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Patch Answers: Illegal Parking Lot Tamales and Roadside Fruit

Officials say unauthorized vendors don't follow health codes.

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.

Sos Save Our State August 24, 2011 at 05:57 PM
I'm pretty sure I mentioned the level playing field/unfair competition thing too
Cody Kitaura August 24, 2011 at 06:46 PM
Folks, please stay away from personal attacks and arguments about other users' reasoning. Let's stick to the topic of the story and not devolve into arguing and mud-slinging.
Sos Save Our State August 24, 2011 at 07:00 PM
Yes, it's getting to be a circular, pointless pursuit now. I will point out that researching this topic has actually made me more aware of food safety at home and at picnics, and other gatherings. As mentioned before, it may be tradition, but people traditionally got sick too. I also speak up sometimes when I'm at restaurants or stores when I feel it's warranted. At Starbucks once this worker was carrying several floor mats to be cleaned outside, and then dropped them to help the person in front of me. she immediately had her hands all over the coffee equipment, their cups, etc without so much as a wash. Floor mats are filthy, because they capture the germs from each persons trip to the toilet, the trash cans outside, the parking lot during breaks, etc. Sure I mentioned that to her.
john burch June 28, 2012 at 08:28 PM
So, if these so called illegal vendors were to become legal then what would your be your complaint for your crippling legitimate business?
Raider Nation June 29, 2012 at 01:40 AM
LOL!! Great point John. Then it would be those darn "foreigners". Just admit "SOS" that you are a failed businessman and you have no one to blame but yourself. Now go cry a river to people who care

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