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Government nannies shake down latinos selling elote (corn on the cob)

by Valeria Fernández Thursday, Dec. 21, 2006 at 8:12 AM

Valley corn sellers targeted Health officials give warnings, fines to those lacking permit

Raúl Altamirano took a steaming ear of corn, or elote, from a small red cooler while a line of children waited with anticipation.

Altamirano, 18, had just arrived from Puebla, Mexico, and a friend told him that selling elotes would be a good business. In one afternoon, he could make at least $70.

The elote business is prospering in central Phoenix and across the Valley. But so are the health concerns.

Maricopa County health officials are cracking down on the vendors who sell elotes without a permit. They are now confiscating the merchandise and products vendors sell out of carts and letting them go the first time with a warning. County officials say they're slapping the vendors with fines if they continue to sell without a permit.

"I didn't know that I needed a permit," Altamirano said after county inspector Mark Tom told him what he was doing was illegal.

To make his point, Tom put a gunlike food thermometer inside Altamirano's mayonnaise jar.

The mayonnaise was at 72 degrees, 31 degrees above the temperature required to prevent contaminating bacteria that could poison a customer.

Tom then gave Altamirano a written pamphlet, confiscated the cart's products and gave Altamirano a warning. The next time it could cost Altamirano $500 to $1,500 in fines.

"We have never been sick," said Guadalupe Martínez, a resident from that neighborhood who buys elotes from him. "It really gets to me because it's how they make a living."

Dionisiano Nuñez, who owns the taco stand La Frontera and who represents more than 70 mobile vendors from the Pochteca Union, offered Altamirano a deal to save his business.

For $10 daily, he can rent a stainless-steel cart that includes a county permit, a gas heater to keep the elotes at the correct temperature and an area to wash hands. Together, taco vendors have joined the county's efforts to educate the corn peddlers.

The elote business is booming, partly because of the more than 1 million Latinos now living in Maricopa County.

Most buy their products in central Phoenix, hoisting their cart onto a truck and going to other cities like Chandler or Mesa for business, said county inspector David Morales. Vendors preparing food in their homes must have a special permit, because home kitchens are not approved and have to be of an industrial type.

Inspectors found food prepared unhealthily, in round patios with flies and on occasion in improvised receptacles that were used before and contained chemicals.

During the next few months, inspectors will continue to give warnings. The county most likely will review the results of the educational campaign early next year and decide the next steps to take, a spokesman said.

Reporter Sarah Muench contributed to this article. A version of this story may have appeared in your community section or your community Republic.
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get a life chicano831 Thursday, Dec. 21, 2006 at 3:52 PM
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