The hundreds of thousands of people arriving in Washington to witness President Obama as he takes his second oath of office seem much more worried about staking out the perfect spot on the parade route and finding the ultimate inauguration ball outfit. Apparently, we’re not remotely concerned about an upset stomach.
But someone is.
On Saturday, dozens of health and safety inspectors went into overdrive, inspecting the city’s fleet of food trucks for all manner of hazards, including — but not limited to — food-borne illnesses.
On the street just outside Union Station, they checked for unsanitary kitchen conditions, malfunctioning generators and leaky propane tanks. These, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration food specialist Mario Seminara, could cause “unintentional” harm, such as food poisoning, fires and explosions.
“That will kill your business,” said Demetrius Weeden, owner of Famous Dave’s, a Maryland-based barbecue truck, who waited outside his truck on G Street NE while inspectors combed the inside. “All it takes is one call, one person saying they got sick, and it’s over.”
But there’s also the “intentional” kind of harm: bio-terrorism in the form of viruses or bacteria, concealed weapons or car bombs, to name a few.
“Our process plays a vital role in national security,” said Robert Sudler, the program manager of the food safety division of the D.C. Health Department, who was supervising the inspections. “Citizens and visitors could be exposed to any number of fatal threats.”
To mitigate these risks, the D.C. Health Department teamed up with local fire officials, the FDA and Secret Service to inspect all the vendors that received special permission to operate along or near the parade route.
Thirty-nine food trucks from the District and other cities received permission to sell their food near the Capitol on Inauguration Day, according to the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
Nineteen of the trucks will be set up within the security perimeter along the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue, and the others will operate near Union Station, the D.C. Armory and Nationals Park. (Don’t worry — licensed food trucks who don’t have permission to operate at these prime locations will be allowed to sell food elsewhere in the city.)
Health and safety officials inspected the trucks Friday and Saturday, and the Secret Service is expected to conduct the final sweep of the trucks late Sunday night. The trucks then will be quarantined in the “clean zone” around the Capitol until Monday morning, when the festivities — and the eating — can begin.
Among the local specialty food trucks inspected and ready to serve inauguration-goers on Monday are the Fojol Bros., Crepe Love, Curbside Cupcakes, Carnivore BBQ, Capital Chicken & Waffles and Goodies Frozen Custard.
And several vendors from as far as New York, Oklahoma and Arizona will give Washington a taste of what other cities have to offer.
On Saturday, while inspectors tried to ward off the risk of food-borne illnesses, vendors chatted about their own concerns. Chief among them: running out of food.
On a normal operating day, food truck vendors can resupply their stock. But on Inauguration Day, vendors are limited to what they can fit onboard their vehicles, due to security issues.
“If you sell out, you sell out,” said Lisa Davis, a Health Department official who coordinated the inspections.
Aliyyah Baylor, co-owner of Harlem’s Make My Cake, who left New York before dawn for the inspection, was tentatively confident. “I have 5,000 cupcakes and 1,000 sweet-potato cheesecakes,” she said. “That has to be enough. Right?”