City Cracks Down on Taco Stands

Houston City Council will consider some changes to the rules for mobile food vendors. Taco trucks and burger stands will have to provide new kinds of documentation about inspections and cleaning. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson joined a city health inspector on his rounds to check in on these food vendors.

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The Taqueria Puerto Jaibo sits in a parking lot at the corner of Antoine and Hammerly. Rob Steine pulls up for a random inspection.

"Buenas Dias! It's been about three or four months, right?"

Steine looks for evidence of rodents or bugs and doesn't find any. He checks to make sure the dishes are washed properly, food is stored at the right temperature and the owner has the right paperwork. Maria Hernandez has operated the taqueria at this site for about a year. Steine asks her how business is going and what kind of food she serves.

"Tacos, tortas, hamburguesas, quesadillas, burritos, fajitas..."

"We see such a variety of stuff that we're a little bit afraid of what -- we know what we hope we'll see and we're a little bit afraid of what we might see. We throw a lot of food out in the summertime on units. But like this one here, I'm pretty optimistic."

Steine pronounces the overall condition at this location exceptional. Just a few blocks down the road, he makes his next stop at Tacos las Gemelitas at the corner of Hammerly and Wirt. This spot, though not terrible, doesn't quite meet his expectations.

"On this unit the windows and doors -- I don't know if you noticed but the door's partly open and the windows are open. So we'll have to see, there might be some flies inside. Garbage cans, there really should be covered garbage cans. Checking for hot water -- we've got hot water, cold water. Do you see anything wrong? They can't wash their hands in the hand sink because they've got too much stuff in here. The first thing you want to do is wash your hands before you start preparing any food."

Steine finishes his report, telling the operator to install some screens over the windows and door and to keep the hand sink cleared and useable. He says the city's new restrictions won't necessarily make it harder on mobile food vendors.

"Pretty much everything that is changing is stuff that they're already used to doing or supposed to be doing. Most of it is just tightening up some of the regulations so that it's harder to get around."

Steine wraps up the morning inspections. Soon it'll be time to have lunch. That begs the question if his job has ruined him for eating out. Steine says he does eat at restaurants, but usually doesn't order at the taco stands, except when he goes to Mexico and there he says he doesn't ask any questions. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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