The Kern County Department of Public Health could soon be strengthening its regulations on mobile food trucks if it follows the recommendations of a Kern County grand jury.
In a recent report, the grand jury suggested that the county department impound equipment of unpermitted food vendors, a practice that would require the establishment of a new county ordinance.
As it stands currently, the county issues cease-and-desist warnings to food vendors that present a low risk of disease transmission, and unpermitted high-risk vendors could have their food confiscated or discarded, according to the grand jury report.
County officials are taking the grand jury’s suggestion seriously, opening up the possibility that new penalties could be levied against the unlicensed vendors.
“Any effort we could make to improve food safety in the community, clearly we’re interested in and want to pursue,” said KCPH Director Matt Constantine. “We’re just trying to explore what we can do.”
A total of 494 mobile food vendors currently have obtained licenses through the Health Department’s Environmental Health Division.
Some licensed food vendors have estimated that there are many unlicensed units.
From January 2018 to March 20, 2019, the county issued roughly 127 cease and desist notices to unpermitted food vendors, according to the county. In 69 of those cases, food was voluntarily condemned and destroyed.
“There are a number of individuals that are still unaware of food safety and of obtaining a required permit, so we have some work ahead of us,” Constantine said.
For Mohammed Saphieh, owner of the Pita Paradise food truck, the grand jury’s suggestion would be a welcome change.
“It’s a little drastic maybe, but I think it’s a necessary step to get people to go out and get permitted,” he said. “I think it’s a pretty big problem.”
He said at a recent concert at Fox Theater in Bakersfield, he noticed around 20 other food trucks that he did not think were permitted.
“I definitely see that a lot,” he said, referring to unpermitted vendors.
The public can distinguish between permitted and unpermitted vendors by a sticker issued by the county.
Those vendors with licenses receive a sticker that is supposed to be placed in a place viewable by the public.
“As a consumer, you should look at that sticker to make sure that (the vendors) are in compliance, and have been permitted by Environmental Health to serve safe food,” said Michelle Corson, public information officer for the Health Department. “That’s why we put that in place, so that people can check for themselves.”
The county did not have official estimates on how many unlicensed vendors were on city streets.
The grand jury recommended the county “fast-track” the new ordinance that would be required to impound the equipment of unlicensed food vendors, indicating that the jurors believed the issue required quick action.