Complaints over mobile food vendors continues to grow around the community

Some businesses operating without proper permits


Local restaurant owners are concerned over mobile food vendors setting up shop near their businesses and stealing customers away.  It's a problem Kern County Health Officials say continues to grow.

The list of complaints is getting long, but with limited resources it’s sometimes hard to catch mobile food vendors who often have expired or no permits to serve food to the public.

Six years ago, Acucena Cilino decided to start her own business and with paying for insurance and taxes, food and all the permits necessary it hasn't come easy.

"We wanted to open a restaurant because we love Mexican food and we want to share the Mexican food with the community," she said.

But the family worries as they compete for customers with mobile food vendors who environmental health officials say often operate illegally.

"We noticed a lot of time they are just trying to make money, but we want to make sure they are doing it safely and they are not going to get anybody sick.  A lot of the food borne illnesses that you see, it's not that you're sick and you get over it, you can also be hospitalized and sometimes you can have lifelong health effects from those illnesses," said Donna Fenton, Chief Environmental Health Specialist for Environmental Health Services.

Like restaurants, vendors are supposed to have their permits updated and visible which is a good sign their business is legit.

"I bet most of us think they have a permit, but yeah it would be good to know if they did have a permit for sanitation," said Yazmine Martinez, who buys from local food vendors.

"They're good.  The food is good, but I did get food poisoning from one of them, one time.  It was during the summer months and they should be a lot more careful as far as their health regulations go," said Candace Watkins, who also buys from local food vendors. 

If you decided to visit one of these mobile food vendors, then environmental health officials say make sure they have an orange sticker, which means they have passed inspection and are good to go to serve food.

Mobile food vendors like this one; we discovered have all the proper paper work and are following all the rules.

"When I serve the food, I always think it's for me and my family.  Always.  I think that before I do something with the food," said Raquel Casillas is a mobile food vendor.

The only problem is the permit on display expired back in 2007.  This food vendor who environmental officials have tried many times to inspect told us he wasn't doing anything wrong.  In fact, to see his permits he asked if we would come back the next day.  So we did.

He didn't want to talk, but his food set up changed dramatically.

"If they had something different set up last night.  Then, it may or may not be legal as long as the transient portion.  I need to do some research on this property, there's a zoning requirement so they only allow transient businesses.  The property has to be zoned appropriately," said David Paquette, code enforcement officer.

The vendor was not cited but force to shut down his operation for at least the next thirty days until he can get the appropriate city permits.  Now, depending on what food vendors are serving, operators can expect to pay anywhere between $165 to $520 a year.

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