ESPN Finds Foodborne Illness Risk Associated with Sports Stadium Vendors

In certain sports stadiums and arenas across the country, millions of Americans are inadvertently putting themselves at risk of serious illness when patronizing some concession stands. 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 professional baseball, football, hockey and basketball teams in 2009. In more than a quarter of the venues, half of the concession stands or restaurants had at least one “critical” or “major” health violation cited. Such violations pose a risk for foodborne illnesses that can make someone sick, or, in extreme cases, cause death.

Major violations included food stored at inappropriate temperatures, improper employee hygiene, insufficient kitchen equipment, and cross-contamination of foods, including raw food contaminating ready-to-serve food. Some food preparation surfaces were found to be contaminated with insects or rodent droppings.
Listen up, sports arena food vendors! Even though you have a major challenge to serve a lot of food very quickly, don’t forget about food safety. The process of killing foodborne germs on surfaces takes two easy steps: Cleaning and disinfection. First, surfaces must be washed with hot, soapy water, and rinsed with clear water. This is to remove dirt or food that would interfere with the disinfectant. The second step is disinfection or “killing germs.” This is normally accomplished by applying a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach in one gallon of water to food preparation surfaces. Surfaces can be left to air-dry. Bleach solutions break down over time, so solutions should be re-made by each kitchen or food preparation shift. Bleach and ammonia-containing products should never be combined.

In partnership with the National Environmental Health Association and the American Chemistry Council, the Water Quality and Health Council has developed two new free, user-friendly resources on disinfecting food-contact surfaces, such as countertops and utensils. The Safe Food Depends on a Clean Kitchen poster series was designed for restaurant and institutional kitchens. The poster displays simple directions in steps, available in both English and Spanish, to instruct staff on the proper ways to disinfect the food prep area as well as items in the sink bay.
The resources are featured on the Water Quality and Health Council’s new “Disinfect for Health” website. Posters are easily downloadable.

(Linda Golodner is President Emeritus of the National Consumers League and Vice Chair of the Water Quality and Health Council.)