Food truck regulations typically happen on the local level in the United States, where counties and cities make decisions about how food truck owners can legally operate. So far in 2023, cities are largely recognizing the value of food trucks to their local communities and passing laws to reflect that.
We are going to run through some laws and regulations that become effective or proposed in 2023 to summarize legal trends. That way no matter where you operate your food truck, you can better understand where the industry is going and how it is being regulated in 2023.
Many small cities that didn’t regulate food trucks before are doing so now. Restricting where food trucks can operate in city limits was a big theme of new 2023 ordinances so far.
For example, Smackover, Arkansas initially banned food trucks but passed an ordinance that would allow them. Area restrictions, health inspections, insurance requirements, tax IDs, and are all now requirements to operate a food truck. Batesville, Indiana proposed (but not yet passed) an ordinance with similar elements.
Some cities leaned hard into area restrictions. Park Rapids, Minnesota approved food trucks but limits them to commercial and industrial zones and not within 50 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Fallon, Nevada made it illegal to vend on public property, but nonetheless approved food trucks.
Heightened oversight is signaling the growth and viability of food trucks is here to stay and these communities are having to regulate areas that were previously thought irrelevant. The recent actions of cities in the U.S. to allow (and regulate) food trucks reflect a careful, but progressive, trend.
Many cities that already allow and regulate food trucks are changing laws to make running a food truck easier. Increasing opportunities and reducing costs was a big theme.
For example, Creston, Iowa city council agreed that food truck licenses were too expensive, which reached up to $1,000 a year “because they were trying to deter people from coming," councilwoman Kiki Scarberry said. Instead, the council agreed on $200 for a six-month license to attract more businesses. Mount Sterling, Illinois changed its ordinance to allow people who own property a free license to operate a food truck on their land.
Additionally, city planners in Columbia, Tennessee were in favor of eliminating size restrictions, plot plan requirements, and allowing food trucks to operate in their downtown area. However, the city still will not allow food trucks to operate more than four days nor in residential areas.
Cities that already had food truck regulations scaled them back after seeing the negative impact that they had on food trucks.
Big cities that have had truck regulations for a while appear to be keeping them. While each city and county will have different regulations, here is a list of the most common types of food truck regulations:
- Food truck permits. It’s common for cities and counties to require food trucks to get a specific permit by showing a business plan, menu, vehicle specs, and other prerequisites.
- Health permits. County health departments typically require food trucks to have separate health permits and pass inspections. Our friends at the Washington Food Truck Association describe some of the considerations in more detail.
- Limited service areas. Cities and counties have zoning and parking restrictions that limit where and how food trucks can operate. They vary wildly from city to county. Some cities go even further and require certain distances between brick-and-mortar restaurants to reduce competition.
While food truck regulations happen mostly on the local level, two states, California and Georgia, are notable for 2022 laws that impact food truck owners in 2023 and beyond.
Georgia signed into law HB1443, which requires counties in Georgia to recognize food truck permits granted from another county. Before, food truck owners had to get permits from each county they served. The costs quickly racked up and made business hard for food truck owners. So the legislature relaxed regulations and made it easier for food trucks to operate, keeping with the theme of 2023.
California also passed a sweeping generator ban law. Passed in 2022, the state law will ban, among other things, the sale of portable gas generators by 2028.
While the generator ban did not necessarily target food trucks, it will force food truck owners in California to reconsider how they get food truck power in the next five years and what it will mean for their mobile business. Gas generator bans aren’t necessarily a bad thing, as generators come with hidden costs and there are more sustainable ways to power food trucks.
From a regulatory standpoint, cities and counties largely see the value of food trucks. And there seems to be a pattern: start conservatively, tweak regulations to make them less restrictive, then maintain the system.
However, there is one exception: environmental concerns. When it comes to reducing carbon emissions and pollution, many states and cities are willing to eliminate gas appliances and equipment in the marketplace. Food trucks that want to stay ahead of the curve will want to evaluate how they can use clean energy to create food truck electricity.
For Joule Case, we’ve committed to eliminating 1,000,000,000 pounds of CO2 by 2028 through electric inverter-battery systems taking the place of natural gas, propane, and diesel generators.
To see how Joule Case is impacting mobile food business, read some of our battery-powered food truck spotlights.