Dealing with the Health Department really means dealing with the local Health Inspector-he or she is the person who you will deal with. Just like any other occupation, some are nice and some are jerks-I am lucky that my local Health Inspector is a fair and nice man-it doesn’t hurt that he likes hot dogs too. Whether the person is nice or not, they are a resource. You can find the local Health Inspector’s contact info on any municipalities’ website. Consult the state by state Health Department page for more info.
How to engage the Health Department
The best thing to do is call them up and politely engage them in a conversation. Tell them you want to open a hot dog stand, where you were thinking of locating (again if its on public land make sure you’ve checked out local restrictions and permits, if you’re on private property let the inspector know where), let them know you’ll be getting your Servesafe and ask them what you need to do. BE NICE! Many Health Department officials are very busy and looking to say “NO.” If you are confrontational, they WILL be difficult with you. Appeal to their expertise, ask questions and BE NICE! Most inspectors will be straightforward and let you know exactly what you need to do and what type of equipment will meet with local health codes.
Most Health Department rules are going to base their local regulations on NSF approved standards. Even so, different states and municipalities have their own regulations and rules, so it is best to find those out first. IMPORTANT NOTE: Your Health Department is most likely going to require NSF approved sinks. That means FOUR SINKS: One each for washing, rinsing and sanitizing and a fourth for hand washing. Make sure you check with the local health inspector. Having NSF approved sinks and equipment will make every one’s life easier!
In order to get a Health Department permit in my area (and many others), you need to be Servesafe certified. Go to the Servesafe website for information on classes and testing in your area.
For an alphabetical order list of links to state and local Health Departments, click here or on the link in the Navigation area at the top of the page. It pays to do your homework before talking to the Health Department. They’re usually busy (or they want you to think they are) and an informed and concise conversation is better than asking a lot of dumb questions.
If you are looking at a specific cart, trailer or truck, make sure you have photos, drawings and a specification sheet when you meet with the inspector for the first time. If they have any concerns with your equipment, it is better to know about it and deal with it BEFORE they conduct an inspection. If you are buying new equipment, have the manufacturer send a schematic drawing to show to the health inspector. If buying used, make sure you know if it will meet your local Health Department specifications.
Once you know what you need to pass the health inspection, you can go out and choose your cart, trailer or truck.