Once reserved for cheap fast food or remote locations with no access to restaurants, mobile catering has flourished over the last few years. Food trucks have become quite the rage in big metropolises and small towns all over the world. Basically kitchens on wheels with a counter to service customers, catering trailers can be found on a variety of settings, from weddings to film sets.
In order to function properly and safely, mobile catering setups require clean and efficient supplies of water, electricity, and gas. In addition to a current Food and Hygiene Certificate, which is required in the UK to prepare and sell food, a gas Test Certificate, called an LPG, and an Electrical Safety Certificate are also mandatory when it comes to operating any kind of catering trailer. This means that gas, electricity, and water supplies need to adhere to certain national regulations, and periodic checks need to be carried out, in order to comply with safety standards.
The kind of gas and electricity setup required by a catering trailer is determined by the types and amounts of food one plans to cook in it. While food trucks serving only sandwiches and coffee might do well with a small generator, others offering a full menu commonly require more power and more complex gas and electricity installations. In all cases, power and water supplies need to be fitted, connected, and maintained according to the current regulations.
A basic catering trailer setup must include a griddle, a fridge, a tea urn, and a baine marie. The griddle is used for cooking burgers, eggs, and the like, the tea urn is used for boiling and heating up hot drinks, and the baine marie serves to keep food hot for long periods of time. As for the fridge, a temperature gauge can also come in handy, to control the temperature certain types of food need to be stored at. Likewise, a hot food probe can be handy for ensuring certain items are cooked right.
In addition to the cooking setup, catering trailers require some safety devices including a fire blanket, a fire extinguisher, and a gas safety valve. Ventilation systems are also very important in catering trailers, as their tight spaces have a potential to create an unhealthy environment.
When buying a used catering trailer, it is also essential to ensure that it has a proper gas certificate, as well as an electrical certificate, if it features an electrical system. Running a mobile catering operation without these certifications can be hazardous, and it is best to have the vehicle inspected by a certified technician.
A catering trailer's kitchen setup needs a constant electricity supply to power fridges and electrical cooking devices. Although it is sometimes possible to connect to a power outlet on some locations, catering trailers need to be self-sufficient, and this can only be achieved by using solar panels, fuel-powered generators, industrial batteries, or some combination of all of these.
Additionally, some cooking systems work better and are more economical when running on gas, so that a gas setup is also a necessity. Water is required for cooking, making, drinks, and washing utensils. The water supply installation requires both a potable water tank and a grey water storage tank.
Catering trailers commonly use portable generators to power fridges and lighting, while griddles and deep fryers are powered by LP gas, with gas canisters commonly mounted in the back of the vehicle.
Although it is sometimes possible to plug into an external outlet found near the trailer's location, it is sometimes hard to get permission to do it. Moreover, one of the advantages of catering trailer is mobility, and having to rely on the availability of a power outlet can be a limiting factor.
Generators are available in many different sizes. They are usually powered by petrol or propane, which is kept in a fuel tank. Easy to use, modern generators can provide power for a variety of electrical devices, which can be plugged in directly or through a distribution panel.
The electrical devices in a catering trailer can also be powered using solar panels. Like generators, these come in a wide range of sizes. Some solar kits feature a single panel while others have multiple panels. It is always best to purchase these from a specialised solar panels' dealer, who can also take care of proper installation. The panels need to be safely attached to the vehicle externally, and experts in solar energy devices can do this much better than anybody else.
A catering trailer also requires a steady water supply and a water heater. Hot water is needed for proper hand washing and utensil cleaning. There are some water systems on the market which come complete with sinks , heater, and tanks for water holding and disposal. These are easy to install, and they can solve all of a catering trailer's water needs in just one simple set up.
When not using an all-in-one system, there are some important safety guidelines to follow for water piping and installation in a mobile catering vehicle. For example, if proper piping is not available and a hose is used instead, it has to be cleaned thoroughly with a sterilising solution. When using water tanks, they are required to feature tight fitting lids. Waste water must be stored in appropriate containers, and ice can only be made from bottled water. Additionally, toilet facilities must have a sink for hand washing.
A water heater often comes complete with a hot and cold mixer tap. A water pump to ensure proper water flow is usually required, which needs to be connected to a power supply. Installation is usually simple, and the system can be ready after connecting a few hoses. It is usually a good idea to set up the water heater below the sink.
In the case of LPG water heaters, one should get a professional to install them, as gas and water pipes require extremely safe connections. Mobile catering vehicle manufacturers can often recommend an authorised professional to do this type of job.
Safe gas installations in a catering trailer require a distribution point to be set up at a minimum one metre distance from the wall. An automatic changeover valve can be a big asset, as it eliminates the need to be switching bottles all the time, and it also improves safety. All distribution rigs require an annual test by an accredited professional.
The market also offers ready-made gas installation systems, complete with piping and gas-tight, which only need to be snap connected to get the kitchen running. Assemblage of this type of systems is fast and simple, and they are usually very complete. This is a great solution for anyone who can afford it, as this type of modern gas setup tends to be more expensive than separately purchased components.
There are a number of important regulations to adhere to, in order to legally operate a catering trailer. The first one is that all catering vehicles in the UK must undergo an annual gas equipment inspection by a Gas Safe registered engineer.
Additionally, with the exception of items manufactured before 1996, all gas equipment must be CE marked, which guarantees that it conforms to current European standards. A Gas Safe Certificate cannot be issued to vehicles that do not comply with this requirement. Moreover, insurance policies do not cover vehicles that are not in compliance with the law. It is also considered illegal for anyone other than a Gas Safe engineer to replace any piece of gas equipment, unless it is fitted with a simple snap connector.
While Gas Safe regulations are the most important, as gas equipment tends to pose the highest risks, there are also a number of important regulations for water piping and electrical device powering and wiring. All of the gas, water, and electricity systems in a catering trailer are also subject to mandatory periodic inspections. Gas safety and electrical safety checks are required on an annual basis. PAT testing of all electrical appliances is also a requirement; in this case, testing frequency depends on the type of equipment, as high risk electrical tools may need to be tested more than once a year.
Catering trailers offer many advantages for individuals looking to start a small, low-risk, and profitable business. As mobile catering vehicles require full-fledged kitchen installations, there are a number of systems that need to be in place to begin operation. Gas, electricity, and water supply systems, including piping and wiring, involve certain risks and hazards, and they need to be installed by experienced professionals.
As an alternative to the complex installations of the past, the market offers some very convenient all-in-one, full-feature gas and water distribution systems. Although these make setup faster and simpler, they tend to be a bit pricey, and not everyone can afford them. As a rule, even easy to fit systems need to be installed by a certified technician to comply with legal requirements.
Catering trailers can be powered by either generators or solar panels. A water heater is legally required for all water supply installations, as well as a freshwater and a water disposal tank, and all of the gas, water, and electricity systems in a catering trailer need to undergo periodic testing to ensure safety and adherence to legal standards.