How Clean Are Those Stadiums?

We had a first-time experience at the Denver Broncos stadium within the last month. It was fun. Getting there early, we had our first brat and lathered it with condiments at the condiment table. No problem. At half-time we ordered another brat but had to wait while it was thawed out and then cooked. OK. But the condiment table looked like a bomb had exploded. I passed on the condiments and ate the brat and bread dry.

I have to ask, have you ever wondered about food safety at the stadium?

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In August 2017, Sports Illustrated reported their review of Health Department stadium food establishment inspection data for 2016 and 2017 from 28 Major League Baseball fields. The best was Safeco Field in Seattle.  The combined 72 food service entities had 5 violations but only one that could cause food borne illness. Very impressive! And the worst was Tropicana Field in Tampa. The Tropicana Field 62 entities had 241 violations. 105 of the violations could cause food borne illness. They were unable to get data from Cleveland and Detroit despite multiple requests.

Some of the more troubling violations were:

  • Lack of water and soap for washing hands
  • Handling ready to eat food with bare hands
  • Employees eating, drinking or smoking while serving
  • Reusing popcorn buckets
  • Soiled ice machines with mold
  • Rodent droppings or dead cockroaches
  • Unsafe cooler or refrigerator temperatures
  • No use of thermometers

Writers for ESPN reviewed the Health Department inspections of 107 major league stadiums within the United States in 2009. Their review underscored the deplorable state of cleanliness that put some sports enthusiasts at risk for food borne illness at that time.

  • In 8 of the stadiums, over 75% of the vendors had critical violations including mice droppings on the floors, insects blended into frozen drinks, outdated food, dirty counters, poorly cooked food or food not held at the right temperature.
  • In 22 of the stadiums, over 50% of the vendors had critical violations including some of the above and soiled ice bins, handling raw foods then ready to eat foods without using gloves or washing hands, raw meat stored above bread products, live cockroaches and fruit flies, poisonous materials stored above foods or employee half eaten food stored with other foods.
  • In 23 of the stadiums, over 25% of the vendors had critical violations including some of the above and no sneeze guards on buffet lines, no hand washing sinks for employees, expired milk, hot dogs and cheese, mold in ice machines or inadequate cleaning of meat slicer.
  • Most of the stadiums had some violations including the above and no chlorine sanitizer in dishwashing machine, putting utensils away without cleaning them, toxic chemical in unlabeled spray bottle and handling lemons and limes without gloves.
  • Only 11 stadiums were without critical violations.

It appears that the state of food safety at our stadiums has improved overall, but there is still much room for improvement and huge inconsistencies. Some stadiums are obviously exceling. Perhaps they should become the role model that all stadium managers should aspire to.

Likely it won’t change unless the public demands a higher standard. Will you join me in improving food safety education for our stadium food servers and demanding a higher standard?  Visit DiningSafetyAlliance, our strategic Not-for-Profit partner to find out how.

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Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40 year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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