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Street food: Bus Cafe # 2

23-Nov-2010 [96]

• The bus kitchen at farmers markets

Part of Street food

Carol has a question: Is it illegal to run a "food bus" at farmers' markets, since she can't get a license for the bus?

Carole and others cook out of a colourful bus equipped with a full kitchen. Originally, she planned to sell food as a street vendor as part of the City's A la Carte program, until the hurdles of that program made it impossible for her to do that (see Street food: Bus Cafe). Since then, she has been cooking food to sell at farmers markets and also travelling to different festivals in Ontario to sell her good food. CELOS researchers were not able to find any reason that Carole would need a licence to sell food. People who sell at farmers' markets are considered "vendors" under the regulations that exempt farmers markets and church suppers from the costly equipment and specific rules for running restaurants and industrial kitchens.

Most recently, she cooked for the Queen West Art Crawl. Although it isn't necessary for farmers' markets vendors to cook their food from a certified kitchen, Carole must meet many of the same criteria to sell at different festivals in Ontario. Her bus kitchen meets all of the criteria for a certified kitchen - 2 sinks, hot and cold water, dish sanitizer, a refrigerator, etc. [is this necessary for a chip truck?]

However, she cannot get a licence for her food bus, since it doesn't fit any of the existing city categories for licensing. When Carole went to the East York city licencing office to get one, a helpful employee told her that she couldn't get a licence because she doesn't fit into any of the existing categories. The bus isn't a chip truck because Carole cooks in, but does not sell out of her bus. She makes the food in the bus kitchen and then sets up a table at farmers markets where she sells the food. Cooking takes up most of the space in the bus and there isn't room to also sell the food inside it.

Carole's bus is a good example of how to achieve the primary goal behind the regulations - by selling fresh food. The bus simply doesn't have the space to keep and store things. If the food is cooked, it gets sold.

The helpful city staff person at licencing recommended that Carole get her kitchen inspected herself and keep all of the papers to show to public health inspectors. She did that.

However, last week, she received a call from the city licensing department. Public health had complained to licencing that Carol does not have a licence.

Carol is worried that city licensing may tell her that's it's illegal to run her bus kitchen at farmers markets because her bus isn't licenced. And the city has said it cannot issue her one.

How is the bus treated in other areas in Ontario?

Different areas in Ontario are governed by different public health boards. The different boards interpret and carry out the public health regulations in different ways. Inspectors often have very different understandings - some correct, and some not [link to stonegate] of what the law says.

For example,Carole cooks for a festival in Muskoka. In that area, public health has a checklist, and makes sure that the bus has the required two sinks, hot and cold runnning water, etc. (see requirements for a certified kitchen). Where Carole cooks from is not in issue there.

During the Queen West Art Crawl in Toronto, the generator that runs Carole's hot water tank didn't work. Carole took water from the bus taps and boiled it. This way, she would have hot water with which to wash the dishes. Public health inspectors are concerned about liability - they said that this wasn't sufficient, so Carole undertook to take the dishes to her mother's restaurant to be washed that evening before returning for the next day of the festival. Public health officials, who understandable also wanted their Sunday off, asked Carole to sign off on her undertaking to do this, and they did not return to inspect the following day. Carole's experience is that these officials had no concerns about the understandable goal of the regulations - to make sure things are sanitary. Rather, their concerns arose from a fear of legal consequences and liability if the exact process for cleaning the dishes is not followed.

Carole stated that all of the farmers market managers where she sells her food require her to cook from a certified kitchen. The farmers' market regulations were designed to make it possible for small scale community cooking to happen at farmers markets and church suppers without the costly requirements of restaurants and industrial kitchens. This is, in fact, another example of vendors who have found it easier to self regulate than to expect that inspectors will know the law and carry it out consistently. The costs of misunderstandings by some inspectors about what the law says are borne by the vendors [link]

CELOS researchers have not found anything that prevents Carole from selling food she cooks in her bus at farmers' markets, nor any requirement that any vendors have a licence to sell their food - it is generally the farmers markets that are required to have a licence. Under the farmers' market regulations, she is a "vendor", defined as " In fact, Carole and other vendors at the markets have gone well beyond the legal requirments by ensuring that they are "certified kitchens". Under the law, "certified kitchens" are required only for .

2 different issues here: - legal requirments for farmers markets are different from those for chip trucks and restaurants recurring issues: - the same law and regulations are interpreted differently and sometimes inspectors in different jurisdictions do not know what the law requires

- if goal is being met, why are we insisting upon standard procedures? is this strictly necessary? - is it possible to follow the Muskoka example, and - Carole does not need a licence at all - each of the markets is licenced . - since the farmers' market criteria were specifically designed to remove church suppers and farmers' markets from a regulatory regime that simply didn't fit the much smaller scale, neighbourhood based sale of home-cooked food?

- questions re: licensing - Does Carole need a licence to sell food at special events like the Queen West Arts Crawl?

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