Summer is back and so is the summer heat. This summer has already shown to be a scorcher for food trucks stationed across the country. For newcomers and seasoned food truckers alike, it’s easy to become distracted by the everyday demands of a food truck operation. Just remember that it’s important to make a priority of protecting yourself and maintaining your temperatures during periods of extreme heat.
10 Ways Food Truck Owners Can Beat The Summer Heat
Timing is key. Whether you’re negotiating a new stop or planning a special event, always try to limit activitiesduring the hottest part of the day. Since lunch is typically the busiest time for food trucks, you may not be able to avoid the summer heat. Make slight adjustments to your start time and the length of your shift. This can make a big difference when temperatures begin to soar.
Park strategically. Be sure to discuss the location where you will be parking your truck with property owners and event planners in order to address any safety hazards and other concerns beforehand. If you are given the opportunity, select a location where you will not be parking in direct sunlight. Also make sure that there are shaded areas nearby where you and your customers can eat and rest.
Use an Awning or Canopy: Set up an awning or canopy over the service window to provide shade for both your staff and customers. It can also reduce the amount of direct sunlight heating up your truck.
Dress appropriately. While it may be tempting to break out the tanks, shorts, and flip-flops. Maintain proper etiquette and attire when working in a food establishment. If you’re working with equipment that requires pilot lights or open flames, or if you’re working near equipment that generates hot liquids, you will want to choose clothing that protects your body from heat, splatters, and spills. Clothing should be light-colored and made from breathable, lightweight fabrics, such as cotton and other natural fibers, to keep cool. Loose-fitting attire is not recommended when working near open flames, nor are items made from synthetic fabrics, as they can stifle air circulation and have a tendency to be more flammable. Closed-toe shoes with skid-resistant soles are suggested to protect again these and other hazards, such as slips, trips, and falls. Don’t forget the sunblock!
Stay hydrated. In order to avoid heat stress, it is important to take preventive measures to hydrate your body during the hours leading up to your shift. Make sure you and your staff replenish lost fluids by drinking approximately 1 cup of water every 15 minutes. Since the heat may cause changes in your metabolism, be sure to consult with your doctor before consuming sports drinks or energy drinks which may contain sugars, caffeine, and other stimulants. Some of these may actually cause a rise in body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, or changes in blood sugar that may pose risks to your health. It is a good idea to designate a convenient, secure area for storing beverages and other personal items in order to avoid injury from dropping or spilling these objects near cooking equipment such as deep fryers.
Take a break. Whenever possible, take intermittent breaks to cool off in the shade or find shelter nearby. When sweating and replenishing with cold fluids isn’t enough to cool you down, you may begin to experience weakness, headaches, dizziness, confusion, fainting, or you may even begin to vomit. All of these are signs of heat exhaustion, which may lead to heat stroke or death if you do not take immediate action to remove yourself from the situation. If you suspect that your or another member of your crew may be suffering from heat-related illness, call 911 immediately.
Maintaining Your Temperature
Keep the door closed. Repeatedly opening and shutting the door to the refrigerator allows cool air to escape. Not only that, but it helps the summer heat to creep in. Keeping the door closed is the simplest and most effective way to maintain the temperatures in your refrigerator.
Don’t overload. Overloading the refrigerator reduces the unit’s efficiency and increases the time it takes to cool food products, particularly when the air flow is blocked. When space is tight, it may be necessary to divide products into smaller portions, leaving space around storage containers so that heat can escape and become absorbed by the refrigerant. This will allow items to cool more rapidly, keeping them out of the danger zone. If the unit is reaching capacity or the cold plate is sluggish at the end of a long shift, you may want to cool items in an ice bath before placing them in the refrigerator, and be sure to store any high-risk perishables toward the back of the unit.
Lose the cardboard. Cardboard, paper products, styrofoam, wood, and other porous materials soak up the cool air and harbor mold, which begins to become a concern when the humidity levels reach 70%. These materials also act as insulation, increasing the amount of time it takes food products contained within them to cool. Whenever possible, remove these materials and opt for metalstorage containers.
Have a backup plan. You may want to consider carrying a chest to keep extra ice on hand for boosting temperatures during periods of extreme heat. It may also be used to temporarily store and transport product in the event of a mechanical malfunction. When using ice to help cool items in your refrigerator, remember to place these items on the lower rack. This will help to avoid contamination from ice melting and dripping down onto other products.
Use Portable Fans: Strategically placed portable fans can circulate air inside the truck. If you can get some with misters, even better, as they help cool the air around them.
Maintain your equipment. Be sure to consult with a qualified mechanic to devise a schedule for inspecting and maintaining your equipment. Then discuss the proper use of over-the-road devices to maintain temperatures while the truck is out and about. It is important to maintain your electrical cords and any electrical outlets you may be using to charge the unit. Ensuring that all three prongs are present will protect against electrical hazards and make the connection more secure. Thermometers should be tested regularly and used frequently to verify food storage temperatures.
Limit Use of Cooking Equipment: Plan your menu to minimize the use of heat-generating equipment during the peak heat hours. Cold dishes, salads, and sandwiches can be a hit in the summer. Create a seasonal menu that makes life easier for you as a food truck owner.
The Bottom Line
The scorching summer heat is hard on our bodies, our moods, and a food truck’s bottom line. Don’t let the high temperature get you down, though. Use these tips will help you keep cool even if it feels like the sun is out to get you. Remember, the key is to be smart about your operations and take care of your team. A cool crew is a happy and efficient crew, which translates to better service and happier customers. Stay cool out there!
Do you have any tips or tricks for beating the summer heat and staying cool? Share your thoughts on this topic the comment section or social media. Facebook | Twitter
Richard Myrick is an architect by degree (Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, Michigan) who began his career in real estate development and architectural planning. In September of 2010 he created Mobile Cuisine Magazine to fill an information void he found when he began researching how to start a mobile hotdog cart in Chicago. Richard found that there was no central repository of mobile street food information anywhere on the internet, and with that, the idea for MCM was born. Richard also wrote the "Running a Food Truck for Dummies" available in bookstores everywhere and Amazon. You can reach out to Richard by email at: [email protected].