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ESPN issues disturbing report on sports venue food, including worrisome Detroit details (UPDATED)
Posted 7/26/2010 9:37 AM EDT on crainsdetroit.com
Apparently, the football played by the Detroit Lions is not the only gross thing at Ford Field.
A new report by ESPN runs down health department inspection reports from the 107 stadiums used by the four U.S. major leagues, and Ford Field is listed at 70 percent of vendors with violations.
"Inspectors cited one location 11 times in the past six years after seeing employees who didn't wash their hands. At another stand, they found an employee's half-eaten hamburger in a warming unit," the network reported about the downtown Detroit football stadium.
I left messages seeking comment on the report from the Lions, the Detroit Tigers/Red Wings (who share the same corporate media relations) and the Detroit Pistons. The Lions indicated that its concessionaire, Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, will be responding to the report. (UPDATE: Statement is below)
Levy is owned by Charlotte, N.C.-based Compass Group North America and handles food service for dozens of major league ballparks and entertainment venues. (UPDATE: See bottom of this blog post for a statement from Levy)
Palace Sports & Entertainment, management company for the Detroit Pistons, hired Levy Restaurants in June 2009 to handle food service and hospitality at the three venues it owns or manages — the Palace of Auburn Hills, DTE Energy Music Theatre and Meadow Brook Music Festival.
Ilitch Holdings, which manages city-owned Joe Louis Arena and city-county owned Comerica Park, has a contract with Buffalo-based Sportservice (owned by parent Delaware North Companies) to handle food service for Tigers games.
Wendy Watkins, vice president of corporate communications for Delaware North, is trying to get a statement from the company's general manager. (UPDATE: Statement is below)
"The other thing they were trying to determine is how ESPN came up with their methodology to rate the percentage of critical violations," she said in an e-mail to me this morning. "I can tell you that the relationship between the local health inspector and the operations are generally very good. Typically through detailed daily and hourly audits by the operations staff, there are usually very few to no significant issues identified during the health inspection and if there is an issue, it is corrected immediately. I would think that the Detroit health inspector would support that fact."
The ESPN report notes the difficulty of serving so many fans under such conditions, and that no major outbreak of foodborne illness has been linked to stadium food. Sources in the story also say most violations are corrected on the spot, and that the term "critical violation" can sound more serious than it really is. There also can be differences in how serious violations are considered state by state.
Basically, some people have gotten sick, but thus far there's been no national trend of people dropping dead or having their guts crippled because of rancid stadium hot dogs. The report cites experts who say things could be better.
Concessions generate millions of dollars in revenue for pro sports teams.
The full ESPN report can be found here. There's also a link to a list of all venues by state here.
I'll save you some time. Here's what the report says verbatim about the four Michigan venues:
~ Comerica Park
Vendors with critical violations: 51%
Inspection report excerpt: When inspectors measured the temperature of some cod at a high-end stadium club, it was 68 degrees -- more than 25 degrees warmer than required; inspectors demanded it be discarded.
~ Ford Field
Vendors with critical violations: 70%
Inspection report excerpt: Inspectors cited one location 11 times in the past six years after seeing employees who didn't wash their hands. At another stand, they found an employee's half-eaten hamburger in a warming unit.
~ Joe Louis Arena
Detroit Red Wings
Vendors with critical violations: 52%
Inspection report excerpt: Poisonous or toxic materials were stored atop items used to serve customers, posing a potential risk of contamination. Inspectors also found roaches below a soda dispenser at one location.
~ The Palace of Auburn Hills
Vendors with critical violations: 31%
Inspection report excerpt: Inspectors found food debris on a countertop slicer, which was a repeat critical violation for this stand.
That all said, it's interesting that ESPN issues this report now. It's guaranteed to garner attention in a sort of public service journalism way ... and could deflect the ongoing criticism of the network over its participation in the sordid LeBron James telecast "The Decision" -- something that resulted in ESPN getting savaged by critics.
STATEMENT FROM LEVY/PALACE SPORTS: "The Palace of Auburn Hills and Levy Restaurants are focused on providing our guests with memorable and safe dining experiences and our top priority is to ensure the health and safety of all our fans. We are committed to food safety in our operations and we have a solid food safety and sanitation program in place to provide the proper employee training, safety procedures and food handling techniques required to meet or exceed our standards as well as those of the local health department. We anticipate the Health Department's regular visits as another set of eyes to ensure our operations are delivering consistent safe experiences for our fans."
STATEMENT FROM SPORTSERVICE (from Jeff Behr, the firm's general manager at Comerica Park): "Food safety is a top priority for Sportservice at Comerica Park. Sportservice has been the food service partner of the Detroit Tigers for 80 years, and we have decades of experience serving millions of fans and a proven track record of providing safe, high-quality food options as part of a great game-day experience. We are vigilant in ensuring that Tigers fans are enjoying food that meets very high standards and is prepared and served in a very safe environment. As a global food service provider, we are committed to continuous enhancement of our safety practices through ongoing investment in training, equipment and other quality assurance programs and safeguards such as ServSafe certification. At Comerica Park, Sportservice’s highly trained chefs and managers oversee hundreds of associates working in a vast food service operation, with dozens of kitchens, concession stands and portable food and beverage carts, plus several restaurants and clubs. Sportservice works closely with city health inspectors to correct any problems that are identified, most of them immediately. The standards we are meeting are very high, and most of the issues that are noted are relatively minor and not a significant threat to health and safety. They are relatively few in number when considering the scope of our operation."
STATEMENT FROM LEVY/DETROIT LIONS: "Ford Field has always been committed to the highest food service standards in the industry. In conjunction with Levy Restaurants, our food service partner, we will continue to make food safety, food quality and service to our customers our top priorities. Over the past year we served more than 1 million fans at Ford Field. Our commitment to those fans is to provide memorable and safe dining experiences each time they visit Ford Field. Ford Field, through Levy Restaurants, utilizes a third-party external vendor to audit our food safety and sanitation operations on a regular basis. These unscheduled reviews are considered an industry best practice. We also take immediate action to address and correct any suggestions for improvement the Health Department provides. The safety of our guests and our team members is our top priority and we follow a strict food safety and sanitation program."
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