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Survey: Nassau Coliseum food's OK, but worries at arenas

(June 30, 2010)

(June 30, 2010) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

A nationwide survey of America's sports arenas and stadiums that serve hot dogs, burgers and a smorgasbord of other food and beverages shows some troublesome health violations - including at some of New York's own sports palaces, according to ESPN.

But Long Island's biggest venue, the Nassau Coliseum, home the Islanders, had a perfect record. The Coliseum had no reported health food violations among its vendors, according to ESPN.

Overall, 28 percent of the sports venues surveyed had serious health violations at more than half their concessions, ranging from mouse droppings in food areas to hot dogs not kept hot enough. The sports network reviewed reports for food and beverage outlets at all 107 North American arenas and stadiums that were home to MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL teams in 2009. The survey was based on government health inspection reports.


Private firms responsible

Most of the sports centers rely on private, outside food service companies. Government officials say the food cart owners and other concessionaires are held responsible for any health problems.

While ESPN didn't name the specific concession stands cited by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's restaurant inspection records, the report documented various violations.

At Madison Square Garden, 61 percent of the vendors had critical violations, according to the records reviewed by ESPN. Inspectors there found 53 mouse droppings underneath the cash registers in the front food-preparation/service area and on top of a soft-drink dispensing unit.

At Yankee Stadium, where 48 percent of the vendors had critical violations, inspectors said they found five hot dogs that registered 91 degrees in a hot-holding unit when they were supposed to be no cooler than 140 degrees. ESPN also said inspectors had a vendor dump a bottle of Chivas Regal whiskey containing dead fruit flies.

And at Citi Field, where 45 percent of its vendors had critical violations, inspectors found a handful selling "spoiled, adulterated, contaminated or cross-contaminated" food, the report said.

Spokesmen for all three facilities said they have already addressed the problems.

The individual sports teams and stadium owners are not charged with keeping up the health quality of the food and beverages served to fans, said Celine De Leon, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"We do inspections at least once a year and it's the vendor who is responsible," De Leon said. She said vendors must have both a permit to operate and a health department license showing that the vendor has passed a food safety course.


Scores based on severity

De Leon said the inspection scores depend on the severity of the problem and the ability of the vendor to correct it. Violations can result in fines as determined by the Department's Administrative Tribunal, according to the health department.

Madison Square Garden officials said they would clean up violations there. "We are aware of the report and have worked to correct all of the issues," a spokesman said. "Violations of any kind, no matter how minor some may be, are unacceptable."

Mike Phillips, senior vice president of Legends Hospitality Management, which holds the food contract for Yankee Stadium, said that, "When the issues around food and beverage were pointed out last year, they were immediately remedied."

A spokesman for Aramark, which holds the vendor contract for Citi Field, said that the "issues in past reports have been addressed."

But no violations needed to be addressed at Nassau Coliseum.

"It's exciting that we have one of the better food associations going on here," said Kimber Auerbach, an Islanders spokesman. "When you're trying to put a contender on the ice, it's nice to have the supporting factors keeping up the pace as well."

Howard Saffan, senior vice president for operations for the company that runs the Coliseum's more than 50 concessions, said Nassau County health officials conduct at least four inspections every year.

The two worst venues in the country, according to ESPN's survey, were the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. At each, 100 percent of vendors had at least one violation.

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