Why You Need a Sink (or Three)

Posted by Lilly on July 12, 2012 at 12:20 AM

When you first get the exciting idea to begin selling Italian Ice, that feeling can very quickly be obliterated after talking with your local Health Department and hearing that they demand for you to have at least a hand sink and/or perhaps, worse, a 3-compartment sink.  Why do you need that?  You're not selling anything that needs to be cooked.  Italian Ice has no dairy.  You're not making it yourself.  For crying out loud, you're simply opening the top of a sealed container from a licensed wholesaler.  And you're (hopefully) not scooping the Italian Ice with your bare hands; you're using NSF-rated dishers.  Why do they have to complicate things with this request, and what the heck is it? 

All of the above went through my head when I spoke with my Health Department supervisor for the first time.  And from many forum boards, it's a series of questions that goes through many other people's heads, too.  So let's start off with the basics.

What's a Hand Sink?

If you're lucky enough that your Health Department only requires a hand sink, fret not.  This is a small, portable sink made of non-pourous materials used to... you guessed it... wash your hands.  We all perform seemingly innocuous and innocent gestures such as scratching our heads and wiping an itchy nose.  But to the Health Department, these motions can easily contaminate the product we are serving.  But perhaps most obvious is that we're handling cash.  And if you've ever counted cash and then washed your hands, you've been witness to the gray water that falls into the basin.  Money really is dirty.  At any rate, to prevent any illness to your consumer, the Health Department requires that you be able to wash your hands regularly while you are vending Italian Ice.  If your HD allows you to just use hand sanitizer or gloves while you sell, hallelujah!

Photo Credit: Archiexpo.com

What's a 3-Compartment Sink?

A 3-compartment sink literally has three compartments.  One is for washing your utensils (dishers).  The next one is for rinsing those utensils.  And the last sink is for sanitizing them.  The proper technique can be learned HERE.  Many Health Departments require this setup to be located near you or even onboard your pushcart in order to wash, rinse and sanitize any dishers that become contaminated while you're selling.  Hopefully your Health Department will let you get away with just sanitizer or having clean, extra dishers on hand if that happens, and if that's the case, you're in luck.

Photo Credit: Turnkey Parlor

What's a Combination Hand & 3 Compartment Sink?

Yes, it does get worse.  The 4-Compartment sink is a dual unit that has a hand sink and the 3-compartment sink all together.  The hand sink is usually required to be separated from the other sinks by a vertical separator (a piece of stainless steel).  Check with your Health Department on that, as it may be required for passing cart inspection. 

Photo Credit: Ebay/Global Restaurant Equipment

What Are Your Options?

  • A hand sink ON your cart, COLD water only
  • A hand sink NEAR your cart (separate), COLD water only
  • A hand sink ON your cart, HOT water (pressurized or gravity)
  • A hand sink NEAR your cart, HOT water (pressurized or gravity)
  • A 4-compartment sink (with hot water ON or NEAR your cart)
  • A 4-compartment sink with dipperwell (with hot water ON or NEAR your cart)
  • Just a dipperwell (nice!)

(California vendors, I empathize with what you're required to have.)

With 3-compartment sinks, cold water is not an option.  Utensils must be washed in a specific temperature range, which your Health Department will tell you and will also check during your cart inspection.  You have to be able to show you can attain the required temperatures. 

With hot water mandates, you will next need to ask your Health Department whether it requires the water to be pressurized, meaning a battery-operated pump (or electric) will be needed to move the water from its reservoir up through the faucet.  The other option is a gravity-fed system, where the water tank is placed above the faucet and water comes down into the faucet by gravity.  There is no battery or pump in a gravity-fed system. 

To achieve hot water, you have a number of options.  Coleman (the camping company) makes a portable hot water heater for outdoor use that can be installed into a cart or used independently with your own sink supplied.  It uses a non-supplied propane tank to heat the water, and many vendors are having success with this unit for a cheap hand washing option. 

Photo Credit:  Coleman

There are also small, portable hot water heaters that can be used to make a customized system.  Check out the Eccotemp Hot Water Heater on the Cool Products page for more information on my favorite.


Photo Credit: AceHardware/Ariston Heater                            Photo Credit: Eccotemp

Where Can You Buy Sinks (or Build One)?

A Note on Dipperwells (or Dipwells)

This is a miniature sink with a spigot, usually for continuous running water.  You set your disher (scooper) into this well to keep it rinsed between uses and from growing bacteria.  It's usually only required of ice cream sellers because their product contains dairy and has increased risks of consumer illness, but you may find your HD requires it.  These can be as simple as a stainless steel container where the scoop rests inside with water, or a full-fledged running unit that can be hooked up to your sink's water system.

Photo Credit: PrimaRestaurantEquipment.com

A Note on Water Tanks

Your sink(s) will need two to three water tanks.  One will hold clean, potable (drinkable), cold water.  One will hold clean, hot, potable water.  And the other will hold the dirty, used water, called a wastewater, or gray, tank.  The Health Department will also tell you what minimum sizes all these tanks should be. 


Really, this is the last very important piece of information you need to know!  I had my custom cart with hand sink built, and upon submitting the plans (for the second time) to my Health Department, I was told that my sink was not placed at an adequate height.  Huh!  This was news to me!  Many Health Departments will require the sink be situated at 36 inches from the ground in order to pass inspection.  Please, for the love of all sanity and homicidal preventive measures, make sure to ask your Health Department about this. 

Whew!  I'm exhausted from typing.  Best of luck on this part of your research and construction.  Drop a line or a comment to let me know what your questions, concerns, or experiences have been.  Go get em!

Categories: Health Department, Pushcarts, Getting Started

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