Looking for a quick lunch or some fresh fruit? Stay away from roadside fruit stands and car-based tamale vendors, county officials say.
That’s because those vendors cook in a kitchen that isn’t inspected, don’t have a way to keep food at a safe temperature and don’t have a way to wash their hands on site, said Kelly McCoy, a Supervising Environmental Specialist with the Sacramento County Environmental Management Department.
“Really [we’re] trying to protect the public from buying food that could make them sick,” McCoy said in a phone interview.
Rosemont Patch reader near the Bradshaw Road Food Source.
McCoy said parking lots of large grocery stores and big-box retailers all over the county are popular among tamale vendors, who she said are often just trying to make an honest dollar.
“It’s difficult because with the downturn in the economy people are trying to do things to feed their families and we understand that,” she said, adding that the county also wants to create a level playing field for businesses and restaurant owners who pay for county permits.
She said tamale vendors can legally receive a permit to sell from a cart, a restaurant or a market like the one that recently reopened on Kiefer Boulevard–as long as the food is prepared in a safe way and in a commercial kitchen.
Fruit cart "kingpins" targeted
McCoy leads the county’s 3-year-old Unpermitted Food Vendor Team, and said another of its goals is to crack down on fruit carts. Cut fruit can’t be sold in a cart without a sink and refrigerator, and whole fruit can’t be sold on a public street or sidewalk, she said.
Five people this year have complained of getting sick after eating at a fruit cart, although it’s hard to prove exactly what food made someone sick, McCoy said.
She said county inspectors and code enforcement officers “impound” unpermitted carts and the fruit they’re selling, but most of the time the carts don’t belong to the people staffing them.
“Just a couple people in the community are putting out these carts,” McCoy said. “We’ll take one cart and they’ll be out the next day.”
She said the fruit cart “kingpins” are hard to track down because they move often and it’s not a crime to have a fruit cart in one’s home. Still, McCoy says the county is doing the most it can with its limited resources.
“They started out three years ago with really nice stainless steel carts–we took those away,” she said. “Now [the carts are] just pieces of old, moldy plywood and yucky plastic. If we keep taking them it cuts into their profits.”
Customers wondering if a food vendor is legitimate can look for a 4-by-4-inch 2011 county inspection sticker, McCoy said. Complaints can be made to 916-875-8440.