Report: Pro Stadiums Failing at Food Safety

Andy Berg Headshot

Next time you head to your favorite professional stadium, you might want to skip the hot dogs and draft beer.

According to a report from ESPN’s Outside the Lines, which analyzed 16,000 food-safety inspection reports from health departments that monitor the 111 professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey facilities across North America, the food leaves something to be desired and just might make you sick.  

The resulting report, which looked at data from 2016 and 2017, found that at about 28 percent of the venues, half or more of the food service outlets incurred a high-level violation — one that poses a potential threat for foodborne illness. 

The Spectrum Center (Charlotte Hornets), The Palace of Auburn Hills (Detroit Pistons) and American Airlines Center (Dallas Mavericks) received the worst rankings, while NRG Stadium (Houston Texans), State Farm Arena (Atlanta Hawks) and Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. (Golden State Warriors) performed the best.

As ESPN reports, the violations observed by inspectors run the gamut, including "chicken, shrimp and sushi festering at dangerous temperatures that can breed bacteria, employees wiping their faces with their hands and then handling food for customers, cooks sweating over food, beef blood dripping on a shelf, moldy or expired food, dirty utensils or contaminated equipment, and the presence of live cockroaches and mice. Less serious but still icky: dirty floors, fruit flies, pesky pigeons and, in one venue, beer leaking from a ceiling.”

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The individual reports for each stadium are posted online, and they are rife with unsavory details about the violations found by inspectors. For instance, on Feb. 3, inspectors at Spectrum Center "saw beer leaking from the ceiling in the bar area of the Front Court Restaurant and Bar.” At the Palace of Auburn Hills, inspectors “found a gallon of milk past the expiration date in a cooler and chemicals stored next to bar syrups during a June 23, 2016, inspection. That was one of three priority violations at this location during the inspection.”

Patricia Buck, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, said the sheer size and number of people who attend games make food service in those venues especially difficult. "There will be thousands of people at the stadium and there will be maybe 100 at a restaurant, so the sheer number of people being exposed is going to be higher, so it would tend to be riskier if something like contaminated romaine lettuce was going to be served on a taco," said Buck. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne disease each year in the United States.

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