DEH cracking down on illegal food vendors

The owner of The Rolling Stove is up in arms in the wake of claims made in the Legislative Assembly last week suggesting food trucks are not adhering to food safety regulations.

Sarah O’Keeffe says food trucks have to adhere to the same safety guidelines as those required for brick and mortar restaurants.

“In order to be granted the trade and business license, one must pass the same health and safety inspections completed by the Department of Environmental Health as any restaurant,” said Mrs. O’Keeffe.

“This includes a full ‘kitchen’ inspection of equipment, refrigeration, cleanliness, running hot water, and proper exhaust ventilation,” she added.

Roydell Carter, director of the Department of Environmental Health, said the claims were more geared toward unlicensed food vendors that operate out of private vehicles.

“The problem really is persons who operate illegally don’t have a trade and business license, nor have they applied to the DEH for any advice,” said Mr. Carter.

“Whether they are mobile vendors or vans on the road, we also have others who have mobile [vending] in their private vehicles. Those are the ones that are a big concern to us because we don’t know anything about them and where they operate at,” he added.

Ian Charlery, trade officer at the Department of Commerce and Investment, said the department requires aspiring food vendors to gain approval from the DEH before they can apply for a trade and business license.

“If you were going to apply for a mobile vending license before you even submit an application to us, you have to get approval from DEH. The approval will state that this business has been checked out and met all necessary inspections and requirements by DEH and then, after that, they can get a trade and business license,” said Mr. Charlery.

Minister of Health Osbourne Bodden said,“My recommendation to the director verbally is to tighten up on this area, which is becoming too common on our road sides without proper controls. Hygiene is crucial when serving food to the public. The DEH will need to liaise with the Trade and Business Board on this to ensure people have the necessary approvals and annual checks as deemed necessary,” said Mr. Bodden.

Laura Silverman of Al La Kebab and food truck Al La Ke-Vroom said, “We cannot speak for other food trucks and mobile vendors, but only for our own restaurants, both mobile and bricks and mortar location…We take food safety and quality control very seriously.”

Difficult to track down

Mr. Carter said it is hard to catch the illegal mobile food vendors because they are constantly on the move.

“We really don’t know who the illegal ones are because they do change their vehicles and place of operations, so it’s always a constant effort to determine who they are,” he said.

“However, when we do come across one of those vendors, we gather the information and we seize their operations if they don’t adhere to standards,” he said.

When consuming from a mobile food vendor Mr. Carter said, “The public is to exercise caution and avoid consuming food from unlicensed vehicles or operators,” and to ask the vendors if they have a valid trade and business license or food handling safety certificate.

To crack down on illegal vendors the DEH is considering doing a joint operation with the Police department, the Department of Commerce, and the Immigration Department, according to Mr. Carter.

“Our officers will remain proactive and there will be a heightened awareness for such illegal food vending…We had a joint team in the past and it’s more than likely we may have to conduct such an operation again,” said Mr. Carter.

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Mrs. O’Keeffe said she believes more food trucks will emerge in Cayman in the future.

“I believe that there is great potential in this business market, especially for someone with an entrepreneurial mindset with a limited budget to begin a small business. That being said, it is of equal importance to comply with the regulations to ensure the professionalism and overall safety to the public for this industry.

“If one is considering bringing in a food truck from overseas, or building one here, they should contact DEH to find out what specific items are required for them to pass. The DEH is very helpful in this regard,” she said.

Mr. Carter also advised consumers who encounter food poisoning to report it to the DEH for further investigation.

“If you go somewhere and consume something and you think that made you ill, you can report it and we’ll investigate it,” he said

Mrs. O’Keffe said the Food Handlers course “takes approximately half a day to complete [and] is extremely well presented covering all important aspects of Food Handling safety.”

Mr. Carter urged anyone aware of unlicensed operators to contact the DEH on 949–6696.

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