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Food Truck Friendly? In the Quad Cities, Local and State Food Truck Laws are as Diverse as Food Truck Menus

By: Kyle Day

In a recent Quad-City Times article, journalists Jack Cullen and Amanda Hancock shed light on the growing number of food trucks in the Quad Cities.  As local chefs and entrepreneurs dip their toes into the national food truck craze, it’s clear you no longer have to be a hipster in Austin or a foodie in Los Angeles to enjoy high quality cupcakes, hot dogs (or here), pizza, crepes, grilled cheese, or tacos.

And why not? Food trucks offer existing brick-and-mortar restaurants and aspiring entrepreneurs the ability to try their hand in a growing niche of the food service industry without having the large costs of a storefront operation.  Because of their mobility, food trucks can move to where their customers are, engaging new and untapped customers.  Although running your own food truck sounds exciting, you still must deal with several business and legal issues, including choice-of-entity questions, liability coverage, taxes and employment matters (not to mention a few good recipes).  As a result of the lack of uniformity in local and state laws applicable to food trucks among each of the Quad Cities, you will also need to understand a number of potentially conflicting local and state rules before fire up your grills.  A few such rules affecting food trucks in the Quad Cities are included below.

Iowa

Iowa law requires food truck vendors to obtain a license to operate as a “mobile vendor” in the state.  Obtaining a “mobile vendor” license in Iowa is a uniform process that depends on the size and type of food truck.  For both food trucks operating in Davenport and/or Bettendorf, the Scott County Health Department handles the licensing on behalf of the state, and requires food truck vendors to fill out an application, schedule and pass an inspection, and take a food safety and protection class that is signed off on by the department.  The “mobile vendor” license cost is currently $27 per year and is payable to the Scott County Treasurer.  In addition to the license requirement, the vendor must also comply with state regulation on issues such as equipment, food sanitation, cleaning, personnel, water and sewage, and personal hygiene to name a few, as well as obtaining and maintaining all necessary tax certifications.

Davenport

In addition to the state-level rules, the current Davenport Municipal Code requires food trucks within Davenport to obtain all applicable business licenses prior to operation.  In addition to state licensing, food trucks and their customers may not obstruct the flow of pedestrian traffic on sidewalks, streets, alleys or parking lots.  Among other things, a food truck must comply with all parking provisions, comply will health department regulations, maintain minimum levels of insurance coverage, and be compliant with all laws concerning the sale of goods and services.

As Amanda Hancock notes in her July 22 article, however, Davenport is moving quickly to revise ordinances to make the city more food truck-friendly.  At a July 21 public meeting a proposed program to accommodate food trucks in downtown Davenport was introduced and is expected to form the basis for a new city ordinance as early as later this year.

Bettendorf

Unlike Davenport, there are no specific local rules in place concerning food trucks.  However, that does not mean that food trucks operating in Bettendorf can ignore the city’s municipal code.There are more general rules, such as the prohibition on obstructing sidewalks, while not specific to food trucks, are equally applicable. Food truck vendors also need to fill out an application and obtain a general business license from the city before operating.

Illinois

While there is not state-wide food truck license, Illinois does require that food trucks comply with The Illinois Food Service Sanitation Code.  As a part of this state law, all food handlers are required to complete a comprehensive food training course.  In order to obtain a state license, an operator must have the proper equipment.  Some of the equipment is dependent on the type of operation; for an overview, click here.  All installed items must be of commercial grade and approved by the National Sanitation Foundation.  In addition to sanitation and equipment requirements, a food truck in Illinois will be required to comply with necessary tax and business reporting requirements.

Moline

Food trucks operating in Moline must comply with Illinois and city rules.  In addition, food trucks must provide the Moline Health Inspector with proof of access to a commissary, a list of all items that are going to be prepared and served during operations, a list of all known events and locations where operation will take place, and a completed floor plan that identifies all the required equipment.  The food truck vendor is also tasked with informing the inspector of any changes to the required disclosures.  All food trucks must fill out an application in order to operate.  The cost of obtaining a mobile food unit license in Moline is currently $100 per year.

Rock Island

Food trucks operating in Rock Island are subject to the same state-level rules as those operating in Moline.  In addition, under local rules, Rock Island requires that food trucks submit a completed food and beverage application to the Rock Island Health Inspector. In Rock Island, a food services license for a mobile food unit is $80 per year.

If you are thinking about starting a mobile food business in Iowa, the state has put together a detailed guide that is a good place to start. Because food trucks are often operated on private property, food truck vendors and property owners should consider memorializing their agreement so each party knows what to expect from the relationship, including operating hours and liability allocation.

If you need assistance navigating your way through the cluttered world of food truck regulation, contact attorney Kyle Day or Lane & Waterman at (563) 324-3246.