Illegal food carts in Reno area parks and near schools are being operated by a “criminal enterprise,” says Bob Sack, environmental services division director for the Washoe County Health District.

corn-grilled-featured.jpgAs part of a crack down, the health district since August sent surveillance teams to find food carts selling their wares near elementary schools and Miguel Ribera Park.

Complaints about illegal carts were up 31 percent during the August through October period, according to Tony Macaluso, a senior environmental health specialist.

He said increased complaints occurred because those who run permitted food trucks began reporting food carts without permits once they knew the health district was looking for violators.   Local residents also reported food carts without permits.

Washoe County has permitted 132 food trucks and 10 food carts.  It has issued 15 violation notices and two criminal citations.  One criminal case is pending, and in the other case a $250 fine was paid.

Macaluso said “dozens and dozens” of food carts, including shopping carts and those made of plywood, are on the streets in the Reno area.

Health officials are concerned because food carts can be on the streets for long periods of time without keeping hot items hot, and cold items cold.  Nor do the food carts have hot water or hand washing facilities.   Workers are handling money and food with the same hands.

The food also often originates from kitchens that do not have permits and are not inspected.  Health officials say the food could be spoiled or contain dangerous bacteria.

The similarity between some carts and the equipment they use causes Sack to believe a criminal enterprise is at work, but he also says, “It’s a cultural thing.”

The food carts typically sell tamales, corn on the cob, snow cones, fruit, and cheese.