Trading Standards Institute Advice

Mobile catering

This leaflet is for all food businesses involved in mobile catering, either based at one site, travelling around or catering at venues and events.

What do I need to consider when starting my business?
You are responsible for making sure that the food you sell is safe and that you keep to all relevant regulations.

You need to contact your local environmental health service for advice when you first start planning your business. You will need to register your business with your local environmental health service at least 28 days before your first day of trading.

Some sites and council areas may have specific trading rules and you must check this before you choose where to run your business from. 

There are extra licensing laws you need to keep to if you want to supply hot food or hot drinks between 11.00 and 17.00 to be eaten or drunk on or off the premises. There are exceptions, but these laws affect many catering businesses, including mobile catering vehicles. If you plan to trade between 11.00 and 17.00, you should check with your local council to find out if you need to apply for an extra licence.

What about the vehicle?
If you have a vehicle or mobile unit you are going to use to cook food in or sell food from, it must be large enough for everything you need to do. There must be enough room to store, prepare, cook and display food, and to keep raw and cooked or ready-to-eat foods separate at all times.

You must be able to thoroughly and properly clean all surfaces that food comes into contact with, and you must also be able to get to and be able to thoroughly clean all surfaces inside the vehicle, including walls, floors and work surfaces. Stainless steel is ideal for a counter or work surface because it is easy to clean and hard-wearing.

A laminate work surface is acceptable, but you must make sure that:

  • you keep it in a good condition and repair or replace it if any holes or cracks appear
  • the laminate edging stays firmly attached so you can clean it properly
  • you should seal any join between separate sheets of laminate or any other cladding

The floor should also be hard-wearing and easy to clean and there should be no loose edging where dirt and grease can build up.

You should write a cleaning schedule so that everyone knows what needs to be cleaned and when. This will make sure you don't miss anything. 

You must protect your vehicle or mobile unit against pests, and there should be no gaps where rats and mice can get in.

What facilities are needed at the site?
There must be a supply of clean drinking water that originates from the mains supply - you need enough to clean equipment and for you, and your staff, to wash your hands. All water containers must be thoroughly cleaned after use. This includes sanitising the inside of water carrying containers.

There must be enough suitable hand-washing facilities with hot water, soap, paper towels and a bin for the used towels:

  • the hand basin must not be used for anything else, such as storing detergents or rinsing cloths
  • the hand basin should have hot and cold water or hot water supplied at a controlled temperature providing instant hot water from the taps - you must not rely on a kettle, or a boiler without proper plumbing that is nowhere near the basin, to provide hot water for washing your hands

All waste water should go straight into a mains drainage system. If this is not possible, you should drain it into a closed container that is clearly marked, and then empty the container into a foul (dirty) water drain and not into the road or gutter.

You should never put food waste or fat down the drain. You must be prepared for the waste you will produce and make sure that you have bins available with plastic bin bags. All outside bins must have tight-fitting lids.

What do I need for storing and displaying food?
Mobile catering units are not usually designed to store a large amount of food. However, while it is being used, you must make sure there is enough room to store and display all the food you have.

You need to know what types of storage and how much space you will need in a fridge, freezer or cupboard, and plan ahead. You may want to think about using a separate mobile chiller or freezer unit. You will also need to use food wrapping and packaging and must store this safely and in a clean place. 

What about my staff?
If you have staff handling food, you must make sure that you and they keep to the law and follow the same personal hygiene standards as they would in any other food environment. 

If you are handling high-risk foods you should attend a Level 2 Food Safety in Catering course.

If you are not preparing high-risk foods you don't have to get a specific certificate, but it is still a legal requirement that everyone handling food must have food safety training, instruction, or supervision so that they know about food hazards and keep to good and safe working practice.

Your environmental health service may ask you to go on a course and you may find that the organisers of an event won't let you run your business on-site without a current food hygiene qualification. 

You can get the Level 2 Food Safety in Catering certificate by going on a one day course and successfully answering a short multiple-choice question paper.

Food safety management
All food handlers and their clothes must always be clean:

  • you should wear an apron as a minimum requirement
  • long hair should always be tied back or kept under a hat
  • you shouldn't wear jewellery (a plain wedding ring is usually acceptable)
  • your fingernails should be short and you shouldn't wear nail varnish or false nails

You should only handle food if you have to and you should always wash your hands thoroughly after you've handled raw food, before you handle cooked and ready-to-eat food, after you've got rid of waste, and after you've used the toilet or taken a break. 

Disposable gloves may be worn, but you should remember that you are protecting the food from you, not protecting you from the food, so you should change your gloves as often as you would wash your hands. You should always have a good supply of these gloves available.

You shouldn't prepare or serve food if you have had any sickness and/or diarrhoea symptoms until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have gone. 

You must not handle unwrapped food if you have a skin, nose or throat infection. 

You should cover any cuts, spots or sores with a blue waterproof plaster.

More information
You will find further guidance in our other leaflets on this website. Information can also be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Alternatively, contact your local environmental health service for advice.

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance.

© 2017 itsa Ltd.