Food Truck Series Part 2 | Designing your unit for food safety and more

By Linda Jackson on 23 November 2021

When you design your mobile food handling unit, make sure you consider the requirements of R638 REGULATIONS GOVERNING GENERAL HYGIENE REQUIREMENTS FOR FOOD PREMISES, THE TRANSPORT OF FOOD AND RELATED MATTERS.





A food premises must be of such location, design, construction and finish and must be so equipped and maintained in the condition for which it was intended. that it can be used at all times for the purpose for which it was designed, constructed and equipped without creating a health hazard and that food -
(a) can be handled hygienically on the food premises and facilities thereon; and
(b) can be protected effectively by the best available method against contamination or spoilage by poisonous or offensive gases, vapors, odors, smoke, soot deposits, dust, moisture, insects or other vectors, or by any other physical, chemical (including unintended allergens) or biological contamination or pollution or by any other agent whatsoever.

This is a general statement that gives an overview of the intention of the legal requirements. When you design or buy a ready-made unit, think about the design and construction in this way.



The interior surfaces of walls, sides or ceilings, or of roofs without ceilings, and the surfaces of floors, or any other similar horizontal or vertical surfaces that form part of or enclose the food-handling area must not have open joints or open seams and must be made of smooth, rust-free, non-toxic, cleanable and non-absorbent material that is dustproof and water-resistant.

The surfaces inside the unit must be easy to clean. Think about heat transfer from the supporting frames. Depending on the materials used, latent heat can be transferred from the grill to other parts of the unit causing burns and increase in the temperature inside the unit. This might be an advantage during winter but NOT during summer.



Each area of a food premises must be-
(i) ventilated effectively by means of -
(aa) natural ventilation through openings or openable sections which are directly connected to the outside air and so positioned in the external walls or roof that effective cross-ventilation is possible.

Your unit must be effectively ventilated – consider gas fumes and food fumes. Your unit might have multiple openings but you will need to consider dust when the wind blows. Make sure you have several options of openings to allow for the direction of the wind to change.

Wash up facilities

Food premises must-
(i) have a wash-up facility with hot and cold water for the cleaning of facilities.

Your unit must have sufficient water storage capacity. YOU may need to supplement this with additional containers of water from home. Think about the size of the sink for washing up. Where will you wash large pots?

Also, consider the position of water storage as lifting 20l of water about counter height can become a challenge.


Pest control

Food premises must-
(ii) be pest-proof
(iii) be provided with effective means of controlling and preventing the access of flies, cockroaches. or other insects.

You need to consider rodents and insects.

Covering food will be the right option and keeping the unit clean to avoid attracting flies.

Also, consider the position of waste after food preparation.

No spraying of insecticides around open food!


Food premises must have a waste-water disposal system and a controlled refuse approved by the local authority.

Where will your wash water go so that this does not pose a risk or a health hazard? Check this with the site owner too.

Refuse handling

Food premises must have liquid-proof, easy-to-clean refuse containers with close-fitting lids suitable for the hygienic storage of refuse pending its removal from the food-handling area.

There is waste inside the unit but also consider your customers. Where will they throw their single-use food containers after use?


Food premises must have storage space for food, facilities and equipment.

Think about your menu and consider this very carefully. Food must not be stored on the floor. Think about see-through plastic storage containers that you can store under counter. Better still under-counter shelves can be included in your design.


Food premises must have an adequate supply of water.

Think about handwashing, cooking and cleaning in a day.


Food contact surfaces

The surface of a table. counter or working surface on which unwrapped food is handled and any equipment, utensil or basin or any other surface which comes into direct contact with food. must be made of smooth, rust-proof, non -toxic and non -absorbent material that is free of open joints or seams but wooden chopping blocks, cutting boards and utensils are not prohibited if such items are kept in such a condition that dirt does not accumulate thereon or therein and are maintained as such.

A surface referred to in sub-regulation (1) and crockery, cutlery, utensils, basins or any other such items or facilities, must not be used for the handling of food if they are not clean or if they are chipped. split or cracked.

Think carefully about the surfaces you will need. You will need cutting boards too as in any kitchen. Think about cross-contamination here = plan for separate boards for raw and cooked foods if you intend to do all preparation in your mobile unit.


Single-use items like food containers

A utensil or item which is suitable for single use only -
(a) must be stored under clean and hygienic conditions until used; and
(b) must not be used more than once.


Hygiene of surfaces

A surface referred to in sub-regulation -
(1) and an item referred to in sub-regulation
(2) must be-
(a) cleaned and washed before food comes into direct contact with it for the first time; and
(b) cleaned and washed. as and when necessary, during or immediately after the processing of food, so that contamination of the food that comes into contact with any such surface or item is prevented, and any such surface.


Chilling facilities

(a) A chilling and freezer facility used for the storage, display or transport of perishable food must be provided with a thermometer which at all times must reflect the degree of chilling of the refrigeration area of such facility and which must be in such a condition and positioned so that an accurate reading may be taken unhampered

Where will you store raw food before cooking? Where will you store ready-to-eat foods such as salads? You need to keep food below 5 degrees to keep it safe. An under-counter fridge unit is an ideal option but how will you power this unit? If you use cooler boxes, you will need to consider how you will keep food cold in summer. This is one of your biggest challenges for food safety.

Heating facilities

A heating apparatus or facility used for the storage, display or transport of heated perishable food must be provided with a thermometer which at all times must reflect the degree of heating of the heating area concerned and which must be in such a condition and positioned so that an accurate reading may be taken unhampered

Proper cooking is essential and cooked foods must be cooked through.

A challenge is keeping cooked food warm. Be careful of pre-portioning. This can speed up customer service but it can create other problems with food cooling down. Think carefully about this before designing your unit. Bain-maries can be used but consider the heating capacity and open flames.


Food that is displayed or stored must not be in direct contact with a floor, ceiling, wall or any ground surface.



A shelf or display case used for displaying or storing food or any container must be kept clean and free from dust or any other impurity.

This would apply to any containers such as bain-maries.


Non-prepacked, ready -to- consume food, including food served as meals and displayed in an open container, must be protected in accordance with the best available method, against droplet contamination or contamination by insects, dust or bare hands.

Food should always be covered.


A person may not handle or be allowed to handle food without wearing suitable protective clothing as specified in sub-regulation (2).
(a) The protective clothing, including head and other coverings and footwear of a person handling food that is not packed so that the food may not be contaminated must be clean and neat when the person begins to handle the food;
(b) at all times during the handling of the food, be in such a clean condition and be of such design and material that it cannot contaminate the food,
(c) be so designed that the food cannot come into direct contact with any part of the body, excluding the hands.

Your unit is still a food premise. You need to ensure you are dressed hygienically and a uniform is always best. Always cover your hair to avoid customer complaints.

The inspection for your COA will specifically look at these requirements.

Some practical considerations you need to think about in the real world based on Joanne and Bessie’s experiences: 

  1. Flies are a real issue - particularly in summer and if your unit is located near agricultural land.
  2. When the wind blows, and it does, you are going to get dusty. You need to plan to be able to cover all foodstuffs.
  3. You need more water than you think. Joanne plans for 60-80l of water a day for cooking, cleaning and washing dishes.
  4. You probably will not have access to electricity – think about how you will keep food hot and cold. Your customers will expect drinks to be ice cold.
  5. Where will you and your staff go to the bathroom?
  6. You will have to take your waste home. There will probably not be waste removal services. It will be up to you.
  7. Think about security for you and your staff. You will be handling cash.
  8. You will need a stable surface to park your unit. With time and settling your unit will sink.
  9. Don’t forget the first aid box for minor cuts and burns. And the gloves for when this happens.
  10. You will need fire extinguishers for potential fires.  

Joanne’s advice:

“Do your homework on the design of your unit. Make sure you buy from a reputable supplier. Do a thorough inspection of the unit before you buy it.”

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