Sports Venues Not Playing Ball on Food Safety

Nearly 30% of sports venues nationwide have been cited for at least one “critical” or “major” health violation at more than half of their concession stands, according to a recent investigative report by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program.

Reporters reviewed health department inspection reports for food and beverage concessions at all 107 arenas and stadiums that were home to Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Hockey League, and National Basketball Association teams in 2009.

Some venues had excellent records, but food safety violations at others included mold in ice machines, mouse excrement and dead fruit flies, cockroach contamination, and cross contamination and poor employee hygiene. At the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., 100% of the vendors had been cited for critical or major health violations in the prior year.

“Some of the venues had no problems at all, which I actually found a little surprising,” said Robert Buchanan, PhD, professor and director of the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems at the University of Maryland, who reviewed the inspection reports for ESPN. “Stadiums particularly have issues, for example, with how they handle trash. It’s not unusual to walk into one of those stadiums after a game and find clear evidence of rats and other rodents. A lot of places have central kitchens from which they’re bringing things in, and they have the challenges of distribution. They also have a huge number of people to feed in a small amount of time and not a lot of storage space. Certain products are supposed to be kept refrigerated all the time, and I’m sure some stadiums don’t have the capacity to do that.”

The ESPN report clearly identifies stadium food safety as an area that needs closer attention, Dr. Buchanan said. “If you’re going to try to tighten this up, go to the places that really did well and find out what they’re doing right, and then go to the ones that are not doing well and put pressure on them to meet up to those standards. As far as I’m concerned, at places with a high incidence of violations, the stadium itself has some responsibility to step in and tell their service manager to get this straight or they’ll find another manager.”

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