Durham County cracks down on illegal street food vendors

DURHAM (WTVD) -- The food truck trend is growing and now the Durham County Public Health Department is launching a new campaign to crack down on food trucks operating without a license.

Some food truckers say the move validates business. Others say it's a growing pain.

Nate Adams is the owner of Chirba Chirba Dumpling, and when it comes to complying with the health department, he plays by all the rules.

"You know I grew up overseas where the regulations aren't as strict and sometimes people get sick, dangerously so," Adams said. "So the health department is there for a reason, for public safety, and therefore I think it's important to be in compliance."

The Durham County Public Health Department is toughening up on illegal street food vendors, who are sometimes caught selling food right out of the trunk of an SUV.

They're giving warnings to those without a license, and working with police to issue citations to those who ignore the warnings.

"There are a lot of them that don't know that it's illegal to do this," James Salter, Director of Environmental Health at the Durham County Public Health Department. "Communication is an issue. Not everybody out here speaks English."

Salter said the main concern is public health, but he says it's also a matter of undercutting other food vendors.

"We don't want to impede anybody from trying to make a living," Salter said. "However, when they're doing that illegally, they're also interfering with a person that has a legal mobile food unit, has gone through the proper steps, is doing things properly, and now they're taking money away from them. So it's not fair."

The owners of the hot dog cart, Not Just Dogs, say they've been operating in downtown Durham since 2012.

They said that they've experienced an increase in inspections, and that the food truck trend has affected their business.

We asked them if they thought the two are related, owner Faye Gonzalez said "most definitely."

"We're just lucky that no food truck can park around here," her husband and Not Just Dogs co-owner, Freddie Gonzalez added. "We just got blessed that you can't park no food truck here, nowhere."

Adams says he thinks it's important for vendors to live up to code.

"It's really important for me that food truckers hold themselves to a high standard because we're a relatively new industry," Adams said. "And a lot of people look at us with some tentativity because there's words like 'roach coach' and things we are trying to overcome, by serving high quality food, specific food."

If you want to know the sanitation rating for a food truck, all of the ratings are posted here.

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