Enhancing Community Food Safety Awareness: Street Vendors

Speakers:                   Hector S Dela Cruz, REHS, M.S.

Chief EHS, L.A. County Environmental. Health, CTS

Terrance Powell, REHS

Bureau Dir., L.A. County Environmental Health, Bureau of Special Operations

Level of Knowledge:  Multi-Level

Short Abstract:

Unlicensed food vending has become a pervasive element in many Los Angeles County Latino communities. The combination of poor food sanitation practices by vendors and limited healthcare access for many residents has compounded public health concerns surrounding this issue. Moreover, community familiarity and patronage of unlicensed food vendors has resulted in uninformed opposition to enforcement efforts that target unlicensed vendors. This presentation will discuss a unique approach (as a case study) in responding to the community’s need for food safety knowledge/awareness, specifically an identified at-risk population for food borne illness (children).

Environmental Health initiated the program “Enhancing Community Food Safety Awareness: Street Vendors” with the goal of going beyond traditional enforcement efforts by supplementing such efforts with an aggressive educational outreach campaign. The program targeted elementary schools claiming a high prevalence of unlicensed food vendors; bilingual food safety presentations for students and parents were coordinated concurrently with illegal food vending enforcement efforts in the surrounding community.

Long Abstract:

Unlicensed food vending has become a pervasive element in many Los Angeles County (LAC) Latino communities and due to the vendors’ lack of basic tenets of proper food safety (e.g. hand wash facilities, hot food holding units) it is believed to be where a large number of unreported food borne illnesses originate.

The 2000 LAC Health Survey revealed that 48% of LAC residents seeking medical care for intestinal illness are Hispanic. Additionally, 46% of adult Latinos do not have health insurance, and 33% of Latino children do not have health insurance. These figures reinforce the need to not only direct enforcement activities at unlicensed food vending, but to coordinate and enhance these efforts with educational outreach to residents in “food vending communities.”

To increase awareness of health risks and assist in establishing an enforcement presence in areas (elementary schools) with an identified high-risk population (children), Environmental Health (EH) designed a program to foster an understanding of health risks associated with the consumption of foods from unlicensed food vendors and limited its costs for the program by utilizing existing services within the department. “Enhancing Community Food Safety Awareness: Street Vendors” was initiated with the goal of going beyond traditional enforcement efforts by supplementing such efforts with an aggressive educational outreach campaign. EH called upon its Consultation and Technical Services unit to conduct bilingual food safety educational training for both parents and their children enrolled in elementary schools claiming a high prevalence of unlicensed food vendors. Concurrently, EH’s Vehicle Inspection Program conducted vending “sweep” operations at the identified schools and surrounding communities. This approach resulted in increased food safety awareness in local communities which was reflected in a marked increase in the number of residential complaints regarding unlicensed food vendors.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify a problem and need for a program
  2. Develop a cost-effective program by utilizing existing resources to address the problem
  3. Achieve community “buy-in” and inter-departmental cooperation (utilize partnerships)