Supervisors approve new ordinance that cracks down on illegal food vendors

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Food and containers recovered by county health officials from an illegal food vendor. Courtesy of the Kern County Public Health Services Dept.

Illegal food vendors in Kern County may want to think twice about operating without a health permit.

During its Tuesday meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance that allows the Kern County Public Health Services department to impound unpermitted vendors’ equipment and impose fines for operating without a permit.

All supervisors voted in favor of the ordinance except Zack Scrivner, who was absent. 

“We are appreciative that we have some new tools to help insure that food from our mobile vendors is being prepared and sold safely,” said KCPH Public Information Officer Michelle Corson. “One of the things we’re most proud of is our local businesses truly helped craft this ordinance. We’re working together to help ensure food is safe.”

Under the new ordinance, which takes effect next month, the county will be able to fine illegal vendors $250 for a first citation. It jumps up to $500 for a second citation in a one-year period and $1,000 if there’s a third citation within a year.

Health inspectors will be also able to impound food carts and other equipment if the illegal vendors have more than two citations within a two-year period. 

There were no fines in place prior to the ordinance. County inspectors had the ability to take food away if it appeared to be a health hazard, issue a citation and request that a vendor discontinue sales. 

Besides not having a permit, KCPH officials say these businesses are often found to be operating under unsafe conditions, such as holding food at inappropriate temperatures and a lack of handwashing facilities. 

The department sought the change amid growing complaints from business owners who say unlicensed vendors are negatively impacting their legal businesses.

Norma Diaz, owner of La Rosa Fruit Bars & Ice Cream Inc., said she’s happy the board approved the ordinance, but believes there will be more challenges in the future. 

“I think it’s a step in the right direction, but once something passes, then implementation is what’s really going to matter,” she said. “They still have a long road. All of us business owners do too.”

Diaz said she’s hopeful that the steps the county has taken with this ordinance will be enough to act as a deterrent moving forward. 

“It’s going to be a huge effort, but I know they’re willing to work very hard,” she said.  

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