Timing is key. Whether you're negotiating a new stop or planning a special event, always try to limit activities during the hottest part of the day. Since lunch is typically the busiest time for food trucks, you may not be able to avoid the summer heat. Make slight adjustments to your start time and the length of your shift. This can make a big difference when temperatures begin to soar.
Park strategically. Be sure to discuss the parking location with property owners and event planners beforehand. If you are given the opportunity, select a location where you will not be parking in direct sunlight, and make sure that there are shaded areas nearby where you and your customers can eat and rest.
Dress appropriately. It may be tempting to break out the tanks, shorts, and flip-flops. But, if your equipment has pilot lights or open flames or if you're working near hot liquids, choose clothing which protects your body from heat, splatters, and spills. Ideally, it should be light-colored and made from breathable, lightweight fabrics, such as cotton and other natural fibers, to keep cool. Loose-fitting attire is not recommended when working near open flames, nor are items made from synthetic fabrics, as they can stifle air circulation and have a tendency to be more flammable. Closed-toe shoes with skid-resistant soles are suggested to protect again these and other hazards, such as slips, trips, and falls. Don't forget the sunblock!
Stay hydrated. In order to avoid heat stress, it is important to take preventive measures to hydrate your body during the hours leading up to your shift and replenish lost fluids by drinking approximately 1 cup of water every 15 minutes. Since the heat may cause changes in your metabolism, be sure to consult with your doctor before consuming sports drinks or energy drinks which may contain sugars, caffeine, and other stimulants. Some of these may actually cause a rise in body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, or changes in blood sugar that may pose risks to your health.
Take a break. Whenever possible, take intermittent breaks to cool off in the shade or find shelter nearby. When sweating and replenishing with cold fluids isn't enough to cool you down, you may begin to experience weakness, headaches, dizziness, confusion, fainting, or you may even begin to vomit. All of these are signs of heat exhaustion, which may lead to heat stroke or death if you do not take immediate action to remove yourself from the situation. If you suspect that your or a member of your crew may be suffering from heat-related illness, call 911 immediately.
Maintaining Your Equipment's Temperature
Keep the door closed. Repeatedly opening and shutting the refrigerator door lets cool air out and hot air/moisture in.
Don't overload. Overloading the refrigerator reduces the unit's efficiency and increases the time it takes to cool food products, particularly when the air flow is blocked. When space is tight, it may be necessary to divide products into smaller portions, leaving space around storage containers so that heat can escape and become absorbed by the refrigerant. This allows items to cool more rapidly, keeping them out of the danger zone. If the unit is reaching capacity or the cold plate is sluggish at the end of a long shift, you may want to cool items in an ice bath before placing them in the refrigerator, and be sure to store any high-risk perishables toward the back of the unit.
Lose the cardboard. Cardboard, paper products, styrofoam, wood, and other porous materials soak up the cool air and harbor mold, which begins to become a concern when the humidity levels reach 70%. These materials also act as insulation, increasing the amount of time it takes food products contained within them to cool. Whenever possible, remove these materials and opt for metal storage containers.
Have a backup plan. You may want to consider carrying a chest of extra ice for boosting temperatures during periods of extreme heat. It may also be used to temporarily store and transport product in the event of a mechanical malfunction. When using ice to help cool items in your refrigerator, remember to place these items on the lower rack to avoid contamination from ice melting and dripping down onto other products.
Maintain your equipment. Be sure to consult with a qualified mechanic to devise a schedule for inspecting and maintaining your equipment, and discuss the proper use of over-the-road devices to maintain temperatures while the truck is out and about. It is important to maintain your electrical cords and any electrical outlets you may be using to charge the unit. Ensuring that all three prongs are present will protect against electrical hazards and make the connection more secure. Thermometers should be tested regularly and used frequently to verify food storage temperatures.
The Bottom Line
The scorching summer heat is hard on our bodies, our moods, and a food truck's bottom line. Don't let the high temperature get you down, though. Using these tips will help you keep cool even if it feels like the sun is out to get you.