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Volume 25 No. 214
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"OTL" Report Details Food Violations At Pro Sports Stadium

Spectrum Center had the highest percentage of food outlets that incurred one or more high-level violations
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

An analysis of more than 16,000 food-safety inspections from North America's 111 NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL venues was published Thursday, and "violations run the gamut," according to Lavigne & Fish of ESPN.com. At about 28% of the venues, "half or more of their food service outlets incurred one or more high-level violations, the type of unsanitary conditions or omissions that can pose a risk for a foodborne illness." The venues with the highest percentage of food outlets that "incurred one or more high-level violations in the two-year period" include Spectrum Center in Charlotte (92%); the Palace of Auburn Hills, which has since closed, (86.1%); American Airlines Center in Dallas, (83.1%); and Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte (82.6%). Being "slapped with a high-level violation" does not "necessarily mean a venue is unsafe or unsanitary." But Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention Exec Dir Patricia Buck said that stadium environments "carry unique risks because of the large number of people being served in a short period of time." In '10, "OTL" performed a "similar analysis of food safety at sports venues," and in August '17, SI "published a story about violations at professional baseball stadiums, although SI used a different metric." One venue that "ranked at the bottom for food-safety compliance in both reports" was Tropicana Field, which, until this year, "had a contract with Centerplate." In the latest "OTL" report, 79.1% of the outlets at Yankee Stadium had "one or more high-level violations" over '16 and '17, with "only five other sports venues having a higher percentage." Yankee Stadium, however, "performed better overall than New York City's average of high-level violations per inspection at all food establishments" (ESPN.com, 12/13). 

REACTIONS POUR IN: In New Orleans, Amie Just noted the "three cleanest venues were Oakland’s Oracle Arena, Atlanta’s State Farm Arena and Houston’s NRG Stadium" (NOLA.com, 12/13). Levy Restaurants Communications Dir Matt Dicker, whose firm handles food at the Hornets' Spectrum Center, said that "all the food inspections there had gotten A rankings, or scores above 90." Dicker: “Any concern that was identified was corrected immediately, and in no instance was a re-inspection deemed necessary.” The Panthers in a statement said they were "disappointed in this report." The team also "identified Delaware North Sportservice as responsible for food management and concessions at the stadium since" '10. The team will now "conduct a full review." Dicker: "There is a great deal of subjectivity in reporting food-safety inspections across jurisdictions, which makes it incredibly difficult to normalize scores across many counties and states" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/14).

BITE OUT OF THE BIG APPLE: In N.Y., Scott Chiusano notes the "serious gross misconduct at Yankee Stadium food vendors" also was found to be the "worst MLB ballpark in terms of 'high-level violations per inspection.'” Of 43 total outlets at the ballpark, 34 "came up with high-level health code violations" for a 79.06%, the "worst in baseball and almost eight percentage points above the next worst stadium, which was Coors Field in Colorado." The Legends Club, a "swanky, exclusive and high-priced suite that provides 'first-class accommodations' with all-inclusive food and beverages and a private entrance, was at the center of the investigation and is apparently not as high-brow as it purports to be." However, the Yankees "disputed the ESPN investigation, calling its methodology 'unexplainable.'” Legends President of Hospitality Dan Smith said, "If any violation is pointed out, it is addressed and corrected immediately. As a result, in 2018, all of our food stands received an A-level grade, which is the highest level in New York City" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/14).

BEHIND THE COUNTER: ESPN’s Paula Lavigne, who co-authored the report, said stadium concessions "actually score better than eateries in the surrounding community when you look at the average number of high-level violations per inspection … but food safety experts still say that the risk is greater because at a stadium, if something goes wrong, the number of people that can be affected are in the thousands compared to at a restaurant." She added, "Most of these big concession companies have third-party consultants that come in and tell them how to improve your facility, how to improve your food handling and they do actually have quite a bit of training for employees, which is really necessary when you have a lot of temporary and volunteer workers" (“OTL,” ESPN, 12/13).