“Things can get ugly when we have to give the vendors a fine or close them down.”


Roshini Mahabal, Public Health Sanitarian 2, Health Services Employees Local 768

Photo: Clarence Elie-Rivera

 Public Health Sanitarians are in the field five days a week. Every day we work in a different borough. We get assigned our routes for the week on Friday, when we do our paper work.

We do inspections of restaurants and food carts. There’s another unit that covers special populations like jails and schools.

I used to work in the schools unit and I enjoyed it. The schools are less stressful because the cafeterias are really clean and organized. The schools will get a notice if there’s a violation, but they don’t pay fines like restaurants and street vendors.

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I inspect the mobile vendors on the street to see if they have their current permit. A permit is good for one year. I check also to see that their cart is the appropriate distance from the curb, and check for the temperature of the food.

Icarry around 20 pounds of equipment with me, my laptop, printer, measuring tape and thermometers.

I’ve been working for the Bureau of Safety and Community and Sanitation since 2008, so I know most of the vendors.

Sometimes the vendors don’t speak English; they’re from Egypt, Bangladesh or somewhere else. I call the office for translation help. A lot of them get violations for the same thing over and over.

Things can get ugly when we have to give the vendors a fine or close them down. There’s a lot verbal abuse, but I’ve never been assaulted.

Sometimes, the customers get angry with us when we shut them down because they like their food and they know the vendor. It can get intense. During the summer, we have a task force, where four of five Sanitarians go out together with a Police Officer to close down a vendor. The people now videotape us while we’re doing our job.

I’ve learned a lot about the different neighborhoods in the city. I’ve been all over. My preference is to work in the field, not in any supervisory
capacity sitting behind a desk.

This originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Public Employee Press.

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