Food truck workers face extreme temperatures, but solving the problem is complicated

Food truck workers face extreme temperatures, but solving the problem is complicated

Los Angeles’ robust food truck scene is part of the city’s culture, but those who work inside hot vehicles face extreme risks of heat-related illness, and there’s not much that can be done to help — at least for now.

A new study from the University of California found that food truck workers in Los Angeles are at increased risk of suffering from heat-related health conditions, even when outdoor temperatures are moderate.

Researchers from the University of California analyzed five food trucks in Los Angeles to determine the risks their workers face due to the high temperatures inside. What they found was troubling for those who provide the beloved service to Los Angeles residents.

Even when outside temperatures are as low as 60 degrees, temperatures near a food truck’s grill can reach 100 degrees, up to 35 degrees hotter than the rest of the truck, and remain high for hours, long after the sun has set and temperatures have dropped. Outdoor heat.

Among those interviewed as part of the study, workers reported experiencing nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness, irritability, dehydration, nausea and vomiting while working on trucks.

The trucks were located in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, and researchers used sensors placed near the grill or oven, in food preparation areas and next to serving windows to determine when and where temperatures were the worst.

Temperatures were measured on an April evening in 2022, and interviews were conducted around the same time.

A food truck serving Middle Eastern food is parked near an office building on a street in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, March 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
A food truck serving Middle Eastern food is parked near an office building on a street in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, March 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

The risks that truck workers face are very clear and the solution seems very simple: make the environment inside food trucks cooler. But researchers at the University of California say it’s not that easy.

Food safety regulations are still a “work in progress” when it comes to food trucks, said Bharat Venkat, director of the University of California’s Thermal Laboratory.

One current regulation states that air conditioning units must be installed so that they do not harm food, either from contamination or from temperature changes. Because of these rules, air conditioners are often placed far away from workers who need them most.

“Everyone says, ‘Oh, well, you have air conditioning,’” said one food truck operator who spoke with researchers. “It doesn’t work. (The designer) put the ventilation windows right next to the air conditioner, so all the air goes straight up.

Another problem that food truck operators have is the necessity of keeping the back door closed at all times. The regulation serves a noble purpose: keeping insects out, but this keeps most of the heat inside.

Some have tried to get around this problem by installing screen doors, but others have expressed concerns that doing so could violate local health codes. Venkat says the lack of clarity is a problem.

Other cooling devices, including swamp coolers, which would help with extremely dry conditions inside trucks, will require approval from the local health department.

Customers order from a taco truck on July 1, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Customers order from a taco truck on July 1, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Venkat said Los Angeles’ sprawling food truck scene may inadvertently exploit low-income people of color who are more likely to have to put their health and lives at risk by working these jobs in extreme temperatures, and may even be normalizing the assumption that… It is false that “some groups can tolerate heat better than others.”

UCLA researchers recommended that Los Angeles County take a second look at sanitary regulations for food trucks with the goal of “ensuring better airflow over vehicles without compromising food safety.”

UCLA said food trucks have been a “boon to consumers,” providing convenience and exposure to authentic ethnic cuisine, while providing income for owners and workers, many of whom are often immigrants.

With the industry expanding into a billion-dollar-plus industry in the past few years, including 1 in 8 food trucks operating in California, researchers say a better balance must be struck between food safety and worker safety.

(tags for translation) Los Angeles

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