SF health dept. launches campaign against unpermitted food vendors citing 'unsanitary conditions'

Luz Pena Image
Tuesday, October 31, 2023
SF launches campaign against unpermitted street food vendors
San Francisco health department has started a social media campaign warning the public about "unsanitary conditions" of street hot dog carts.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For months, the San Francisco Department of Public Health has been cracking down on unpermitted street vendors along the Embarcadero. But now instead of confiscating carts, they are also starting a social media campaign to alert the public of what they say are "unsanitary conditions."

It's the street food that captures the attention of many tourists in San Francisco.

"We were looking forward to it. We had been planning it for three days," said Tracey Brough-Aikin.

Tracey is visiting from the U.K. She made it a point to buy a hot dog on Pier 33 Monday. Ric and Anne Barrios are visiting San Francisco from Texas and had the same craving.

"We have hot dogs. They have these great vendors out here with these incredible-looking dogs. I'm going to give them a try and see how it is, I'm sure it's going to be great. Something different," said Barrios.

But not everyone loves these hot dogs in San Francisco.

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The city's Department of Public Health has effectively started an online campaign against these vendors with the hashtag #DontRiskIt citing lack of proper refrigeration access, clean water and unsanitary conditions.

We went to Pier 33 to speak to vendors.

"It's all fresh. This is the bread I bought today. I don't have anything from yesterday. Everything is from today," said vendor Ana Escoto.

Escoto owns several food carts and showed us a box with hot dogs wrapped in bacon and a receipt for all the ingredients she bought on Monday.

Luz Pena: "What do you think about what the city is saying? The health department is saying?"

Ana Escoto: "We are many vendors. I can't speak for the others about how they are dealing with their hygiene."

WATCH: Video shows San Francisco city worker knocking over hot dog vendor's cart

An investigation is now underway into a San Francisco Public Works employee caught on video knocking over a hot dog vendor's cart.

For months, the public health department has been cracking down on street vendors on the San Francisco port.

"It's the volume. The sheer volume of vendors that are out there. One vendor, a little bit of debris, a little bit of issue. Eighteen vendors out there. There is a lot of debris, lots of grease. Lots of issues," said Randall Scott, executive director for the Fisherman's Wharf Community Benefit District.

Scott would like to see the city reach a compromise with the vendors.

"Maybe the city decides to - in those particular areas - to set up a legally-operating kitchen that meets all the health requirements. It's a balance and right now, it's out of balance," said Scott.

In a statement, the public health department said they require permits for any street and sidewalk vendor to sell food in San Francisco. In regards to the sanitation, they said in part:

"These incidents of foodborne illness due to unpermitted vending are difficult to track because they range from vomiting and diarrhea to salmonella and E. Coli. For mild symptoms, the majority of people do not report."

VIDEO: Small explosion at unpermitted food cart at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf

New video shows the risks that come with unpermitted vendors at Fisherman's Wharf.

UCSF's infectious diseases Dr. Monica Gandhi looked at the photos and said bacteria is breeding in there.

"If they are kept at room temperature and not cooked to at least 165 degrees, the kind of bacteria that hot dogs can breed are Salmonella - which is a kind of food poisoning," said Dr. Gandhi.

Dr. Gandhi pointed to the bacon increasing the risk of food borne illness.

"The thing about bacon is that it doesn't have the same level of preservatives that hot dogs do," said Dr. Gandhi.

Vendors like Milka Casimir said they have never heard of anyone getting sick from their hot dogs, and would like for city workers to train them on safety standards.

"So we can learn how to manage these products. To give us tips," said Casimir.

We asked the San Francisco Dept. of Public Health if they have any reports of foodborne illness related to these food vendors. They said the majority do not report.

We also asked if anyone from the department has reached out to the hot dog vendors on how to get permits and sanitation standards. We have yet to receive a response.

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