Ice cream trucks have a magical, nostalgic aura, but that doesn't change the fact that they're businesses. Specifically, it is a mobile food truck business, so ice cream truck requirements are similar to those for taco trucks and hot dog stands. To get an ice cream vendor permit, you'll need to comply with state, county and city regulations.
Are Ice Cream Trucks Allowed?
Food trucks aren't popular with everyone. Brick-and-mortar restaurants see them as competition that doesn't have to play by the same regulatory rules. Some elected officials see them as fly-by-night operations that aren't trustworthy.
Some cities and counties deal with the issue by banning food trucks, though some bans exempt ice cream. Elgin, Illinois banned ice cream trucks for 45 years, finally dropping the rule in 2018. Bloomington, Indiana, on the other hand, exempts ice cream trucks from food-truck licensing provided they don't park anywhere longer than 10 minutes.
Before you buy your ice cream truck, contact city hall to ask about the regulations under which you'll be working. If ice cream trucks aren't allowed, there's no point in going further.
Ice Cream Truck Requirements: Location
Looking for a place to set up shop is part of starting any business. The ice cream truck requirements are a little different because you don't stay in one location. Local governments may have rules on exactly where you're allowed to stop and sell.
Some local ordinances, for instance, forbid ice cream trucks from operating near schools or children's parks. Other cities and counties limit where you can play your ice cream truck music or how loud it can be. Bloomington is one of several cities that only allows you to park on private property with the owner's permission. If you park in a metered space, you have to pay.
The legal restrictions are on top of the practical requirement that you don't want to pick the same route as the competition. Finding a competition-free, legal route will take planning.
Health and Safety
Like any brick-and-mortar restaurant, your ice cream vendor permit will require you to meet food-handling health and safety standards. If everything you sell is prepackaged, you might be off the hook, but dispensing ice cream from a machine or scooping it from a freezer is usually regulated.
For one example, consider New York City's truck requirements for an ice cream vendor permit:
- Your truck must have a canopy or overhang that protects food against contamination from anything dropping on it.
- You must have a refrigeration area to provide "cold holding" for your ice cream, keeping it under 41 degrees. Italian ice carts can use ice to keep their offerings cold but must drain off the melted ice.
- You need a thermometer to check temperatures.
- Your truck must have a 46-gallon tank for storing wastewater from washing and cleaning.
- If your ice cream isn't prepackaged, you need a sink for washing your hands. Absolutely nothing else gets washed in it.
- You must store your ice cream at a commissary or other approved facility from which you pick up the day's supply. Commissary food storage has to comply with NYC's safety and health rules.
You must have everything you need in place before you apply for your ice cream vendor permit. Even after you start operating, you'll have county health inspectors coming by to make regular checkups and confirm that you're not giving customers food poisoning.
Your Home Base
When you're done for the day, you'll have to take your ice cream truck somewhere to park it. That home base is also covered by food truck regulations.
New York City, for example, doesn't let you drive your ice cream truck home. You have to leave it at a commissary, depot or other approved storage facility until you take it out again. While it's there, you have to clean and service the unit, which must be done at least once a day.
License to Drive
Food trucks are both restaurants and vehicles. Ice cream truck requirements include not only health and safety food standards but vehicular safety as well. In Bloomington, for instance, if you do qualify as a mobile vendor you'll need to provide proof of a safety inspection and insurance coverage to get your ice cream vendor permit.
- Mobile-Cuisine: Mobile Food Vendors: Some Cities Allow Them, Others Just Ban Them
- Chicago Tribune: After 45-Year Ban Lifted, Ice Cream Trucks a Source of Excitement in Elgin
- ShopKeep: 10 Tips for Starting a Successful Ice Cream Truck Business
- Entrepreneur: The Legal Side of Owning a Food Truck
- NYC Health Department: What Mobile Food Vendors Should Know
- City of Bloomington, Indiana: Mobile Food Vendor - Quick Reference Guide