Proper Meat Handling at your Hot Dog Cart

food handling

Proper Meat Handling at your Hot Dog Cart

The completion of a food handling program before starting a hot dog cart service is strongly advised. We also urge that you check with your county or local city health authority to determine the specific local codes that apply to vendor carts in your location, as these might differ from one place to the next.

The sale of pre-cooked meat items, such as sausages or wieners, on hotdog carts, is restricted by many municipal health departments. These meat products must be grilled or barbecued on the cart. You should keep cooked meat at a consistently higher temperature than the minimum temperatures set by the health department. This needed storage temperature changes as well from one location to another. For example, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) advises a holding temp of 140°F or higher. A thermometer must also be kept on hand by the hotdog vendor to keep track of the temperature of the food. 

You should keep refrigerated meat at a temperature below the recommended cold temperature. ACCORDING TO ITS GUIDELINES, the IDPH recommends that potentially dangerous items such as meats be kept at or below 41°F (4°C). This will need the cart vendor to have an additional thermometer on hand to keep track of the temperature. Additionally, the temperature of the icebox or refrigerator must be monitored by the cart operators frequently all through the day by the cart operator. We recommend that you do so every 2 hours or such. It is important to ensure that refrigerator panels or icebox coverings are not left wide open since this could increase the inner temperature above the cold storage threshold. Put all perishable goods in appropriate storage containers as soon as possible after they are prepared. 

To be stored properly, pre-cooked meats and fresh meats must be chilled to the refrigerated temperature within one specified amount of time after they’ve been prepared. Example: The IDPH requires that cooked beef be brought to 70°F (21°C) in 2 hours and 41°F (4°C) inside another 4 hours after it has been brought to 70°F (21°C) (6 hours total). You should bring down fresh meats to 41°F (4°C) after 4 hours of being brought to room temp. 

Following the guidelines outlined above helps to keep the product fresh and avoids the development of microorganisms. Briefly stated, a health department will generally require that hot foods like sausages be kept above 140°F (60°C) and that frozen perishable goods be kept below 41°F (4°C). The temperature range around 41°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C) is considered the danger zone for the growth of bacteria and food degradation.

Health officials will require that you first heat some items to specific degrees before enabling you to sell them to the general public. 

To serve pre-cooked hotdogs, they must be reheated to at least 165°F (74°C) before being served. Put the thermometer lengthwise into the middle of the hotdog to accurately read the internal temperature. Avoid getting a falsely high-temperature reading; avoid passing your hand through the meat and touching the heating surface. Never rely on accurate equipment thermometers to attain the desired temperatures. Instead, always use a thermometer to check the temperature of the food you are preparing.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), initially, uncooked meats must always be cooked to the following recommended temperatures:

Chicken = 180°F (82°C)

Beef – Medium = 160°F (71°C)

Beef – Well Done = 170°F (77°C)

Ground Beef = 160°F (71°C)

Pork = 170°F (77°C)

The internal temperatures shown above should be reached and kept for a certain minimum period to ensure that the food is completely cooked before distribution… The meat can then be placed in a storage area and kept at a temperature just above the required temperature (140°F or 60°C) until it is ready to be served. Once all these baseline cooking temperatures have been attained for the specified timeframes, you can serve the meat to customers.

During the preparation and cooking process, you must exercise extreme caution to prevent the risk of cross-contamination between meat or any food items on the table. When working with raw, fresh, or frozen meats, exercise extra caution to avoid cross-contamination. The area used for meat preparation should be cleaned and disinfected before using it for any food preparation! Using a cutting board to divide frozen meat portions, for instance, requires the board to be cleaned and sanitized before you use it to chop onions. Every piece of equipment that comes into contact with meat must be cleaned and sanitized in the same manner as the meat. Alternatively, you can add one teaspoon (5ml) of chlorine bleach to 1 quart (1L) of water to create sanitizing solutions.

Avoid re-using the same plate or surfaces used to prep or transport the raw (frozen or fresh) meat after it has been cooked. For example, if you were using a tray to carry frozen sausage from the icebox to the hot dog grill, you should not place the cooked sausage on the same trays you used to carry them. It has already been polluted by undercooked meat and should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before using it again.

You should not handle raw, cooked, and frozen meat with the same tools. Fresh, raw, and frozen meats should all be viewed as potentially harmful, and anything that comes into contact with them should be considered contaminated. This includes blades, forks, or tongs that have been used to handle the meat throughout the preparation. They will have to be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized before you can use them again. 

You should use the shelf below and distinct from any food items to keep raw, fresh, or frozen meats so that they do not cross-contaminate them by leaking on them or otherwise coming into contact with them. Using the example above, a hotdog cart operator who relies on an icebox to hold chilled things would still need two iceboxes: meat and non-meat items. It is necessary to keep meats refrigerated with other items on the bottom shelves, below the other foods, to prevent them from spoiling. You should never store meat on the ground or the floor directly. Whenever possible, you should store food on something like a shelf that is elevated above the floor. 

Always remember to completely wash and disinfect food prep surfaces, equipment, and utensils after each use to prevent cross-contamination.

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