Hot dog cart

Hot dog cart

Hot dog carts are a common sight on the streets of many U.S. cities. Basically, a hot dog cart is a specialized mobile food stand for preparing and selling street food in the form of take out hot dogs to passers by. This may seem simple and easy enough but actually the hot dog vending industry is heavily regulated and, as a result, the hot dog cart, the hot dogs being sold, and the vendor / operator must meet stringent health regulations designed to protect the public from food poisoning or food borne disease. The end result is a quick, easy food service that supplies millions of busy workers with food each business day. The [ U.S. Hot Dog Council] estimates that 15% of the approximately 10 billion hot dogs consumed by Americans last year, were purchased from a mobile hot dog vendor cart. [ [ National Hot Dog and Sausage Council] ]


A hot dog cart is a compact, fully self-contained, mobile [restaurant] designed to serve a very limited menu. An onboard ice box is used to keep the meats safely chilled until ready for reheating. It also provides cold storage for beverages such as canned sodas. Internal dry storage is also provided for buns and other items needed for food vending such as cooking utensils, napkins, take away bags, plastic cutlery and so on. Usually a small volume of fresh potable water is held in an on board tank. This water is used for filling the steamer pans and supplying the faucets and sinks used for hand washing and cleaning utensils. Most hot dog carts use propane to heat the water and cook the foods making them entirely self contained and independent of electrical power. Some carts may also be fitted with a propane barbecue, griddle, deep fryer or other food appliances. A colorful umbrella is usually installed to protect the food preparation area from contamination, provide some shade, and advertise the carts location. [ [ Willydogs Operations Manual] ]


Hot dog carts are generally built from materials that resist corrosion and are food hygiene friendly and easy to clean. This generally means stainless steel but some carts also have components made from plastics or fiberglass. (For an example of this variety of types and materials see [ Willydogs] . This manufacturer produces a popular fiberglass model in the form of a giant colorful hot dog as well as more conventional looking stainless steel carts in various sizes.) The food preparation body of the cart is often mounted on a chassis that can be easily towed to a vendors location by a vehicle or pushed to a location by hand. These carts vary from a [ lightweight push cart] of only about 200 lbs (90Kg), to [ fully enclosed walk-in] carts weighing 1/2 a ton or more. A small simple unit is usually equipped with propane powered steamers to reheat pre-cooked sausages or wieners. Larger more complex carts often have [ additional food preparation equipment] such as propane barbecues, grills, griddles, and deep fryers, storage facilities including coolers and electric refrigerators, as well as beverage making equipment such as coffee makers. [ [ Indiana State Dept of Health] - Retail Food Establishment Sanitation Requirements - page 61 - Equipment Design and Materials]


Although hot dog carts can be equipped to cook a variety of other meats and foods from a fresh or raw state, local health code regulations in the U.S. and Canada that govern food safety and the types of food that can be sold from mobile food stands usually limit hot dog carts to reheating precooked wieners and sausages. These health code regulations vary widely from state to state and county to county. In addition, health regulations often limit what side dishes, condiments and garnishes may be sold from a mobile food cart, usually those potentially hazardous foods which are at high risk for spoilage due to rapid bacterial growth, such as mayonnaise, eggs, and dairy products. Meats that are considered to be hazardous such as pork and poultry may also be banned from sale at mobile foods stands. Therefore, hot dog carts are often limited to reheating pre-cooked wieners using heat produced by propane or electricity and serving these on buns with certain approved condiments such as mustards, pickles, pickled relishes, chopped onions, and tomato ketchup. [ [ Department of Public Health] - Food Safety fact Sheet for Temporary Food Stands ]

Health regulations

Health code regulations are usually dictated by county health departments (see [ US County Health Dept Listing] ) and as a result, they vary widely across the United States and Canada. In addition to determining what types of foods are allowed to be served, these local codes often specify mandate what equipment be installed on a mobile food cart to ensure that it has the built-in facilities for achieving appropriate hygiene levels for the cart, the equipment and utensils being used, and the operator handling the food. This specified mandatory equipment may include such things as hot and cold running water, an insulated ice box, and a number of separate sinks for washing hands and utensils. Some areas specify that a cart have as many as 4 such sinks. Local or state codes may require that a hot dog cart be approved by a quality assurance agency such as the [ NSF] (National Sanitation Foundation). In addition, local health codes may require the cart to be physically inspected for conformance by the local health department, and that a cart operator attend a training course in safe food handling and preparation. [ [ Indiana County Health Department] - Hot Dog Cart Regulations Guide]


California recently passed new legislation that greatly affected the operation of hot dogs carts in that state. The new California Retail Food Code (Cal Code) was introduced in July 2007. This is, in effect, the strictest and most comprehensive set of laws governing the use of hot dog carts in the United States. [ [ California Environmental Health Agency] (CEHA) Retail Food Code ]

The Cal Code mandates that hot dog cart operators must follow a strict operational procedure that includes formal approved training in food safety. Under this new framework of food laws, hot dog carts in California must also operate from an approved commissary. A commissary is an approved restaurant or other food facility that will provide a safe, clean base of operations for the hot dog cart. At the commissary the cart is to be cleaned, loaded with food and water each day, drained of waste water and emptied of unused food at days end, and then stored overnight. The Commissary also provides services such as storing and preparing foods for the hot dog cart operator. This would include chopping the vegetables such as onions and tomatoes being used as condiments. The Cal Code specifies the list of facilities, equipment and procedures that an approved commissary must have in place. Preparing food in a private home for retail sale to the public is strictly forbidden by the Cal Code. The local county health department usually has a list of approved commissaries for their jurisdiction.

The Cal Code also specifies the necessary equipment that hot dog carts must have on board for legal operations. This mandatory equipment list includes 4 sinks for ware washing and hand washing, a large volume of on board water and appropriate sized waste water tanks, a refrigerator for storing potentially hazardous foods such as meats, thermometers for monitoring food temperatures, and sneeze guards to protect the food display and preparation areas of the cart. This extensive equipment requirement guarantees that any new hot dog cart legally operating in California will have to be quite large and expensive compared to those in common use in other regions of the country.

An easy to understand summary of the Cal Code as it applies to hot dog cart operations can be found online at [ California Hot Dog Carts] .

An excellent free online tutorial of general U.S. hot dog cart health regulations is found at [ US Carts] . An excellent free online guide to Canadian hot dog cart regulations is found at [] . Each of these sites seem to offer a fairly complete list of links to other government health sites and local county health department sites across the USA and Canada.


A large number of manufacturers of hot dog carts exist in the U.S. and Canada to service this specialized industry. They have evolved in recent years to depend largely on direct internet marketing and can be found by searching the key phrase "hot dog carts" on any search engine.

There are a surprisingly large number of regional recipes and presentation styles for this common food. These styles may range from specific condiments, such as a Michigan hot dog or a Montreal hot dog, to sauces that are added to the wiener and bun, such as chili sauce and red onion sauce. Wieners are offered in a wide variety of sizes and types of meats including beef, chicken, turkey, and even vegetarian. Sausages reflect the various American and European styles such as Polish, Hot Italian, and Kosher. The bun itself can be offered in a number of varieties of sizes and bread types. For an extensive listing of hot dog variations and regional recipes go to the [ National Hot Dog and Sausage Council] and click on the recipes section.

Although the hot dog is considered an American food invention dating back to New York in the late 1800s, hot dog cart manufacturers claim to ship hot dog carts all around the world, including Europe, Asia, South America, and even the Middle East. [ [ National Hot Dog and Sausage Council] ]


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