07/26/2010 05:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

ESPN Exposé Details Awful State Of Sports Arena Food

A fly ball to the stands might not be the only foul at your local baseball stadium. ESPN's "Outside the Lines" has compiled and reviewed health department inspection reports for food and beverage vendors at 107 sports arenas in the US and Canada, and the results are troublesome. Many places were caught with more than 50% of their vendors violating the codes in one way or another. ESPN tallied up each arena's percentages of "critical violations," cases in which vendors sold food that "might pose a serious risk for foodborne illnesses."

As ESPN reports:

While there hasn't been a documented mass outbreak of foodborne illness at a professional sports stadium, fans, players and coaches have said they have fallen ill from food, including Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who blamed bad sushi in the clubhouse for a bout of food poisoning he had before a series playoff game in Anaheim last fall.

An interesting takeaway: sports fans in Florida have it worst. All eight of the arenas surveyed had violations at over 60% of their vendors. At Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a staggering 100% of vendors had at least one critical violation.

On the bright side, sports fans in Canada can eat reasonably safely. Most of the arenas north of the border scored well, with fewer than 10% violators. The Blue Jays' Rogers Center in Toronto even had 0%. Chicago and Boston stadiums seemed to pass muster as well, but digging in one learns that Chicago's health inspection protocol falls far short of reassuring: "Chicago health inspectors inspect vendors while the stadiums are empty, when no workers are preparing or serving food."

We braved the list so you don't have to and culled some highlights:

  • Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay: Several violations addressed dirty countertops, utensils and equipment. Although every report indicated a critical violation, all vendors met basic inspection standards to keep operating.
  • Madison Square Garden, NYC: 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).
  • RBC Center, Raleigh: 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.
  • AT&T Center, San Antonio: Inspectors found 18 pounds of hot dogs that had expired more than 10 days prior.
  • US Airways Center, Phoenix: One location faced possible closure over pest problems after inspectors in December found mouse droppings and, upon reinspection, found "dozens of flies and a live roach" in the dish room.

Dive into the report and ESPN's interactive map here.