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Report Asks: What's Lurking In Your Stadium Food?

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Michele Norris talks to Paula Lavigne about her recent report for ESPN's Outside the Lines. In that story, "What's Lurking In Your Stadium Food," Lavigne examined the health inspection reports for all the stadiums used by the NBA, NHL, NFL and Major League Baseball.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Unidentified Man: Hey, baby. Hey big, cold beer.

NORRIS: What's better than a hot dog, a cold drink, and a close game with 40,000 other fans? Good stuff - unless there are cockroaches crawling over the soda dispenser or moldy slime in the ice machine, or perhaps that hot dog was not stored at the proper temperature.

I almost feel like I need to apologize for this next story, or perhaps Paula Lavigne should apologize for the report she produced for the ESPN show called Outside the Lines." The name of her story says it all: "What's Lurking In Your Stadium Food?"

Lavigne examined the health-inspection reports for all 107 stadiums used by the NBA, the NHL, the NFL and Major League Baseball. And she joins us now to talk about all this, and Paula, I'm afraid to ask you what you found.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PAULA LAVIGNE (Reporter, "What's Lurking In Your Stadium Food"): We found slime in the ice machine. We found at Ford Field in Detroit, there was a location that had been cited 11 times over the last six years because employees were not washing their hands.

Madison Square Garden - the health inspectors there saw, you know, mice droppings in several locations. Citi Field - there were 20 pounds of grilled chicken that were sitting at 70 degrees in a refrigerator.

And oh, I love the tales of the flies in the alcohol, and Yankee Stadium has a good example of some dead fruit flies that had decided to take their final bath in a bottle of whiskey.

NORRIS: Oh my goodness, and at the Amway Arena in Orlando, where the Orlando Magic plays - not so magical when you look at the violations here in the health code report. At a location that sells fish, inspectors found potentially hazardous, ready-to-eat food not consumed or sold within a week of the opening or preparation date. Ay-yay-yay.

Ms. LAVIGNE: Right. You find across the board, you find a lot of issues with food storage and food preparation and food handling. I think some of that goes to the unique challenges that stadium vendors have - although I have to say, I'm not sure if I'd be eating fish at a stadium anywhere.

NORRIS: A lot of stadiums now are serving fish: fish sandwiches, crab cakes, that kind of thing.

Ms. LAVIGNE: You're right. That's another thing that we noticed in a lot of these reports, is that the variety of foods that different vendors are serving are growing. And that also poses a greater challenge when you have more foods and more challenges with those particular foods, especially when you get into things like fish and sushi.

NORRIS: Now, to be fair, are these really, truly egregious violations - like slime in the ice machine, or rodent droppings in the storage area - or are they what you might instead call minor violations?

Ms. LAVIGNE: Well, all the violations that we looked at are classified as critical violations, and there's a technical definition for that.

And a critical violation is one that can pose a risk for food-borne illness -meaning that, you know, these violations, if left uncorrected, could lead to someone being sick or, you know, even worse.

NORRIS: Is there anybody who seems to get it right, stadiums where there are very few violations?

Ms. LAVIGNE: There were a few stadiums that had no violations, including the two stadiums in Toronto. The health department there, for the past several years, has been using a system where if you get a critical violation, you have to put a big yellow or red sign right out front of your establishment.

And if you're a vendor at a stadium, it has to be out there on the front, where fans can see it as they walk up. And that's enough of a deterrent to keep the vendors there in line.

NORRIS: Paula Lavigne is a reporter for ESPN. We've been talking about the story she did for the ESPN Program "Outside the Lines." The name of that story: "What's Lurking In Your Stadium Food?" Paula Lavigne, thanks so much.

Ms. LAVIGNE: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: Among the stadiums with the worst health records was Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, home to baseball's Tampa Bay Rays. There, 100 percent of vendors had at least one critical or major health violation. So we sent a producer to Tropicana Field to find out what fans think of that score.

Unidentified Woman #1: Well, let me just say that we ate dinner before we came here - at someplace other than here.

Unidentified Man #1: On purpose because of that special. Were eating popcorn and drinking drinks right now but yeah, they need to clean up their act on the health issues.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, I think that's that's like...

Unidentified Woman #2: I was okay until you said slime in the ice.

Unidentified Man #3: That's like E. coli. I mean, that's pretty that's bad, sort of like the Ebola virus. That's not good stuff, man.

Unidentified Man #4: I didn't know that. To be honest with you, I don't really I'm not that surprised. I figure that's kind of normal with ballparks. I kind of figure that. It's kind of one of those just things that you kind of figure when you're going to go to a ballpark.

SIEGEL: That was Paul Knapp(ph), Richard Bush(ph), Angela Williams(ph) and Barbara(ph) and Bill Herr(ph), all speaking from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.

NORRIS: And we should say, before we go, that Tropicana Field has addressed all of those critical violations we just mentioned, and none of the facilities cited had to be shut down for repeat offenses.

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