KSL Investigates: Could Your Stadium Food Make You Sick?

Oct 3, 2019, 10:45 PM | Updated: Oct 4, 2019, 10:15 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Rodent droppings, dirty ice machines and food that’s growing mold — these are things you don’t see when you go to a concert or football game, but health inspectors do.

So what were the most critical violations at Utah’s stadiums and venues? And who fared the best and the worst? The KSL Investigators examined hundreds of health inspection reports to find out if your stadium food could be making you sick.

Stephen Kirlew and Lyman Winn were attending a show at USANA Amphitheater in August and had a bad experience with a chicken sandwich.

“It just started becoming more like jelly and more kind of tough, like you know the feeling of raw chicken,” Kirlew said. “I had to look and that was what disgusted me. It was completely raw in the middle.”

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They took it back to the vendor and got the impression that it had happened before.

“When we brought it back to her she yelled back and said, ‘we have another one!’ Winn said. “So I don’t know if that was the second one or if that could have been the tenth one. We have no idea.”

Hayley Shaffer is a food inspector for the Salt Lake County Health Department who checks big venues about once a year to make sure their food is safe. Shaffer said raw chicken sandwich was definitely not safe and would be considered a critical health violation.

“If you were to eat raw chicken, there’s a very high chance you would get salmonella,” Shaffer said.

The KSL Investigators examined nearly 500 health inspection reports from stadiums and other big event centers in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis, Weber and Cache counties. They looked at 14 major venues in total and over 1,800 violations over the past five years.

Here are some examples of what they found:

  • “A rodent bait station not covered” at Rio Tinto Stadium
  • “The meat slicer unclean to sight and touch” at the Maverick Center
  • A complaint that a caramel apple was mold on the inside and gave two people food poisoning at Lagoon
  • “A container previously used to store poisonous or toxic materials being used to store food” at Hogle Zoo
  • “Rat droppings behind the stove” at Hogle Zoo

Shaffer said in the case of a zoo, rodent droppings were not a big deal.

“They have tons of animals and they’re feeding those animals all day,” Shaffer said. “That’s going to bring in rodents.”

However, this violation is a big deal.  The Dippin’ Dots station at Hogle Zoo was the only spot at any of the venues that health inspectors actually shut down for a short time. It was closed for lack of hand wash water.

“If we show up to do an inspection at a temporary booth, at a concession stand, a food truck and you don’t have hand washing, sorry, you’re closed,” Shaffer said.

One of the most common violations was dirty ice machines or ice bins. An inspection at Cowabunga Bay took it to a new level though, citing “the ice machine is unclean with deposits of pink slime mold.”

“Bacteria likes to be where it’s dark and moist,” Shaffer said. “It’s an ice machine so it grows prolifically in the cracks and crevices of an ice machine.”

Another common violation at all the stadiums and venues and potentially the most dangerous was “food not being stored at the correct temperature.”

“Sometimes we see temperature violations and that could get someone very sick,” Shaffer said.

So how did the venues stack up against each other? Since every county’s health department has a different system, KSL ranked* eight locations in Salt Lake County to compare apples to apples.  Here’s how they fared:

  1. Vivint Smart Home Arena: 6.24
  2. Rio Tinto Stadium: 8.25
  3. Smith’s Ballpark: 8.44
  4. Rice-Eccles Stadium: 9.33
  5. Hogle Zoo: 14.42
  6. Maverick Center: 14.95
  7. USANA Amphitheater: 16.8
  8. Cowabunga Bay: 29.85

(*Average individual inspection score; more violated led to a higher score)

Quick disclaimer, while Vivint Smart Home Arena had the best overall average scores, it also only had two years worth of data versus five because of new ownership. One location at the arena had one of the worst overall inspection scores and that was Cubby’s. But Shaffer chalks that up to a learning curve.

“A lot of their violations came from just the mass amount of people they were trying to serve,” she said.

All in all, health inspectors say Utah’s stadiums and venues are very clean and very safe, as far as food goes.  But as a consumer, there are two main things you should watch for:

“Handwashing and bare hand contact,” said Shaffer. “If someone is handling your corndog with their bare hands, ask for another one.”

The Salt Lake County Health Department has all of its inspections online for every stadium and restaurant, so you can always check them out and decide for yourself if you want to eat there.

Here is a detailed list of violations KSL found at all 14 venues we checked.

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KSL Investigates: Could Your Stadium Food Make You Sick?