Until a week ago, Washington was one of only two states in the country that still required food truck operators to have brick-and-mortar commissary kitchens for the preparation and storage of their food. Now, thanks to a frustrated Vashon Islander, a knowledgeable lobbyist, and a bipartisan collection of hungry legislators, the law will allow food to be prepped, stored, and cooked right in the trucks.
Emily Wigley, owner/operator of Vashon’s Orca Eats food truck, testified in support of House Bill 2639, which sought to change the old law. She said the bill will mean fresher food for customers and less redundancy and logistical issues for the food trucks.
“It was just so crazy before,” she said, referring to the old law. “The truck would have to meet all sorts of requirements for the health department, and then you had to meet all of the exact same requirements in a brick-and-mortar commissary kitchen. … There were just too many opportunities for food safety to be compromised, too many steps involved.”
Wigley, who has been using the new kitchen at the Vashon Senior Center as the Orca Eats’ commissary, became involved in the issue through the Washington Food Truck Association, whose advisory board she’s been sitting on for the past two years.
“We decided as a group that this was the biggest hurdle in our industry,” she noted. “So we chose to go ahead and work on a bill for this year.”
To get the ball rolling, a number of the association’s members took their trucks to Olympia for a “food truck lobby day” last April to promote their bill. And while legislators and staffers lined up for lunch, the food truck operators pleaded their cause.
And it worked.
A number of representatives—led by Rep. Vincent Buys (R-42nd District)—asked what they could do to help. On his website, Buys explains that the old law dated back to the 1970s, “when mobile food units didn’t have sanitation equipment, handwashing stations, running water or the proper refrigeration equipment to keep food at safe temperatures. Things have changed and it’s time our rules and regulations changed, too.”
The bill was supported by 14 bipartisan sponsors and passed its final vote in the Senate last week by a vote of 49-0.
Once Gov. Inslee signs it into law, food truck operators will be able to prep and cook their food in the trucks, as long as health department requirements for equipment and storage are met.
“There will literally be no difference between a legally permitted food truck that is operated properly and a restaurant, as far as public trust goes,” Wigley said.
While Orca Eats will open for its 2018 season on April 7 at opening day for the Vashon Farmers Market, Wright said that she will continue to use the kitchen at the senior center for large-scale events. Those require her to prepare and store a large amount of food, more than the truck can handle.
After testifying in Olympia twice in support of the bill, Wright added that the experience on the whole was “fun,” as she got to see the wheels of government turn on an issue that had support on both sides of the aisle and essentially no opposition.
A version of this story first appeared in the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber.