As if you needed another reason not to buy a $20 hot dog at your local stadium, a new report might make you rule out concessions all together. (Or just vomit.) A report by ESPN's Outside the Lines scoured over 16,000 food safety inspections conducted at all 111 venues from the country's big four professional sports leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL) and found that a jaw-dropping 28 percent of the stadiums had high-level sanitary standards violations at half or more of their concessions stands
Inspectors found dead mice, moldy burger buns, seafood gone awry, a food poisoning plague upon a marching band, a mouse in a box of cracker jacks, animal poop everywhere, cockroaches, employees mishandling food, beer leaking through the ceiling, pigeon infestations—you name it. The gruesome picture details a $2 billion industry that is designed to provide temporary food services that pack up and often waits for weeks at a time between services. By all accounts, concession stands at sports venues seem to be a petri dish for unsanitary conditions.
While the report makes sure to mention that incurring a high-level violation may not specifically mean that the environment is unsafe or unsanitary, it does point out why that might not be so comforting: the scale of these operations dwarf your typical restaurant where these ratings are most commonplace.
Here's Patricia Buck, the co-founder and executive director of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, via OTL:
"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, referencing the recent E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce that has sickened at least 43 people in 12 states.
There's also the difficulty of tracking the full number of illnesses resulting from food poisoning, and the lack of frequency that food inspectors visit concession stands. In some cases, inspectors won't visit certain venues for over a year.
Among the worst offenders are the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina with 92 of its food outlets incurring high-level violations, the now-closed Palace of Auburn Hills near Detroit with 86.1 percent, American Airlines Center in Dallas at 83.1 percent, and Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte at 82.6 percent. Safe to say that if you're a Panthers or Hornets fan, you should probably save your pretzel cravings for later. The hallowed ground of Yankee Stadium was also up there, with 79.1 percent. We've reached out to several arenas, including Spectrum Center and Bank of America Stadium, and will update when we hear back.
One of the most frequent violations came from employees not washing their hands thoroughly enough. Due to the fleeting nature of concessions, many employees are temporary workers with a high turnover, and they don't have the proper training or frequency of work to maintain consistency. People carry diseases, people.
With thousands of people eating from these temporary food shacks that just-so-happen to be near a sporting event, you can imagine the impact of something like, say, a bad batch of lettuce. Now you know where ground zero will be for the zombie apocalypse. Let's just make a pact that we'll stick to tailgating, shall we?
Here is a statement from the president of Hospitality at Legends, Dan Smith:
"We treat food safety with the utmost care. We disagree with the ESPN report, whose methodology is unexplainable.
We work closely on regular inspections with the New York City Department of Health, whose rigorous participation is welcomed. We also complete our own independent assessments with various consultants and auditors, including food safety companies.
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.”