Business Guide - Main Menu

j) Hotdog Cart Operations and Maintenance Manual


Serving Food:

Check with your local City or County Health Department for local codes concerning vendor carts specific to your area as they do vary from place to place. For instance, some Health Departments will not allow hot dog carts to serve dairy based condiments such as mayonnaise, grated cheese or even squeeze bottle cheese. The following guidelines, however, are generally universal in nature and are designed to keep you, your cart, and your food safe and appealing. Keep in mind that as a hotdog vendor you are considered a food handler by the Health Department officials and therefore must operate under specific guidelines.


 

Meet the Meat Guidelines:

 

Many Health Departments will only allow hot dog vendors to serve pre-cooked meat products in the form of wieners or sausages that to be barbequed and/or grilled on the cart. They may not allow what is considered to be hazardous raw meats (such as hamburger, ground beef, chicken or steak) to be cooked on the cart.

Cooked meat must be kept above the temperatures specified by the Health Department. This required temperature also varies from place to place. This also requires the hot dog vendor cart to have a thermometer on hand to monitor the temperature.

If refrigerated meats are allowed, keep them below the specified temperature. This will require another thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Following these rules keeps the product fresh and prevents the growth of bacteria. Typically a health department will require hot foods such as sausages to be kept above 140°F (60°C) and cold perishable items below 40°F (4°C).

Pre-cooked hotdogs must be re-heated to 165°F before serving. To accurately determine this temperature insert the thermometer lengthwise into the center of the hotdog. Be sure not to pass through the meat and touch the cooking surface as this will give you a false high temperature reading.

Previously uncooked meats must be cooked to the following temperatures according to the New York State Department of Health:

  • Chicken 165°F

  • Hamburger 160°F

  • Pork 150°F

Take great care to avoid cross contamination between meats and other food items. Always thoroughly wash and sanitize food preparation surfaces, equipment and utensils between uses. Be especially careful when handling raw, fresh or frozen meats. The area used for preparing meats must be washed and sanitized before being used to prepare any other food items!

Do not place cooked meat back on the plate or surface used to prepare or transport the raw, fresh or frozen meat.

Do not use the same utensils to handle cooked and raw, fresh or frozen meat

Raw, fresh or frozen meats must be stored below and separate from any other food items to prevent them from contaminating the other items (such as by dripping on them).


 

Considering Condiments:

 

Many Health Departments will not allow hot dog vendors to serve dairy based or edible oil condiment products in the form of mayonnaise, grated cheese or even squeeze bottle cheese on the cart.

Some Health Departments will only allow condiments that do not require refrigeration after opening to be served from a cart.

Condiments must be kept in clean, washable containers and must be kept covered to prevent insects, dust, leaf litter, or rain to enter. Jars with screw lids may not be acceptable. Otherwise condiments may be served in small single service packages.

If refrigerated condiments are allowed, keep them below the specified cold holding temperature. This will require a thermometer to monitor the temperature.


 

 

Handling Food:

 

Do not touch the food with your bare hands. All food should be handled using gloves, tongs, forks, spoons or other utensils. Keep a clean supply of spare utensils in a clean covered container. If it hits the ground, it’s dirty – no 10 second rule here!

Do not work with food when you are sick, sneezing, have a runny nose, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting, dark urine or yellowing of the skin (jaundice) or fever. Do not handle food if you have an infected cut or burn, pus or boil. Wear gloves over any cuts, abrasions, or burns.

Clean your utensils at days end and store in a clean washable covered container. Do not mix clean and used utensils.

Provide proper food wrappers for your customers so they do not have direct hand to food contact.

The local Health Department may require you to have a sink or even up to 3 sinks for washing utensils. (One for washing, one for rinsing and one for sanitizing in chlorine bleach)

The local Health Department may require you to have another sink (4 total!) devoted solely to hand washing. It should not be used for any other purpose. The ware washing sinks must not be used for washing hands.

Have hand soap, hand sanitizer and paper towels on hand at all times.

Hands must be washed after using the toilet, coughing, sneezing, handling money or any or unsanitary item.

Hands must be washed upon re-entering the work area (the hotdog cart) even if you have just washed them in another place such as the bathroom.

You must also wash your hands after eating, drinking, smoking, washing dirty dishes or other equipment, sweeping or mopping, handling raw, fresh or frozen meat or other food, or even before putting on gloves to handle food.

Hands must be washed using hot water and soap and lather for 15-20 seconds and then dried using a single use towel (such as paper towels), a clean towel on a roller dispenser, or by an air dryer. Do not use a multi-use hand towel such as is used at home.

The use of gloves should not be seen as a means to short cut proper hand sanitation. Gloves can also pick up and spread germs. You would not use gloves to handle raw meat and then also to serve cooked food as this would transmit bacteria from the raw food to the cooked food.

Headgear such as a hat or hairnet must be worn to contain hair and prevent it from contaminating the food. No-one likes to find a hair in their hot dog. It could cost you customers or your hard earned reputation as a quality vendor.

Keep your finger nails clean and trimmed short. Do not wear finger rings as these can trap and carry food particles and bacteria and transfer them to clean food. Rings can also cut through gloves.

Keep your clothing clean and neat.

Smoking is prohibited when handling food! Do not smoke, chew tobacco, eat or drink when serving food. You must leave the food preparation and serving area for any of these activities. Move a short distance away from your cart. You must wash your hands when you return.

You are allowed to drink from a closed beverage container (such as with a lid) while in the food service area. It must have a handle to prevent your hand from touching the area that your mouth will touch or it must have a drinking straw. Wash it between uses or discard it.

Do not store food on the ground or floor. This would subject it to contamination from dirt, insects, water, and spills.

Do not store cleaning chemicals alongside food or utensils. They must be completely separate. Keep all such chemicals clearly labeled.

Do not place cooked meat back on the plate or surface used to prepare or transport the raw, fresh or frozen meat.

Do not use the same utensils to handle cooked and raw, fresh or frozen meat

Raw, fresh or frozen meats must be stored below and separate from any other food items to prevent them from contaminating the other items (such as by dripping on them).

Take great care to avoid cross contamination between foods and other items. Always thoroughly wash and sanitize food preparation surfaces, equipment and utensils between uses. Be especially careful when handling raw meats. The area used for preparing meats must be washed and sanitized before being used to prepare any other food items!

Many Health Departments require a roof or umbrella to be installed over a cart to protect the food service area from rain, falling leaves, and bird droppings.

Have a garbage container on hand at all times. Do not allow it to over-flow. Dispose of garbage as required. Clean the container at the end of each day.

Keep your food preparation and serving areas clean. Clean up spilled condiments and wrappers.


Hot Dog Cart Daily Operations Guide:

Keep an operations binder on hand in your cart that includes: your business and location license, your health permit, a copy of the local health codes, a copy of your location rental agreement (if applicable) or vendor permit (if serving at a special event), and this operations manual. Keep these papers in plastic protective sheet covers so that they stay clean and readable. Always have on hand the operations and maintenance manuals for any of the other equipment you are using on the cart.

Keep on hand a copy of the Hot Dog Cart Daily Check List . Do a check of your cart and its contents before you start up each day – just the way a pilot does a pre-flight check of his aircraft. This will save you from any unpleasant surprises after you get underway. Work from the written list and not your memory. Click here for a sample Hotdog Cart Daily Check List.

Always keep your product within the temperatures specified by the local Health Department. This will require thermometers on hand to monitor temperatures. Following these rules keeps the product fresh and prevents the growth of bacteria. Typically a health department will require hot foods such as sausages to be kept above 140°F (60°C) and cold perishable items below 40°F (4°C).

Wash the cart every day before and after use. First wash the cart with hot soapy water to remove and dirt or spilled food. Then use a sanitizing solution to kill any bacteria. A sanitizing solution may be made by adding 1 teaspoon (5mL) of chlorine bleach to 1 quart (1L) of water.

Use this same procedure for cleaning all surfaces used to store, prepare, cook or serve food, and all utensils and containers including sinks, faucets, and even the garbage cans (to prevent undesirable odor)

Fill the fresh water tanks with all new fresh potable water. Do not keep water from one day to the next.

To load water: close taps, connect water fitting to tank, open tank valve (handle parallel to line), open water supply valve. Tanks will take 3-5 minutes to fill. When full: close water supply valve, close tank valve (handle perpendicular to line), disconnect water fitting, install plug.

Empty waste water tanks at the end of each day or shift. These also need to be washed to prevent odor.

Ensure the propane tanks are full and equipment is in good safe working order. Replace or repair as necessary. Always keep a spare filled tank on hand.

Keep a set of wheel chocks on hand for locations where the cart may be located on a slope. These may be made from some short lengths of 2x4 lumber.

Arrive on location early so as to be ready to serve clients hot prepared food when their lunch hour begins. You do not want to be opening up and lighting burners with a line up of waiting customers.

Be reliable. Customers will depend on you for lunch. Be there regularly. Become part of their routine. This will build a loyal regular customer base.

Be friendly and professional. Greet each customer. Be cheerful and smile. It costs nothing but makes a huge difference. Get to know your regulars by name. That builds loyalty. They will spread the word about you and draw more customers to your business. The best advertising is by word of mouth, and again, it costs nothing.

Keep adequate coins and small bills on hand for making change.

Post a menu complete with prices. Most people won’t buy unless they first know the price. Prominently displaying what you sell will save you time explaining especially during a busy lunch hour. It enables your customers to decide before they order. Have this made professionally at a sign shop. Keep it under a clear plastic cover to protect it from the weather and dirt and to allow easy changing of its contents.

Be a Good Neighbor. Don’t let your business interfere with others. Make it compliment and augment their businesses. This may include simple things such as providing a trash can for your customers and picking up litter at days end.


Safety Guidelines

Lightning

Hot dog carts can generally be operated year round in all kinds of weather. If the customers are there and willing to buy, we should be willing to open.

There are some exceptions and lightning is one of them.

If a lightning storm is seen moving in, close the cart immediately and do not return or open until it has passed.

Make sure all employee cart operators understand this

Fire

Fires are rare but can happen.

It usually will be a grease fire on the BBQ. In this case, either turn off the BBQ and let it burn out or douse it with water. Be careful of scalding by steam when dousing the burner with water.

The other type is a propane leak fire. This usually occurs under the BBQ where the tubes join the control knobs and the burners. In this case, turn off the propane supply at the tank. The fire should stop immediately. Then re-attach the tubes and make sure they can not come loose again. Turn the gas supply on again and relight the burners.

The other concern is clothing. It has happened that an operator has gotten too close to the burner with polyester clothing. This will cause the material to melt and may burn the person. This is one reason why the butcher’s apron should always be worn when operating a hot dog cart.

First Aid

Keep a small first aid kit in the cart to treat small burns, nicks and cuts. It should include disinfectant and “Band-Aids”.

This is available from WillyDogs or at any pharmacy.

Sun Safety

Sun burn is a threat to anyone working out of doors. Extended unprotected exposure may cause health problems even cancer.

Always wear sun block and a hat. Hats that cover the tops of the ears are best. Do not rely on the cart’s umbrella to always keep you out of the sun.

Wear sun glasses to prevent eye strain.

Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and sun stroke.

Trailer Towing

Always check that the trailer hitch is firmly down and locked on the ball. Always connect the safety chains and the electrical wires.


Let’s Get Cooking!:

Arrive on location early so as to be ready to serve clients hot prepared food when their lunch hour begins. You do not want to be opening up and lighting burners with a long line up of waiting customers.

Park the cart and put wheel chocks in place.

Open the gas valve at the tank. Turn the gas control at the burner to HIGH. Ignite the striker or light a match to the bottom hole of the BBQ. Have the lid open when lighting. Do not stand over the burners when lighting. If the burners do not catch after a few trys, turn the control to OFF and allow the gas to dissipate before trying again. Do not leave the burner valve on for more than a few seconds before trying to light as gas will accumulate and the ignition will be violent and may cause injury.

Clean all areas as per food guide instructions.

First start heating things up before you set out your condiments and other items.

Fill the steam pan with about ½” of fresh water.

Allow the steamer to first heat up to about 170°F (77°C). This may take ½ hour.

While this is heating up, set out the condiments, napkins, wrappers, cutlery, side orders (chips) and other items, and clean as necessary.

When the steamer is up to temperature, load a selection of dogs. Standard hot dogs will take about 10 minutes to heat up. Jumbo dogs will take a few minutes longer. Allow more time in cold weather.

Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the meat. Always insert the thermometer lengthwise down the center of a hot dog to test temperature. Do not let the thermometer probe break through and touch the heating surface as this will give a falsely high reading.

Put the buns on the warming shelf so they are soft and warm when served.

When the meat is brought up to temperature, then open your umbrella and put out your menu sign. You are ready for business!

Continue to monitor and adjust the steamer temperature using the thermometer. Also keep the cold items cold by keeping the doors closed.

Trouble Shooting Guide:

BBQ will not light:

  • Turn on propane at tank.

  • Check that tanks have propane. A full tank weighs 39.5 lbs. Use a fish scale to weigh.

  • Check line from tank to burner for kinks. Straighten any kinks.

  • Too much wind. Move to protected calmer area and light the burners there. Keep the burner on the leeward side (the side opposite from where the wind is coming) on full and move back to location.

  • Striker not working. Use a match at bottom hole.

Flames Underneath BBQ:

  • Shut-Off gas immediately

  • Check for grease spillage. Clean up grease.

  • Check for loose tubes. Reconnect tubes and tie them off so they stay in.

  • Check that gas control knob to unused auxillary burner is in OFF position.

Any other problems call WillyDogs for assistance.


Hot Dog Cart Routine Maintenance Guide:

The hot dog cart must be maintained in top roadworthy and sanitary condition at all times. To do otherwise risks being unable to function and thus lose business or, even worse, be penalized and fined by the Health Department.

Check the cart over each day before use. Inspect it the way a pilot conducts a preflight inspection of his plane. Remember that the cart is your primary business tool. Keep it well maintained.

Check the tires for wear and proper inflation pressure. Have the wheel bearings checked every 6 months. Replace tires when they are worn.

Inspect the trailer hitch. Be sure that it exactly fits the ball on the towing vehicle. Make sure the hitch is locked down on the ball for each trip. Always use the safety chains.

Always remember to connect the electrical plug for the trailer lights for each trip. Check that the lights (running, braking and turning) are all working. Keep spare bulbs on hand.

Inspect the electrical wires running from the tow vehicle through the trailer. Cover any wear prone areas with electrical tape or flexible plastic conduit (available at automotive supply or hardware stores). Watch for corrosion on the electrical connections. Wear or corrosion in the electrical system may cause a short circuit that will blow the fuse in the tow vehicle or trailer electrical adaptor and then none of the trailer lights will work.

Inspect the propane tanks and hoses. Ensure that the tank, and any spares you are transporting, are firmly secured in place. Replace worn hoses. (Do not attempt to repair by yourself or by using tape over the hose!!) Propane leaks can be detected using soapy water. Any leaks will be shown by expanding bubbles. Check that the tanks are not past the life cycle date. Close the tank valve at the end of each day.

A well maintained trailer will serve you many years and ensure your safety and profitability.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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