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Food cart temperatures climb during heatwave, workers take a day off

Sandra Garcia starts her 12-hour work day at 6 a.m., parked in the Financial District on Nassau Street between Cedar and Liberty.

Garcia, 51, has owned her food cart since 1994, though it has been in her family since 1983, when it was originally owned by her mother and brother.

During the summer, the New York heat can make working almost unbearable. Surrounded by stoves and ranges hotter than 150 degrees it is difficult to stay cool.

On Tuesday, at 10:30 a.m., the cart was already at 97 degrees as Garcia prepared for the day. She had two fans and a thermometer that displayed the temperature inside.

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This week, Garcia said she and her sister Aura Lopez planned to taking one day off because of the heat, but one day is all they can afford.

“I have a headache,” Garcia said, pointing to her forehead. “I have to come to work but this week I have to take one day off.”

When both Garcia and Lopez work the lunch hour, all the stoves are running and the cart can get up to 135 degrees -- a temperature that would be considered an extremely dangerous level of heat.

But for Lopez, 45, staying hydrated is difficult and in some ways not an option. She needs a kidney transplant and gets dialysis for three and a half hours, three days a week. Lopez goes to work right after although her doctors tell her she should rest. She is only supposed to drink one liter of liquid a day -- half the amount of water that is recommended to the average person. In this heat, one liter of liquid including fruits, vegetables, Jell-O and so on, leaves very little allowance for water.

For most of the lunch hour the temperature remained over 100 degrees as the two women rapidly took orders and cooked the food. They knew almost every customer by name and by order and often cracked jokes and made small talk while working.

The cart itself gets so hot that signs have been taped up that say things like “Hot,” “Step Away” and “Hot surface do not touch.”

After the lunch rush the two have a chance to collect themselves and step outside the cart to cool off.

The inside of the cart cools off but only to a still balmy 90 degrees and although the two women are taking Wednesday off, they will be back on Thursday at 6 a.m.

 
 
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