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ESPN: What's lurking in your stadium food?

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Paula Lavigne:

ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reviewed health department inspection reports for food and beverage outlets at all 107 North American arenas and stadiums that were home to Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Hockey League and National Basketball Association teams in 2009. At 30 of the venues (28 percent), more than half of the concession stands or restaurants had been cited for at least one "critical" or "major" health violation. Such violations pose a risk for foodborne illnesses that can make someone sick, or, in extreme cases, become fatal.

Some eye-opening numbers in the article, to say the least. (Especially in Florida. Wow.) North Carolina's venues are not among the worst in the country but still don't fare very well: at TWC Arena in Charlotte, 73% of vendors were cited; at BofA Stadium, 55%; at the RBC Center, 67%.  An anecdote from the RBC Center report:

Inspectors cited one vendor after watching employees handle raw, breaded chicken while loading fryers and then handling cooked food without changing gloves or washing hands. The employees placed cooked chicken back in the same container used to pre-portion raw chicken before cooking.

There are a number of caveats involved here--inspection rules vary from state to state, some inspectors are stricter than others, some venues are inspected during games while others aren't****, etc.--but you may want to think twice about eating the next time you're at a pro sporting event in North Carolina.  Besides, you shouldn't be filling up on food when there's beer that needs drinking.

[**** Perhaps the reason for the lack of violations found at Wrigley, The Cell, and the United Center in Chicago.]

Nicholas Casorio, 22, said he understood that pressure when he prepared and served food at Tropicana Field from 2006 through 2008.

"There's so much volume going through at one time that it's hard to do the necessary things to keep everything clean," he said. "Sometimes you sacrifice the cleanliness for expediting the service."

Sometimes servers would pull onions off a burger or grab fries with their bare hands if an order got messed up, or cooks would send chicken out still raw in the center, he said.

"In the heat of the moment when things are pushed, they made mistakes like anyone would," he said.

Casorio's experience is backed up by a study released last month by North Carolina State University that showed in large commercial kitchens, similar to the type used in a sports stadium, workers break more rules as pressure builds to get food out the door.

Researchers videotaped food-service workers at eight locations over hundreds of hours and found that, on average, each worker committed about one critical violation per hour. In one incident, a food handler sliced raw chicken on a cutting board and then used the same board or knife to slice a ready-to-eat sandwich.

(Special NCSU Science!/Research! emphasis mine.)