Major League stadiums contain a variety of food safety problems that most fans do not know or would prefer not to think about. From poor employee hygiene practices to food held at dangerous temperatures, health inspectors consistently find – and correct – a great number of issues when they inspect stadiums year after year.
A recent report in Sports Illustrated explored which Major League Baseball stadiums had the safest food and revealed that nearly a third of the league’s stadiums had more than 100 total violations, with 18 ballparks displaying critical violations in at least a quarter of their concession stands. (See chart below.)
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Inaccessible Sinks and Hand Cleanliness a Common Problem
In 2017 health department inspections, nearly every stadium was cited for inaccessible hand sinks or hand sinks that were missing soap or paper towels, and one common violation was the lack of gloves.
MLB Stadium Food Safety Rankings Chart
Sports Illustrated used data from 28 local health departments to compile a comprehensive ranking of ballpark food safety across the league based on the most recent inspection of the stadium.
|1||Safeco Field - |
|Total violations: 5 | Critical violations: 1
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: .08 | Entities inspected: 72
The lone critical violation was for food held at an improper temperature. Two minor violations were cited for utensils stored improperly.
Source: Public Health - Seattle & King County
|2||Fenway Park - |
Boston Red Sox
|Total violations: 30 | Critical violations: 2
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: .56 | Entities inspected: 57
Notable citations being a dirty ice machine and a broken dishwasher. One caveat is that this round of inspections occurred at the end of March and start of April—meaning that many of the 57 inspected stands weren’t actively serving food at the time of the walkthroughs.
Source: City of Boston
|3||Minute Maid Park – |
|Total violations: 28 | Critical violations: 9
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: .64 | Entities inspected: 58
Most of the issues in Houston were structural deficiencies, like floor tiles in need of fixing or doors that don’t close without some maneuvering. Critical violations included one stand that reused popcorn buckets and another with an inaccessible hand sink. Employees were also observed drinking from open cups in a food prep area.
Source: City of Houston
|4||Coors Field – |
|Total violations: 29 | Critical violations: 27
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: .68 | Entities inspected: 82
Despite the fact that most of its violations are critical, Coors Field makes it into the top five because of its large number of inspected stands. One of the major problems at the stadium was rodents. Dozens of droppings were observed in both the main kitchen and the warehouse. Other issues included employees who couldn’t answer the investigator’s food safety questions and hand sinks that were inaccessible or lacked soap.
Source: City of Denver
|5||Chase Field – |
|Total violations: 44 | Critical violations: 23
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: .83 | Entities inspected: 81
A number of issues regarding employee hygiene. In one violation, two employees didn’t wash hands after using their cell phones. In another, an employee cleaned their hands with a paper towel only, rather than with soap at a hand sink. Two other employees handled cash, and then directly started serving food. Chase Field would have fared even better if not for Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles, which tallied seven violations by itself.
Source: Maricopa County Environmental Services
|6||Busch Stadium – |
St. Louis Cardinals
|Total violations: 38 | Critical violations: 12
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: .83 | Entities inspected: 60
Multiple concession stands in St. Louis were dinged for a lack of hot water at their hand sinks. Four stations lacked water, while another two sinks were inaccessible due to items stored inside of them. Busch had few citations related to improper food temperatures.
Source: City of St. Louis
|7||Rogers Centre – |
Toronto Blue Jays
|Total violations: 38 | Critical violations: 19
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: .97 | Entities inspected: 59
Toronto would be even higher on this list if it just had some thermometers. Nine of its critical violations came from a failure to provide thermometers in station storage compartments. Most of the non-critical problems had to do with improper cleaning of equipment and various surfaces.
Source: City of Toronto
|8||Wrigley Field – |
|Total violations: 36 | Critical violations: 8
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.02 | Entities inspected: 43
While Wrigley registered the third-fewest critical violations, the iconic ballpark missed out on a top-five finish because it only had 43 inspected stands. The critical issues involved either foods at improper temperatures (tomatoes and lettuce 55° , potato salad 50° , Italian beef 115° and beef sandwiches 105° ) or improper rodent- and insect-proofing measures on kitchen doors. No rodent activity was observed. Inspectors did ultimately dispose of 25 pounds of food. Over half of the inspected entities, though, registered no violations.
Source: City of Chicago
|9||PNC Park –|
|Total violations: 44 | Critical violations: 21
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.07 | Entities inspected: 61
Almost half of the total violations at PNC were critical, and most dealt with foods at dangerous temperatures. Entire coolers were measured at 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The USDA requires cold food be kept at 40 degrees or below. A quick rundown of some problematic foods: Noodles (48F), sliced cheese (47F), cut tomatoes (48°), hot dogs (46°), veggie burgers (48°) and guacamole (47°).
Source: Allegheny County Health Department
|10||Miller Park – |
|Total violations: 58 | Critical violations: 34
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.18 | Entities inspected: 78
Many of the findings here were related to food at dangerous temperatures, along with missing thermometers, improper sanitizer concentration and expired food. Three concession stands had at least seven violations each. Four ice machine units visibly soiled with mold on the interior.
Source: City of Milwaukee Health Dept.
|11||Marlins Park – |
|Total violations: 38 | Critical violations: 18
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.22 | Entities inspected: 46
Most of the Marlins Park concessions stands haven’t been inspected yet during the 2017 season, with 33 of the 46 inspections coming in July 2016. The biggest culprit driving violation numbers is the Clevelander, a left field venue that features a pool, a bar and seven critical violations from its April inspection. The inspector temporarily required the Clevelander to stop selling food until it fixed its numerous issues (the problems were resolved quickly and it was able to sell food again within the same day). Many of the stadium’s other violations involved a lack of hand washing or cooked meats held at less than 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
Source: Florida Dept. of Business and Professional Regulation
|12||Citizens Bank Park – |
|Total violations: 88 | Critical violations: 17
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.24 | Entities inspected: 85
Food prep “carried out on top of a trash receptacle” and cold pepperoni 10 degrees warmer than allowed were among the variety of violations found in a series of April inspections. Eighty-five food entities were inspected at the ballpark. Many of the violations focused on general cleanliness, with things like dish racks stored on the floor, grease accumulation on surfaces below a flat top grill and food utensils kept in close proximity to the mop sink. Some food prep violations were also marked, including boxes of beef patties, bags of rolls and packages of cheeses observed wet from a condensation leak.
Source: City of Philadelphia
|13||SunTrust Park – |
|Total violations: 63 | Critical violations: 38
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.28 | Entities inspected: 79
Many of the critical violations involved food at dangerously hot or cold temperatures, including pico de gallo (52F) and cooked pork (122F). Fresh potatoes at the Potato Cutter Stand near section 138 were observed being prepped and diced without having been washed. Food at one of the taco stands was found date marked April 30. One employee was observed handling money, then serving ice cream, then putting candy in her mouth.
Source: Georgia Dept. of Public Health
|14||AT&T Park – San Francisco Giants||Total violations: 88 | Critical violations: 56
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.31 | Entities inspected: 110
A league-high 110 individual food and drink establishments were inspected at AT&T in April of this year. The city publishes the general violations, rather than individualized observations. This limits the specificity of the reports, but one of the most common was inadequate and inaccessible handwashing facilities. There were also eight instances of vermin infestation that inspectors noted—one high risk, six moderate risk and one low risk. The most recent inspections show a sharp uptick in total stands with at least one critical violation. That number is over 39%.
Source: San Francisco Dept. of Public Health
|15||Petco Park – |
San Diego Padres
|Total violations: 119 | Critical violations: 9
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.35 | Entities inspected: 95
The County of San Diego is more lenient with holding temperatures, which likely led to fewer critical violations. If food is within 5 degrees of the hot food requirement or within 10 degrees of the cold food requirement, the violation is minor. In contrast, food that varies from the required level by even one degree is critical almost everywhere else. All of San Diego’s critical violations deal with either improper food temperatures or problematic handwashing facilities.
Source: County of San Diego
|16||Citi Field – |
New York Mets
|Total violations: 65 | Critical violations: 26
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.63 | Entities inspected: 56
A full inspection of 56 food and beverage entities at Citi Field in mid-June this year revealed that only seven stations went without a violation against them. Of the critical violations, many were related to cold food items being held at dangerous temperatures. In non-critical issues, though, there were 26 instances of “non-food contact surface or equipment improperly maintained.” New York City doesn’t publish the detailed observations from inspectors.
Source: New York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene
|17||Kauffman Stadium – |
Kansas City Royals
|Total violations: 97 | Critical violations: 50
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.67 | Entities inspected: 88
Sanitization and food temperature issues highlighted the critical violations in Kansas City, which has faced its fair share of food safety problems over the years. Citations from April inspections include bread rolls at a buffet without a sneeze shield, ice scoop handles touching ice and an employee contacting ready-to-eat sandwich items with bare hands.
Source: City of Kansas City, Mo.
|18||Guaranteed Rate Field – |
Chicago White Sox
|Total violations: 48 | Critical violations: 28
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.77 | Entities inspected: 43
Cold food held up to 30 degrees above regulated temperature? Dozens of mice droppings in multiple locations? Flies under prep tables? Other critical problems related to poor hygienic practices, like missing or inaccessible hand sinks or employees not washing hands before putting on new gloves. The stadium also failed its first inspection last year, before improving in follow-ups.
Source: City of Chicago
|19||Great American Ball Park – |
|Total violations: 55 | Critical violations: 27
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.91 | Entities inspected: 43
Forty-three food establishments were inspected at Great American Ball Park in May and June of this year, and inspectors found a myriad of different problems around the stadium. Many of them were clustered at certain stands, as seven stations incurred at least three violations. Nine were cited for leaking appliances, whether from a hand sink or below the dish machine. One dish machine was only heating up to 120°, about 60 degrees cooler than temperatures that effectively sanitize dishes. Nearly half of the investigated entities registered at least one critical violation.
Source: City of Cincinnati
|20||Globe Life Park at Arlington – |
|Total violations: 109 | Critical violations: 43
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.95 | Entities inspected: 78
A wide range of violations were observed in a mid-May inspection at Globe Life Park, but issues with holding temperatures, employee hygiene and sanitizer stood out. One employee was observed using a cell phone, before performing job duties without changing gloves or washing hands. Employees at two other food entities did not wash hands when changing tasks. A live roach was observed at one location, and the inspector required the workers to contact pest control.
Source: City of Arlington
|21||Yankee Stadium – |
New York Yankees
|Total violations: 57 | Critical violations: 24
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 2.19 | Entities inspected: 37
Yankee Stadium led the league with critical violations (62% of its stands), and an infestation of flies highlighted the inspections from late July in the Bronx. Inspectors handed out citations at over a dozen food entities around the ballpark for observation of flies and improper vermin-proofing. The city doesn’t give detailed observations in its reports, but nearly a quarter of the stadium’s violations came from improper maintenance for non-food surfaces.
Source: New York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene
|22||Target Field – |
|Total violations: 131 | Critical violations: 43
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 2.32 | Entities inspected: 75
Many of the citations from the mid-June inspection noted that cold, potentially hazardous foods were being held at too warm temperatures. The Minnesota Department of Health does not offer specific observations in its public data reports, only noting the codes that have been broken. There were also multiple observations of employees consuming food, using an unapproved beverage containers or using tobacco in food preparation or washing areas.
Source: Minnesota Dept. of Health
|23||Angel Stadium of Anaheim – |
Los Angeles Angels
|Total violations: 59 | Critical violations: 12
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 2.54 | Entities inspected: 28
Angel Stadium had a low number of stands inspected this season, but there were a wide range of issues across the ballpark, including hot items held nearly 40 degrees below required temperature and food residue in an ice machine. Food was observed being stored on the floor. The Diamond Club Kitchen was home to the highest concentration of health problems, with 12 total violations found during an April inspection. The stadium had two separate violations for dead cockroaches or other insects observed on the floor.
Source: Orange County Health Care Agency
|24||Nationals Park – |
|Total violations: 49 | Critical violations: 18
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 2.79 | Entities inspected: 24
The low total of inspected vendors drops D.C. down this list—the most recent inspections at Nationals Park came the day after the 2017 home opener, and inspectors only canvassed 24 total entities. Nearly all of them registered at least one violation, and many were critical. Multiple refrigeration units were not holding temperature correctly, allowing numerous cold food items to be held at improper temperatures. Two handwashing sinks were missing soap and some of the vendors failed to provide thermometers at their stands.
Source: D.C. Dept. of Health
|25||Dodger Stadium – |
Los Angeles Dodgers
|Total violations: 247 | Critical violations: 60
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 3.23 | Entities inspected: 95
Almost 250 total violations were tallied at Dodger Stadium, nearly one-fourth of which were critical. The LA County health department doesn’t list inspector observations, instead noting only the general health code violated. The most common violations dealt with food holding temperatures, equipment in ill repair and unclean nonfood contact surfaces. There were also a handful of stands in the website’s database that showed total violations, but didn’t offer a breakdown of critical vs. non-critical.
Source: County of Los Angeles Public Health
|26||Oriole Park at Camden Yards – |
|Total violations: 264 | Critical violations: 15
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 3.67 | Entities inspected: 76
Baltimore racked up a league-leading 264 violations in its March, 2017 inspection. Since baseball season had yet to start, most of the violations don’t have to do with the food itself and are not critical. The critical violations deal primarily with access to hot water at various hand sinks. Delaware North, the company that runs concessions at Camden Yards, wrote in a statement that the water had not been turned on in the building before the inspection and all the issues raised were fixed before opening day. Rodent infestation was observed at multiple stands and classified as non-critical violations.
Source: Baltimore City Health Dept.
|27||Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum – |
|Total violations: 131 | Critical violations: 63
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 3.96 | Entities inspected: 49
Most of the Coliseum has gone uninspected so far this season, but a total of 49 food and drink entities have been investigated using data from 2016 onward. Nearly every stand had at least one violation, and almost 60% had at least one critical violation. Things were, for the most part, bad. There were signs of vermin, food kept at unsafe temperatures and handwashing facilities in ill repair. A common violation was for facilities not equipped with sanitation measurement testing equipment. Alameda County does not specify inspector observations.
Source: Alameda County Environmental Health
|28||Tropicana Field – |
Tampa Bay Rays
|Total violations: 241 | Critical violations: 105
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 5.58 | Entities inspected: 62
With a staggering 105 critical violations in 2017, Tropicana Field brings up the rear in our rankings. Two food entities (the catering kitchen and the stand outside Section 303) tallied over 20 violations each. Violations ranged from the observed presence of live insects to black mold accumulating inside an ice bin. An employee was observed handling hot dogs and cash without washing hands in between.
Source: Florida Division of Business and Professional Regulation
Note: Two public records requests went unfulfilled in Sports Illustrated’s reporting for this project.
- The City of Detroit Law Department was unable to fulfill a request for inspection data by the time of publication. Those records fall under the Detroit Health Department.
- The Cleveland Department of Public Health data request went unfulfilled by time of publication.
Update: A day after the report found that Tropicana Field had the worst food safety in Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays and its concessions partner both responded with separate statements. In a statement to local TV station Fox 13, the Rays said: “Each aspect of the fan experience is very important to us and that includes food quality and safety. We understand that Centerplate has taken corrective action for all of these violations and will be taking additional steps to ensure food safety. Moving forward, we will be working cooperatively with both Centerplate and Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation officials to provide even greater oversight of the nightly concessions operations.”
MLB Stadium Food Safety Rankings Chart – Definitions
- Violations: Observed practices that break a municipality’s food code. For example, broken equipment or evidence of rodents. The median number of violations across the league was 58.
- Critical violations: Citations linked to the spread of foodborne illnesses or, if an inspector had not been there to correct the violation, could have led to these risk factors. Health departments determine violation severity and mark that on inspection reports. Some divide violations into three categories, using terminology similar to “Priority,” “Priority foundation” and “Basic.” The first two are critical in our report. The median number of critical violations across the league was 24.
- Ballpark Food Safety Rating: A metric we created to rank each ballpark based on the results of its latest inspection. The rate equals non-critical violations plus critical violations (with a multiplier of two) divided by total inspected food or beverage entities. The critical multiplier gives greater emphasis to violations that are linked to the spread of foodborne illnesses. The median rate across the league was 1.33.
- Food entity: Any concession stand, kitchen, restaurant or other location within a ballpark that serves or handles food and beverages.
- Timeframe: All data is from the stadium’s most recent inspection in 2017, except two stadiums that have not had full inspections this year (Marlins Park and the Oakland Coliseum). Data since summer 2016 was used for those. New violations found on follow-ups prompted by a routine inspection were included.
MLB Stadium Food Safety Rankings Chart – Questions
- How was this data compiled? Health inspection records are public, and most health departments have online databases. Some municipalities, however, either leave out key details in their reports or fail to provide a public database altogether. Additional documents had to be requested from one-third of the local governments in which the league operates.
- Is this an assessment of a stadium’s food safety right now? These numbers are a look at a stadium’s food safety conditions during a single inspection, the most recent one. On any given day, violation numbers could be higher or lower at individual concession stands. Since each stadium has dozens of food entities, these numbers offer an assessment of a ballpark overall.
- Should fans be concerned about the mere presence of a violation? No. Food safety experts say that patterns over time or across multiple concession stands in the same ballpark are most concerning, and are likely to stem from something like a lack of food safety training.
- Are standards the same across the country? It can be difficult to compare ballparks since each city, county and state reports restaurant inspections differently. Nonetheless, all departments follow the food code set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which offers a consistent model. Health department representatives said that inspections are largely standardized. Some violations, though, did mean different things in different municipalities. For example, a walk-in refrigerator that didn’t have a thermometer was a non-critical violation in Anaheim and Oakland, whereas it was critical in Toronto and D.C.
Examples of critical or major food safety violations:
- Temperature: Letting hot or cold foods reach temperatures at which dangerous bacteria can grow, or not cooking hot foods to a temperature sufficient to kill bacteria.
- Cross-contamination: Exposing cooked foods to raw foods, such as using a cutting board to chop chicken and then using that same board to cut ready-to-eat tomatoes.
- Hygiene: Employees not washing their hands or changing their gloves after touching their face, using the restroom, or handling something that might make hands dirty.
- Equipment: Kitchens lacking hot or cold water for hand washing or dish cleaning; refrigerators not keeping cold foods cool enough; and holding units, such as heat lamps, that don’t keep cooked food hot enough.
- Rodent or insect contamination: Evidence that rats, mice, cockroaches, flies or other pests have been contaminating work surfaces or food.