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NEW YORK -- Watch what you eat at the ballpark, stadium or arena.
That's the message from an ESPN "Outside the Lines" report that detailed the findings of health-department inspection reports for food and beverage outlets at all 107 North American arenas and stadiums that were home to MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL teams in 2009.
The "Outside the Lines" report found that at 30 venues (28 percent), more than half the concessions stands or restaurants had been cited for at least one "critical" or "major" health violation.
A "critical" or "major" violation is an infringement that poses a risk for foodborne illnesses that can cause an ailment or in extreme cases become fatal.
The results cited by the OTL report, which aired Sunday morning, were based on the most recent routine inspections or the equivalent of a full inspection. Most stadiums and arenas, the OTL report noted, employ private, third-party food service companies to distribute, serve and sell food.
The percentage of vendors at New York and New Jersey stadiums or arenas in violation of health requirements in 2009 varied widely.
The report found no critical health violations at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., home to the NHL's New York Islanders.
Just 6 percent of vendors at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. -- home of the NHL's Devils and, starting in 2010, the NBA's Nets -- were cited with violations. According to an inspection-report excerpt, inspectors noted that at one location, the person in charge "did not demonstrate adequate knowledge of food safety," the sink lacked soap and paper towels, and there was no sanitizer solution.
But at Madison Square Garden -- home of the NHL's Rangers, NBA's Knicks and WNBA's Liberty -- 61 percent of vendors were cited with violations. At one stand, inspectors found "53 mouse excreta" (38 on top of a metal box underneath the cash registers in the front food-prep/service area and 15 on top of a carbonated-beverage dispensing unit), according an inspection-report excerpt.
At Yankee Stadium, 48 percent of vendors were found to be in violation of health codes. The OTL report, citing an inspection-report excerpt, said that five hot dogs registered 91 degrees in a hot-holding unit when they were supposed to be no cooler than 140. Inspectors at the Yankees' home also had a vendor dispose of a bottle of Chivas Regal whiskey containing dead fruit flies.
Citi Field fared slightly better than the ballpark in the Bronx. Forty-five percent of vendors at the Mets' home park were cited with violations. Inspectors found 20 pounds of grilled chicken registered at 70 degrees in a refrigerator at the ballpark, which is about 30 degrees warmer than allowed, according to an excerpt of inspection reports.
Twenty percent of vendors at the old Giants Stadium -- the former home of the NFL's Jets and Giants -- were cited for violations, according to health inspection excerpts reviewed by OTL. One excerpt said managers at the stadium had to dispose of 20 pounds of ground beef after inspectors cited them for letting partially grilled burgers with raw centers sit at unsafe temperatures for three hours before final cooking. There were no inspection reports available for the new Meadowlands Stadium, which opened this year, at the time of OTL's request.
One of every five vendors at Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. -- the former home of the Nets -- committed a violation, according to the OTL report. Inspectors at Izod Center found a seemingly spoiled and "odorous" can of cherry ice cream topping that had been left opened and uncovered in an unrefrigerated storage cabinet at the arena, according to an excerpt from inspection reports.
The OTL report noted that health reports varied from state to state and even venue to venue thanks to inspectors' judgment and the timing and frequency of visits.
Food experts interviewed by OTL said the potential risk for a foodborne illness at ballparks is increased considering the large number of patrons served at one time and the challenges that stadiums face in following food-safety rules. One former food vendor at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., told OTL that the pressure to feed people fast caused some of his colleagues to sacrifice sanitary standards in order to serve the food in a timely fashion.
Although there has never been a documented, large-scale outbreak of foodborne illness at a professional sports stadium, the OTL report cited several individuals -- including Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona -- who claim they developed an ailment after eating ballpark food. Francona blamed bad sushi in the clubhouse for a bout of food poisoning he had before a series playoff game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., this past fall.
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.
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