Make a smart choice (Unpermitted Vending)


The Division of Environmental Health works hard to protect the public from the unseen dangers associated with improper food handling and cross contamination. Preventing foodborne illness is our main objective. But we can’t do it alone! We want to increase public awareness about the dangers of purchasing and consuming food sold from unpermitted vendors.


Unpermitted food vendors are those vendors that do not obtain a permit from the Division of Environmental Health and operate openly or covertly in a manner that compromises food safety. These operations are usually found outdoors, in vacant lots, on street corners or roaming door to door through neighborhoods. Sometimes the vending takes place on an outdoor table, open food preparation cart, shopping carts, ice chests, or out of the trunk of a vehicle. The following health concerns are commonly associated with unpermitted vendors:

  • Food stored directly on the ground
  • Little or no protection from contaminants
  • No electricity
  • No potable water
  • No Restroom
  • No handwashing
  • No dish sinks
  • No refrigeration or hot holding equipment
  • No thermometers
  • Build-up of garbage and food debris on the ground
  • Vermin and insects
  • No method of tracing food back to its original source
  • No food safety training for employees

There is an elevated risk for illness to be transmitted through food sold in this manner. Without bathrooms, the vendors are forced to urinate and defecate on the ground and resume their food preparation activities without washing their hands. Garbage and discarded food are allowed to blow about or accumulate on the ground adding to the sanitation problems generated by this activity. 

Many customers view the roadside food vendors as a convenient food purchase. They often do not understand the risks associated with eating food prepared by unpermitted vendors. Some may assume that the vendors actually are licensed and inspected by the Environmental Health Division. It is our hope that the public will gain a clearer view of the dangers associated with these unpermitted vending operations as well as understand what key components to look for to make sure the food they are buying is from a safe, permitted source that is routinely inspected by the Division of Environmental Health. 


If you are considering purchasing food from an unpermitted vendor there are some things you can look for that will tell you that that vendor has been approved by the Division of Environmental Health and is being regularly inspected.

  1. Enclosure – all food preparation must take place within an enclosure to prevent contamination by birds, dust, insects, or other airborne hazards.
  2. Steamer – an enclosed steamer is capable at keeping food hot at 135º F or above.
  3. Refrigerator – important for cold held food to make sure it is kept at 41º F or below.
  4. Handwashing station with soap and paper towels – handwashing is one of the most important ways to prevent foodborne illness.
  5. Identification signs – these signs let the customers know who they are buying food from and where it was made. If a customer feels that they got sick from a permitted vendor they can call the Division of Environmental Health and file a complaint. With the information we will know exactly how to find the vendor to abate the problem and investigate the complaint.
  6. Permit decal – all permitted mobile food facilities will have this sticker posted on one side of the cart or truck. The permits must be renewed annually and the color of the decal changes every year to make it easier to see if the cart has been approved for the current year.


The following picture is an example of a permit decal.



Apply for a mobile permit with the Tulare County Environmental Health Department. If you have any questions regarding opening a mobile food business please contact our main office. 


If you have seen an unpermitted vending operation and would like to assist us by reporting it please use our online complaint form.  You may also file complaints on permitted facilities if you believe they are operating outside of their permit limitations.