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‘Sales have gone down:’ Food cart workers, owners are fighting to stay open and safe in lingering heat wave

(Update: adding video, comment from Central Oregon food carts)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- With several days of record-breaking heat hitting Central Oregon, food cart operators and their workers are among those being impacted by even higher temperatures in their close cooking quarters.

While many may want to eat out during the hot weather, rather than turn on their stove or range, food carts have been forced to take extra precautions in order to continue staying open and keep their workers safe.

Those forced to work outside in the heat are already dealing with the impacts of the elements, but those working over a stove have a few more challenges to deal with. 

"All the utensils that we use, all the metal utensils, they get pretty hot. so we're temping them yesterday at about 120 degree," said Joseph Franco, the owner and chef of Americana Burger.  

 "You can assume that if it's 100 degrees outside, it's at least 120-50 degrees in the truck," said Aaron Fass, the owner of P!ZZA.

The operators of Americana Burgers and P!ZZA said they make employee safety a top priority.  

"We'll cut their shifts shorter so they're not in the cart as long, and then we have a walk-in cooler in the back," said Scott Rush, the owner of Rush Squares. "We tell them, we encourage them to go take breaks like walking for like 10 minutes, cool down, drink some water, come back when you're ready."

At Rush Square, floor fans and air conditioning are being used in an attempt to make conditions bearable. Despite the adjustments, the heat can still be overbearing when coupled with hot equipment.

Karen McRae, the owner of Mother Shuckers, said, "When this is on, when I'm standing on this side of the cart shucking oysters, I have a fan on me - and I can feel all the heat on my back from the grill in the fryer right behind me."

McRae says they've already lost a cooler due to the heat. For most carts, hot equipment used to cook poses the biggest challenge for staff.

Some carts have had to close early because of an unsafe working environment 

Fass said, "We had closed for about an hour. I went back into the truck, just to see how we were doing, getting through the hot part of the day, the ceiling temped at 147 degrees."

"It's a very hard decision to make, because it is the busy season," he said. "When you say, 'We need to close for our health and for everybody's safety' and all of that, also for your equipment within the truck at 130 degrees, refrigeration just doesn't work."

Heather Hart, the manager for Curb BBQ, said the customer count "dips quite a lot. Everybody just wants to be on the river or hiding in their house. Our sales have gone down."

She says the dinner rush has been pushed back, pinching their supply of employees.

McRae said, "It's staying hot late into the evening, (so it) is where all of our business is happening right at the end of the night. We've got to keep, we have to keep a full crew on board to be ready for a big hit right before we close, so that creates a staffing problem."

Despite the excessive heat, food carts are persevering. Many are adjusting hours to avoid the highest temperatures and utilizing online orders.

Article Topic Follows: Weather

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Matthew Draxton

Matthew Draxton is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Matthew here.

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