Monday, 26 July 2010

You Are What You Eat

If there is one thing that makes the game experience better regardless of the sport, it is the food and amenities offered by the team at its home building. Whether we're talking garlic fries at baseball games, taco in a bag at hockey games, or the plethora of other food options at sporting events, there's always a delectable delight for fans to enjoy. Today, however, ESPN decided to pull the curtains back on food prepared at stadiums by exposing the health inspections done for each team's stadium or arena. Some of the findings are startling. Others provide a sense of relief in knowing that you may have eaten there at one time. Needless to say, HBIC wants to show the hockey side of these findings.

What makes me a little disappointed in some of these findings is that we, as fans, spend our hard-earned cash on arena amenities, and we expect high-quality food and drinks with little consideration to the dark underside of the arena's food preparation. That's not to say I'm disappointed in the findings themselves. Instead, I'm disappointed that NHL teams allow some of the horrendous findings to be found. Health is something that all people - Canadians and Americans alike - take very seriously, and you better not mess with our food. Especially comfort foods.

That being said, here are the health inspection rankings for each of the NHL teams. The lower the percentage shown, the better the NHL team did in the health inspection, and that's good for all of us. The score is based on the percentage of vendors in violation of health requirements. Here they are in order of percentage with the health inspector comments, and I'll comment below with my thoughts:

  1. United Center, Chicago Blackhawks - 0%. *
  2. Nassau Coliseum, New York Islanders - 0%.
  3. ScotiabankPlace, Ottawa Senators - 0%.
  4. Scottrade Center, St. Louis Blues - 0%.
  5. Air Canada Centre, Toronto Maple Leafs - 0%.
  6. Honda Center, Anaheim Ducks - 3%. The only major violation was for not having chlorine sanitizer in the kitchen's dishwashing machine.
  7. Bell Centre, Montreal Canadiens - 3%. Food found at an improper temperature.
  8. Prudential Center, New Jersey Devils - 6%. Inspectors noted that at one location, the person in charge "did not demonstrate adequate knowledge of food safety," and the sink lacked soap and paper towels, and there was no sanitizer solution.
  9. HSBC Arena, Buffalo Sabres - 8%. Two critical violations for having a toxic chemical in an unlabeled spray bottle.
  10. Nationwide Arena, Columbus Blue Jackets - 9%. One of the stadium's critical violations was for employees' handling lemons, limes and oranges with their bare hands while placing them on beverage glasses.
  11. GM Place, Vancouver Canucks - 9%. A sushi display cooler was malfunctioning, and the temperature of the sushi rose above safe levels. Inspectors also cautioned one stand regarding properly heating donairs, which have been tied to E. coli outbreaks elsewhere in Canada.
  12. Staples Center, Los Angeles Kings - 11%. One stand dumped 9.5 pounds of sushi after inspectors found that it become too warm.
  13. Pengrowth Saddledome, Calgary Flames - 14%. Utensils and equipment at one location were not being cleaned and sanitized properly.
  14. Wachovia Center, Philadelphia Flyers - 15%. Inspectors found evidence of mouse and fruit fly infestations at one bar location.
  15. XCel Energy Center, Minnesota Wild - 17%. Chicken strips for topping a Caesar salad were found at 105 degrees, when they should have been at least 140 degrees.
  16. HP Pavilion, San Jose Sharks - 20%. At one location, inspectors found Chinese chicken salad had warmed to 60 degrees, about 20 degrees above a safe temperature.
  17. TD Garden, Boston Bruins - 21%. Storing dishwashing chemicals on top of an ice machine resulted in a critical violation for one location.
  18. Rexall Place, Edmonton Oilers - 25%. At one location, workers used contaminated cleaning items.
  19. Arena, Phoenix Coyotes - 33%. Inspectors spotted an employee scooping ice with his bare hands instead of using scoops.
  20. Philips Arena, Atlanta Thrashers - 35%. At a couple of locations, inspectors found food not being protected from contamination.
  21. American Airlines Center, Dallas Stars - 40%. Expired milk, brown lettuce and employees caught drinking or eating while they were working in the stand accounted for some of the stadium's critical violations.
  22. Joe Louis Arena, Detroit Red Wings - 52%. 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.
  23. Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh Penguins - 55%. In one of the arena's higher-end clubs, inspectors found a live cockroach on top of a soda dispenser holster behind the bar.
  24. Bridgestone Arena, Nashville Predators - 59%. Nashville inspectors, who also score vendors, gave the facility's lowest score - 75 - to a vendor with three critical and nine non-critical violations.
  25. Madison Square Garden, New York Rangers - 61%. 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).
  26. RBC Center, Carolina Hurricanes - 67%. 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.
  27. Pepsi Center, Colorado Avalanche - 67%. At one bar, inspectors found phorid flies, sometimes called coffin flies, in a bottle of cognac.
  28. BankAtlantic Center, Florida Panthers - 67%. Inspectors issued several violations for soiled ice bins and coolers.
  29. St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa Bay Lightning - 88%. At one location with five critical violations, an inspector saw an employee handle dirty dishes and then put away clean dishes without washing his/her hands or changing gloves. The same location lacked soap at a hand sink.
  30. Verizon Center, Washington Capitals - 100%. Mice droppings, a critical violation in Washington, were found at at least 10 vendors.
* - Chicago stadiums and arenas were tested while the venue was empty. This may cause a false inspection due to no food being prepared during the inspection.

We even get a chance to check out a few AHL rinks thanks to those teams being tenants in arenas that were reviewed by the health inspectors.
  1. Toyota Center, Houston Aeros - 13%. At one stand, knives were put back into a knife rack without being cleaned.
  2. Quicken Loans Arena, Lake Erie Monsters - 14%. Inspectors found three critical violations at one location for coolers that weren't working, food that was improperly refrigerated or marked with an incorrect date, and an employee who touched food with bare hands.
And, not to forget the Winter Classic games, here are the reviews for the stadiums where the NHL has held and will hold the Winter Classic games.
  1. Wrigley Field, Detroit vs. Chicago - 0%. *
  2. Fenway Park, Philadelphia vs. Boston - 4%. Inspectors found raw steak that had warmed to almost 60 degrees, which was above safe temperatures.
  3. Ralph Wilson Stadium, Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo - 12%. In one case an inspector ordered workers at one stand to toss all hot dogs and sausages because they were too warm while waiting to be cooked.
  4. Heinz Field, Washington vs. Pittsburgh - 61%. Inspectors found employees lacking in overall food-safety knowledge after observing one worker washing his hands with his gloves on. Another location had a gallon of milk that had expired 10 days prior.
* - Chicago stadiums and arenas were tested while the venue was empty. This may cause a false inspection due to no food being prepared during the inspection.

Wow. I mean, what else can be said, right? Wow.

Let me just make a few casual observations here.
  • First, massive kudos go out to the Islanders, Senators, Blues, and Maple Leafs for their commitment to their fans. The other 26 teams should be calling these four teams for information on how to improve their standing on this list.
  • Pittsburgh's track record of food safety must be questioned when two of its venues have over 50% of the vendors in those stadiums in violation of health ordinances. PNC Park, where the Pirates play baseball, scored a 53%. Expired milk and a cockroach might only be the tip of the iceberg.
  • Chicago's seemingly perfect record is definitely not accurate. Don't believe those numbers until the inspectors actually perform an inspection while the games are being played.
  • Florida's two NHL teams apparently have no interest in keeping their fans healthy. This could be one of the reasons the attendance marks in those cities are declining. Soiled ice bins and coolers? No soap? Wow. I'm a little horrified.
  • While I may be a little paranoid about this, anything above 10% is pretty disgusting. If one-in-ten vendors is my mark, what is yours? And if you live in an NHL city, how do you feel about your team's food vendors?
  • Philadelphia's mice and fruit flies, Phoenix's bare-handed ice-scooping, Dallas' expired milk, Detroit's and Pittsburgh's roach issues, New York's MSG mice, and Colorado's coffin flies are enough to turn me off of all arena food vendors in those cities.
  • Does it bother anyone to see a lot of the Sunbelt teams near the bottom of the list? In fact, if it weren't for the California teams, the Coyotes would be the highest of the Sunbelt franchises. Yes, the same Coyotes who had a bare-handed employee scooping up ice.
The scariest part of all of this is that we, as fans, really don't get a say in how our food is handled by the majority of these vendors. A good majority of the time, we walk up to a vendor, and the food that you choose is pre-wrapped in a warming window where the salesperson simply plucks it out of the window and pushes it across the counter. When was it prepared? How was it prepared? Are you sure it has been prepared?

In the ESPN article, a food service worker from Sun Life Stadium near Miami, Florida reported that, "several small insects were mixed into frozen alcoholic beverages at a stand where workers hadn't cleaned equipment". The complaint reads, "'The whole stand needs to be properly inspected before hundreds, if not thousands, of fans (are) subjected to the possibility of becoming ill". Um... how gross is that?

While the inspections in all of these cases vary depending on country, state, and county rules and regulations, the vast majority of major problems - insects, fecal matter, expired food - seem to bring the "critical violation" mark, and that is good to see. I'd like to see harsher penalties for these violations as these are visible and highly-dangerous infractions, but the fact that we are talking about them today makes for a good start. After all, you now might be more inclined to open up your next arena burger and take a look at what's inside. It could just save your life.

I'm not here to tell you not to enjoy your favorite bite or drink at the next game you attend, though. Instead, I just want you to be aware of what you may be ingesting. After all, we're talking about mini-restaurants that pump through thousands of people every night when there is a game. Nicholas Casorio, who was interviewed by ESPN, said, "There's so much volume going through at one time that it's hard to do the necessary things to keep everything clean. Sometimes you sacrifice the cleanliness for expediting the service."

However, Nicholas' last line is the problem: sometimes you sacrifice the cleanliness for expediting the service. Personally, I'd rather wait a few more minutes to get a properly-prepared meal than to have it hurried through the kitchen where mistakes will happen as people "expedite the service". I don't need E. coli or salmonella or staphylococcus aureus or anything else ruining my fan experience, so I beg all vendors at stadiums to take a few more seconds and ensure that things are done right.

There's a reason why good food takes time to be prepared, and arena food can be great food if it is done right.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

***Amazing work done in the ESPN piece by Paula Lavigne, Lindsay Rovegno, and Derrick Pina, and they deserve all the credit for bringing this to light. I applaud their Herculean efforts in bringing this to light!***

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