many farmers do have greenhouses where produce can be grown during colder months. Discuss off-season options with your partnered farmer or farmers ahead of time to avoid lack luster deliveries.
  • Setting-up in the city. Maybe there isn’t a farm just down the road from where your food truck operates. This is the case for many mobile food businesses, but chances are there is a farm within a reasonable enough distance to your urban area. Visit your local farmer’s market and inquire about locations. Learn about delivery options for your establishment, or show up early and stock up weekly at the market.

If you are interested in getting started, try one of these organizations:



The farm to food truck (table) business model supports your local ecology and economy. Many food truck owners who have joined this movement have also developed composting programs to assure that their business stays green from start to finish. Consider buying locally to strengthen your neighboring rural community as well as your immediate neighborhood’s economy.

Is your food truck already using the farm to food truck concept? Share your story with us in the comment section below, Tweet us or share it on our Facebook page.

sustainable shopping tips

Shopping for organically grown foods can be as confusing for food truck owners as it is for anybody else. The different legal terms and jargon that companies use to market their foods can make it seem like their products are sustainable and humane, but it takes a detective to really figure out whether the food is what the farms say it is.

We put together this handy list to help you be as educated a shopper as possible.

Natural for non-meat products (FDA): In 1989, the FDA issued a definition for natural, stating that it meant nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in or added to a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.

Natural for meat products (USDA FSIS)
: Can’t contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient. In addition, the product could only be minimally processed (FSIS, 2006). Under this ruling, the definition of minimally processed includes: a) Traditional processes used to make food edible or to preserve it or make it safe for human consumption, or b) Physical processes that do not fundamentally alter the raw product and/or that only separate a whole, intact food into component parts, e.g., grinding meat, separating eggs into albumen and yolk, and pressing fruits to produce juices.

Naturally Raised (USDA AMS): Naturally raised on livestock and meat derived from livestock would mean that (1) no growth hormones were administered to the animals; (2) no antibiotics were administered to the animal; and (3) no animal by-products were fed to the animals.

Free-Range Eggs: There are no legal standards in free-range egg production. Typically, free-range hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access. Since they are not caged, they can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging. There are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is no third-party auditing.

Free-Range Chicken: The USDA allows for any chicken raised with access to the outdoors to be labeled free-range. Nowhere does it state that the chickens have to actually go outdoors; access is the only legal binding verbiage of that rule. They may still be raised in the same overpopulated poultry house-type production and be labeled free-range. Certified organic chickens may also be raised like this.

Cage-Free: As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as cage-free are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors. They can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings. Beak cutting is permitted. There is no third-party auditing.

Knowing these terms will help you navigate through product purchasing and help you decide what’s worth paying extra for, and what’s worth avoiding.

5 Sustainable Shopping Tips For Farmers Markets

More and more food truck owners are going straight to the source to get their produce, meats, breads, and herbs. Farmers markets are one of the easiest ways to assess the quality of several farms in one morning. Here’re some tips for those of you first-timers.

sustainable shopping tips

Get there early. Check the farmer’s market website to see what time the market opens. Good farmers have very devoted fans and may sell out of food.

Ask questions. Get to know your farmer, and don’t hesitate to ask about his or her farming methods, tips for cooking or chemicals they may or may not use.

Look for certified organic or certified sustainable farmers. Certification means the farmers use natural methods to avoid chemicals that could harm your health and the environment. Learn more about what organic means here, and why organic foods are better for you here.

Bring your own reusable bags. Most farmers markets don’t have grocery bags. Don’t forget the chilled bags for your meats.

Check out what’s in season. Consult with a harvest calendar to see what’s in season, and then plan your menu accordingly. But don’t be afraid to try new things. Farmers are helping to keep heirloom varieties around, most of which aren’t sold at a typical grocery store anymore, so they may look weird at first glance.

If you have any sustainable shopping tips you think we missed, please feel free to share them in the comment section below, Tweet us or add them to our Facebook page.

food truck food waste

Since the mobile food industry exploded in 2008 many food truck owners have looked for ways to go green, many have chosen a systems type approach that reduces the amount of waste that comes out of their trucks and turns up in landfills.

Although composting and recycling programs are great for the planet, some mobile food vendors have found that controlling the amount of food that becomes waste in the first place can be more cost-efficient.

So what is the best strategy in managing food waste in your food truck?   Reducing, preventing and minimizing food waste at the source.

But what is the source of the waste? Pinpointing the areas that waste is produced the most is best done through food waste tracking. Without tracking, it is difficult to diagnose problem areas or measure your truck’s improvement.  With tracking, it is easy to point the main sources of waste and determine the best avenue to correct them.  The bottom-line is the food waste tracking is a must-do if you want to reduce the amount of waste coming from your mobile food business.

Pre-Customer vs. Post-Customer Food Waste

There are two types of food waste.  Pre-Customer food waste (waste from your commercial and food truck kitchens) is food that your food truck staff throws away due to overproduction, trimming, or handling issues.  Post-Customer food waste is food that customers leave on their plates and throw away.  Food truck vendors have more ability to control pre-customer food waste because they control what happens in their kitchens.

Tracking Food Pre-Customer Waste 

Pre-Customer food waste should be tracked every day.  Every item thrown away by your employees should be recorded in a tracking logbook.


  • Track pre-customer food waste at the time of disposal.  Record the waste in the logbook immediately after placing it in the trash.
  • If you have set up an agreement with a local food bank where your excess food can be donated, record these donations in your waste logbook immediately after dropping it off.
  • Record the type of food and the reason why it is being wasted in the logbook.  These are the two most important pieces of information that will reveal opportunities for change.
  • Record how much of each menu item is being wasted.
  • Owners or truck managers should review yesterday’s waste logbook at the beginning of the following day’s shift.
  • The top 5 waste items should be discussed with the team at pre-shift meetings. Ask the team for ideas to reduce the waste.
  • Review progress on the Top 5 items every week until the amounts drop.
  • If you have time, keep an Excel spreadsheet with your daily waste totals so you can track your progress.

Tracking Food Post-Customer Waste 

  • Because many food truck customers take their order with them and may not use your food truck’s waste container, this tracking is not going to be exact, but at the same time, it will give you an idea of the amount of food that is being wasted.
  • Post-Customer Food Waste should be tracked periodically, usually once per month.
  • Use your waste logbook just as you do with pre-customer food waste.
  • Post-Customer food waste includes many different foods as well as the food containers and utensils, it will not be possible to track specific amounts of foods or loss reasons unless you separate your trash.  Instead, track the number of trash bags used per shift. If you only use one trash bag, throw it on a scale and weigh them.
  • Keep a record of total weight or count of post-customer food waste in an Excel sheet.
  • When tracking post-customer waste, always do it on a busy day and track future measurements on the same day of the week.  Using this approach, you will have comparable data.
  • Make sure to look at the food in the garbage and note any trends.  There may be items that customers do not like which should be removed from the menu.  In other cases, you may find portions need to be adjusted to avoid waste.

tip of the dayMany of the food trucks traversing the streets use cooking oil to prepare the food they serve. Dealing with used oil can be a problem if you don’t know what to do with it.

Depending on your volume and location, you can likely get free pickup of used cooking oil (called “yellow grease”) and may even be able to sell it as small but welcome additional revenue stream.

There are plenty of vendors interested in yellow grease, ranging from large companies to food and delivery trucks running on bio-fuel, that paying for carting these days should be a last resort. The vendors are able to start-up their oil filtering business by purchasing the filters and pumps to clean the oil can for about about…$700.

If you look at the price of diesel fuel these days (3 -4 dollars a gallon) they are able to convert it and save about $120 a week in fuel costs.

Another reason for donating used cooking oil is that it is the most significant thing a food truck can do if they are interested in the environment and being green. Bio diesel emissions are 90% less toxic than petroleum based diesel.

Use a licensed and insured vendor and get on a regular schedule. One 35-pound carton of frying oil yields about five gallons of yellow grease. To fill a 55-gallon drum, calculate, on average how long it takes your food truck operation to go through 12 containers of oil (keeping in mind the last one is in the fryer) and schedule pickups accordingly.

Green trends are flourishing in all divisions of the foodservice industry (including the mobile food industry) as consumers demand more environmentally friendly products. According to the 50 percent of American adults said that when selecting products, a business, restaurant, or a mobile food vendor to visit, the topic of sustainability at times influences their choices.

green-bottom lineFor food truck owners, going green may impress customers but it also serves a more practical purpose: It will benefit your bottom line.

Here are five tips to consider when implementing sustainable practices in your mobile food business:

Source food and ingredients locally. Choosing locally sourced foods lessens your carbon footprint while boosting the local economy. Many food trucks are already seeing the benefits: locally sourced meats and seafood topped menu trends for 2013, according to a National Restaurant Association survey.

Choose green vendors: A recent report indicated that 77 percent of American businesses consider a vendor’s commitment to sustainability a “somewhat important” factor when deciding to purchase products or services. To ‘green’ your food truck, choose vendors and suppliers that also have green programs and processes in place. Third-party certifications like Green Seal or EcoLogo can help you determine those vendors.

Improve kitchen culture. According to a 2012 white paper by the Natural Resources Defense Council, 4 – 10 percent of food purchased by restaurants becomes kitchen loss (edible and inedible) before reaching the consumer. This number should be headed by food truck owners as well. You should educate and monitor employees in your mobile kitchen area to reduce the food waste that occur from poor cooking and cleaning habits.

Cleaning green: Certain cleaning products and chemicals can be hazardous to the environment and harmful to your health. Mobile food vendors should take the appropriate steps to incorporate green cleaning products into their maintenance plans to reduce sick leave and productivity loss from ill employees.

Save paper: In addition to using recycled paper products, food truck owners should also make an effort to minimize paper waste. One-at-a time napkin dispensers control napkin consumption and reduce overall paper usage. Some brands of napkin dispensers  can reduce paper usage by 25 percent.

While sustainability might not directly drive your mobile food business, it can still be a cornerstone to your business practices. The reward is recognition from customers, repeat visits to your service window and an opportunity to build brand loyalty for your food truck.

When a discussion on food trucks comes up, the first words that will typically pop into your head might be anything from “delicious” to “roach coach” but to many they don’t tend to think about “ sustainability.” The problem with this thinking is…it’s wrong! Food trucks and their owners are joining the ranks of urban farms and gardens in changing and greening the urban food scene.


Considering the perils of drive-through restaurants and eating in cars, it may seem counterintuitive but there are many environmental, economic, social and nutritional benefits to these mobile bistros. While it’s true that many food trucks travel to different locations, emitting greenhouse gas emissions along the way, when you compare them to their brick and mortar counterparts, their carbon footprints are actually pretty small. Restaurants use a ton of electricity, water and cleaning services, and in many cases import their ingredients from all over the world (thankfully this trend is changing). Food trucks are forced by their size to conserve resources like water, and while they may move around town, most tend to park in locations with good foot traffic and move only once or twice a day.

Every food truck generates tax revenue for the city and employs local residents (even if many restaurant owners are trying to tell their politicians something different) and doesn’t need much in regards to infrastructure. The positive impacts on the city extend far beyond economics—mobile eateries also can help increase access to healthy, culturally-appropriate foods in low-income, underserved neighborhoods. And, on top of that, they foster a more lively street scene and social awareness of food production and consumption.

Many food truck vendors practice good green habits, but it’s the ones who employ these components that should receive two thumbs-up for sustainability:

  • The use of locally farmed ingredients.
  • The use of organic ingredients.
  • The use of fair trade products.
  • Trucks fueled with biodiesel or vegetable oil.
  • Trucks with zero-emissions systems.
  • The use of propane and rechargeable batteries.
  • The use of solar power.
  • Packaging and utensils that are either recyclable or compostable.
  • Organic and compostable items given to farm or composting facility.
  • No idling engine.

So how well does your food truck fit into the “sustainable” category? Based on this criteria, do you think food trucks should be able to become certified as green?

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garbage dump
Portland-based GO Box, a service that provides and cleans reusable take-out boxes for local food trucks.

PORTLAND, OR – With nearly 700 food carts licensed last year, Portland, Ore., is arguable a leader in the mobile food revolution. Lucky residents can choose between Iraqi-Jewish sabich, yeasted Belgian liegewaffles, or Indonesian rendang, all served out of a friendly window on the sidewalk. But all of these mobile meals come with a downside — namely, trash.

According to some estimates, food carts dispose of roughly 60,000 containers every month in downtown Portland alone. Some are compostable, some recycleable (though not through Portland’s current curbside program), but regardless, city officials say most end up in the garbage. And green-minded “cartivores” who want to bring their own containers are prevented from doing so by the city’s health code.

As we’ve reported, food waste is a giant worldwide mess, but there are many folks taking action on a local scale. Last year, a new Portland company, GO Box, cropped up with a solution to the mountain of clamshell packages. Participating carts stock GO Box’s reusable containers, which are made of a blue-tinted #5 plastic, like a more durable version of the standards takeout clamshell.

Once containers are used, they are collected at drop-off sites and then professionally cleaned (satisfying our protective friends at the health department). Eaters sign up for a $12 annual membership fee, and each time they drop off a dirty tray, they get a token to exchange for a clean one the next time they dine at a participating cart.

Currently about 50 carts participate, along with a handful of restaurants and vendors at the stadium that hosts Portland’s soccer team. They pay a nominal fee for each GO Box used (partially offset by the savings on disposables), and receive an incentive for each new member they sign up (as well as the positive publicity from signing onto the program).

Founder Laura Weiss has a background in environmental policy, and has been growing GO Box since last summer. IT now boasts about 1,000 subscribers, with more signing up every month. Weiss has been working out the logistics as they scale up — figuring out how to locate and staff collection sites, signing restaurants up to volunteer dishwashing services, figuring out a route of bicycle-based deliveries and collections — but she says her biggest mission is just getting people to think differently.

“It’s a whole new idea people have to wrap their minds around — we don’t need to have disposables,” she says. Although closed systems like this have existed for years in cafeterias and hospitals, people are just starting to realize that, with a little coordination, a similar practice can take hold among independent cart businesses.

Find the entire article by DEENA PRICHEP at npr.org <here>

Have you noticed that once a discussion goes on long enough, certain phrases start to lose meaning? Everybody seems to  toss terminology around, rarely stopping to think what each term really means. Some phrases seem to balloon, taking on connotations they weren’t designed to carry, and other phrases get pared down into a specific meaning until they are slivers of their former robust selves.

Such confusion is present in the food-obsessed corners of the Internet; with so many cooks in the mobile kitchen, so to speak, the sustainable food conversation is getting a bit muddled.

Sustainability is not just a philosophy about food – it’s about people, attitudes, communities, and lifestyles.

One way to inspire others to join the sustainable food movement within the mobile food industry is to be a sustainable leader yourself. Even if you have yet to start, in this article we have provided you some small changes and efforts that can help to make a big difference in the mobile food industry.

Go local

It’s not possible for everyone all the time. But when it is possible, support your local farmers. Take your food truck team to visit a farmer. It is a good exercise in remembering that each piece of food has a story, and a person behind it.

Find a sustainable meat producer

Sustainable meat can have many definitions, but generally speaking, sustainable meat comes from animals raised on open pasture without the use of added hormones and antibiotics.

Know your seafood

The criteria for evaluating the sustainability of seafood differ from those for agriculture. Inform yourself and demand that your suppliers are informed too. If they can’t tell you where a fish is from and how and when it was caught, you probably don’t want to be serving it.

Not all bottled water is created equal

Some companies are working to reduce and offset their carbon footprint through a number of innovative measures. Some of the biggest names in the restaurant world (like The French Laundry) are moving away from water bottled out of house. Discuss an in-house filtration system with your commissary to allow you to offer a number of options.

Get rid of Styrofoam 

Replace replace Styrofoam take-out containers with containers made of recycled paper. Support organic, biodynamic viniculture. There are incredible, top-rating biodynamic or organic wines from around the world.


Choose 1 day per quarter, or 1 per month, to devote a morning to community service: send staff to a soup kitchen, bring local kids into the kitchen, teach the kitchen staff of the local elementary school a few tricks, or spend a few hours working in the sun at a community garden.

Mobile kitchen equipment of the future is green

Major equipment producers, like Hobart and Unified Brands, are developing special initiatives to investigate and develop greener, cleaner, energy-smart machines. This will also save you money in the long run.

Fuel efficient driving

You can boost the overall fuel-efficiency of your truck as much as 30% by simple vehicle maintenance and attention to your style of driving. Not only will this reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, but could save you hundreds of dollars a year in fuel costs.

Green your cleaning routine

Trade astringent, non-biodegradable, potentially carcinogenic chemical kitchen cleaners for biodegradable, eco-safe products.

Recycle your fryer oil

There are biofuel companies across the country that will pick it up and convert it.

Cut down on shipping materials

Request that suppliers send goods with the least amount of packing materials possible. Request that Styrofoam packaging not be used.


Be strict about recycling glass and plastic receptacles. Recycle cardboard and wood boxes used for produce.

Ice = water + energy

Don’t waste it! Don’t automatically refill ice bins – wait until they truly get low, and only add as much as you need to get through the crush. Ice is expensive to produce, both in terms of money and resources.


If you use a shared commercial kitchen or commissary look into joining (or forming) a local co-op for purchasing green items. Cleaning supplies, paper products, all cheaper in bulk.

Educate yourself and staff

From agricultural philosophy to the specifics of restaurant operations, the number of resources for green issues and practices is ever-growing. Your staff needs to know why you’re doing what you’re doing, so that they can spread the word – to the diners, and beyond.

We hope you found these tips useful. If you have any additional suggestions on how a food truck or mobile food vendor can become more sustainable, please let us know in the comment section below.


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