FOOD TRUCKS: FOOD-to-go

In EATSSENTIALS, Feature Articles, Vol. 11

Although food trucks are larger vehicles fitted with equipment to cook on site, installing a commercial dishwasher is only possible if you have an enormous truck. It is also the nature of grab-and-go food that gives it the charm of roadside eating. Disposables are thus the default service plating choice and they come in either polystrene, plastic or paper products.

• Polystyrene (styrofoam) boxes are popular for cost reasons but it can melt and emit toxic elements if the user happens to microwave food directly in it.
• Plastic or scientifically Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) has high clarity and can be reused and is freeze/heat resistant (-22° F to 180° F) and maintains original flavours of food by being odour free.
• Polypropylene (PP) plastics are also resistant to heat, chemicals and oil but to a lower degree compared to PET and has less clarity.
• Paper products are more hygienic, safe and environmentally friendly as they can be recycled while some may also be bio-degradeable.

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Speaking of which, it helps to understand the difference between “recyclable” and “bio-degradeable”.

Recyclable: Reprocessing of existing materials to create new items. Requires a system to collect and sort products into the correct method of processing for remanufacturing. According to Mr Terry Lee of Butterworth Papercup, one should be careful when selecting plastic products as theremight be recycled material added into the manufacturing which origins can be unknown and is not certified food-safe.
Bio-degradeable: Packaging made from a set of polymers derived from renewable raw materials that are not hazardous in production and will decompose when discarded properly.
Paper is not only ecosystem friendly but also provides business owners an avenue for marketing and branding as custom prints can be done on the containers. Ms Rachel Wong of PPAsia Media Packaging suggests buying what is available in the market if you are just starting off. As custom prints requires a MOQ (minimal order quantity), cost will go up so you want to keep that exercise for when business is more stable.

 

FOOD BOX

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Paper and plastic containers with lids make takeaways easier and helps keep the food warm longer. Both are able to withstand heat and some paper boxes can be heated up to 100°C, depending on the different melting points; compared to styrofoam which might get distorted from heat after awhile. These would be suitable for a wide range of food including those with sauces with its solid base to provide balance.

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If the budget allows, this container is both bio-degradeable and you can put food directly into it for cooking in an oven. This can be useful and provide more efficiency should a business sells items like lasagna or pies where distribution can be a messy affair.

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SNACK BOX

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Typically comes without a cover, these flat open boxes are used to serve lighter food items but is also versatile enough for heavier things like pasta, bread or rice to be eaten on the spot. The conventional french fry holder will require a shovel to put the food in but if you opt for the cuplike design, you can use it to directly pick up and push small and dry food items in.

 

BOWL / NOODLE BOX

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Sometimes referred to as an unicup (universal cup), the bowl can be fitted with different lids such as a plastic clamshell container which can be used to separate dry items like noodles or salad from its wet components. You could also use the regular flat lids or dome lids (for shaved ice items). Think of a usual bowl when you shop for one and check if the bottom has a gap between the base and where you place your fingers so that it won’t be hot to hold.

 
The ubiquitous Chinese food take out box we always see on Western television programs have pretty much change how Chinese food is packaged over there. Some might come with a steel bar handle for easy carrying. Did you know the box can be opened from its side folds and used as a plate? You don’t have to struggle with mixing the food within the box!

 

DIP CONTAINERS

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Dips are always served separately to provide a diner option to have it or otherwise. Also, not many of us like soggy food with the dips /sauces poured over it. This small container comes either in plastic which is better for liquid or creamy sauces while the paper type
for regular items like ketchup, mustard that more viscousity.

BAGS

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Good for dry food items that would be picked up piece-bypiece like nuts, small bread rolls or small baked/fried items. You can also get them as a window bag that allows a view of what it contains while a square base provides stability and the flat bag can be used for flat items like a hash brown or small portion of chips.

WRAPPERS

Sandwiches, burgers, tacos or burritos are some of the items mostly enjoyed by customers as they can be eaten on-the-go and easily disposed of. However, you want to make sure the paper can hold up to the food product; you don’t want to be using non-coated paper for a burger dripping with its natural juices or sauce!

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A lightweight and non-waxed paper should be able to hold up to a relatively light food item, devoid of sauces and that would be eaten immediately as the paper has less absorbent qualities.

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Choosing one with wax coating means you can use it for heavier items like burgers as it will provide a better moisture barrier, prevent leakage and prevent condensation if the food is not eaten immediately.

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This paper can also be used to line a food box to provide more protection against leakage. Other applications include lining a pizza takeout box to create a barrier between food and the corrugated box, which is made of possibly unidentified recycle material.

 

NAPKINS

A definite necessity, napkins, or commonly called tissues is something that customers would expect a food truck to provide together with the food. Custom printing on napkins is a marketing avenue although doing so would require a napkin made with high grade material.
Instead of using wraps, thick napkins can wrap some food items and used for wiping up after eating, contributing to less waste and cost.

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A 2-ply napkin is definitely more durable and absorbent for the heavy-duty work of cleaning up after eating juicy burger/ribs/crispy fried items and a napkin that tears does nothing for a customer’s impression.

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Single ply napkins are relatively inexpensive and customers would appreciate having the liberty to help themselves to extras and if you want to ease the crew’s work, a napkin dispenser is worth considering.

 

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BEVERAGE CARRIERS
The packaging industry has innovated ways for us to bring our favourite drinks as we move, taking care that paper cups won’t become soft when coming into contact with cold drinks nor is too hot too hold. For cold and slow-melting drinks like slushies, smoothies or milkshakes, one will go for plastic cups.

 

SIPPING IT SLOW

DOUBLE-WALL HOT CUPS
Between the inner and outer layer of the cup is a special air channel for comfortable holding and to keep a drink warm. General cup sizes would be 8/12/16ounce cups while you can find a 4ounce variation for espressos.
SINGLE-WALL HOT CUPS
Able to hold hot drinks but with less insulation than the double wall although some manufacturers make it with a special expanded PET coating for improved heat insulation compared to the standard make.
RIPPLE-WRAP™ CUPS
Specifically designed and manufactured by Detpak, this cup is made with unique corrugated paper wrapping for a more comfortable grip and heat insulation. Although the cup is not smooth, customers can still opt for custom print.

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Instead of printing on cup, businesses can choose to print its brand on a sleeve and place it over a generic cup which also acts as an insulator.

LIDS & SLEEVES
Lids are sized according to cup volumes and are universal across all cup types:

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Button – common types of drinks are embossed on each button such as mocha, latte, cino, white to make identification easy for the barista and consumer

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Spout and Sip – easiest for on-the-go consumption

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A COOL DRINK

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Although made of paper, a quality cup should provide maximum insulation and minimal condensation to avoid having the cup becoming soft and losing integrity.
Clear plastic cups can be used for a wide range of items, just by switching the lids and use of straws. Use wide straws for thick milkshakes or popular drinks like Asian bubble tea that contain ‘pearls’ or jelly-like bits while straws cut with a spoon shape can be used for slushies.

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Image credits via Flickr:
star5112 • Christian Cable • Kari Söderholm • Alpha • Vernon Chan • Robyn Lee • Jazz Guy • Moira Clunie • Alex Lin • Andrew Huff • Tim Riley • Premshree Pillai • Thomas Angermann • Jason Sanders • Jacob Enos

Katty LaiFOOD TRUCKS: FOOD-to-go