Heading to a day at the ballpark, hockey rink or electric football stadium is supposed to be a time to cut loose and enjoy some live sports. When you head to the concession stand, nothing beats the mouth-watering foods you can only find at sporting events. I mean, nothing makes a good meal like a little mouse crawling around in the food before you eat it, right?
Well, that's exactly what happened during a routine health inspection in Sept. 2016 at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies; a live mouse was found inside a commercial-sized bag of Cracker Jacks. In a study on stadium food safety conducted by ESPN's Outside the Lines, health inspection reports over a two-year span from 111 North American sports venues were collected, and the results of how gross your stadium food facilities really are is shocking.
More than 16,000 food-safety inspection reports were analyzed for health department violations that ranged from unsafe cooking temperatures to sweat dripping onto food to rodents and pests present in food handling areas. What OTL uncovered will make you think twice before grabbing a chili dog at your next sporting event, as there are potential threats of food borne illness everywhere you turn.
Venues with High-Level Violations at More Than Half of Stands
When the 111 stadiums were reviewed, every single one found some kind of health code violation, but this isn't uncommon at all. Some violations are as simple as faulty plumbing fixtures or a cook having a beard that needed covered with a hairnet. These things are easy fixes, but high-level violations, like raw beef blood dripping onto food stored underneath of it or rats in the Cracker Jacks, are cited for immediate correction.
This 28 percent explains that at 30 North American sports venues, more than HALF of their food stands had at least one high-level food safety violation. That means, if you ate nachos at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville or grabbed a hot dog at Globe Life Park in Arlington in the last two years, you had at least a 50 percent chance of eating somewhere that could have passed along a food borne illness.
Arenas Where Food Safety was Worse Than Its City
There were 82 stadiums where inspection data about the surrounding restaurants, bars and eateries was available for comparison. According to the data from Hazel Analytics, there were NINE stadiums that had a higher violation rate in their concessions stands than regular restaurants in the same city.
In comparison, 73 percent of stadiums performed better when compared to local restaurants. Still, not knowing where it's safer to eat is a scary thought when deciding something as simple as if you're grabbing a bite inside or outside the ball game.
Three Most-Violated Arenas
Spectrum Center: 92%
Home of the Charlotte Hornets NBA team, the North Carolina-based arena was the most violated sports venue with 92 percent of its food service outlets having at least one high-level infringement. Aside from multiple inspections where food was improperly cooked and served, a Dec. 20, 2016 inspection uncovered beer leaking from the ceiling inside one of the arena's bars.
American Airlines Center: 83.08%
The next time you head to Texas and see the NBA's Dallas Mavericks or NHL's Dallas Stars play, make sure to eat before you head inside. American Airlines Center was found to have insects flying around bar areas and moldy strawberries in circulation. Out of 65 total stands inspected, 54 had major violations.
NOTE: The Palace of Auburn Hills was actually the second-most violated arena in the study with 86.11 percent of stands reporting high-level violations, but it has since closed.
Bank of America Stadium: 82.61%
Let's go back to Charlotte for the third-most violated stadium in sports. The Carolina Panthers' professional football home had moldy cream cheese, out-dated deli meats, and even old, dried food sitting on slicing equipment. During an Aug. 9, 2017 inspection, food-handling employees weren't sure when to wash their hands or change gloves when handling raw meat and other potentially contaminated food items.
Three Cleanest Arenas
Oracle Arena: 1.12%
The Golden State Warriors have reversible NBA Championship rings, and apparently, a nice place to get a bite to eat. Only one of Oracle's 89 outlets had a major violation, while minor infractions like faulty plumbing and improperly cleaned utensils were also found.
State Farm Arena: 4.17%
Just like their NBA counterpart, the Atlanta Hawks' arena is as safe as any in the sports world to grub. Only two of 48 total inspections uncovered major infractions. Another thing noted was "raw wood" used in the construction of three facilities that needed to be properly treated. Hardly the end of the show, right?
NRG Stadium: 4.44%
While the Houston Texans' home stadium is the third-lowest in terms of major infractions, inspectors did note about a dozen complaints over the years stating there were rat infestations and numerous customers falling ill after eating their food. Unfortunately, even the cleanest places aren't free of their issues...
Worst City for Sports Food
Welcome to Denver, where the city's NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB sports arenas all ranked among the top nine most-violated stadiums in North America. Below is the venue, the teams you can see play there, and how many of its inspected outlets were slapped with serious infractions.
— Broncos Stadium at Mile High, Denver Broncos: 74 of 92: (80.43%)
— Pepsi Center, Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche: 44 of 58 (75.86%)
— Coors Field, Colorado Rockies: 77 of 107 (71.96%)
These numbers are shocking. As a sports fan who regularly goes during game breaks for a bite to eat, it's really going to make me second guess the food that I'm paying a small fortune to eat going forward. Hopefully, you'll consider the same, and even make sure to watch as food service employees handle the food you're going to be buying, too.
You can find the complete list of sports venues from this study here.
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