November 17, 2021

Food cart pod owners and operators this week will begin receiving notice this week of new health and safety rules and license requirements for food cart pods in Multnomah County. The new licensing and rules, which will go into effect in January, will apply to any pod owner or operator who allows two or more food carts to park continuously on a property. 

Food cart pods create community gathering spaces in otherwise vacant lots.

Any pod owner or operator must apply for this license — whether they already have a food cart pod or plan to open a new one. This ordinance does not apply to individual food carts.

The rules come after years of concerns raised by mobile unit inspectors who struggled to investigate violations such as rat infestations or wastewater spills in food cart pods. Without rules to govern the health and safety of the broader pod, inspectors found it difficult to identify which cart or carts might be contributing to the problem. The county’s Food Service Advisory Committee elevated those concerns to the Board of County Commissioners in 2017, asking the Board to require pods to obtain licenses and be subject to oversight. In 2018, Environmental Health formed a workgroup to focus on their leading concerns and then presented them to the Board in early 2019.

The Board of Commissioners, in October 2019, passed an ordinance that would require, for the first time, food cart pod operators to provide carts with clean drinking water, control for pests, and provide enough trash and recycling, among other obligations. The vote allowed Environmental Health to craft rules with the support of a committee composed of food cart and cart pod operators, as well as government partners and health officials. 

The Health Department planned to begin accepting applications for food cart pod licenses in early 2020, with enforcement to begin no earlier than July 1. But when COVID-19 hit, Environmental Health was forced to shift its staff and its focus, entirely to the pandemic response. 

The food cart pod rules were finalized in November, 2020, but the Health Department pushed pause on enforcement to give the industry time to stabilize. Environmental Health will begin accepting applications next month, with enforcement to begin in early 2022.

“Some pod owners are certainly eager to get started,” said Jeff Martin, restaurant inspection supervisor. “Industry is still supportive in having these basic public health standards in place, and the guidance this ordinance provides on best practices for sanitation. Our inspectors are also ready to get going so they can make sure that the health and safety of those common shared spaces are maintained.”