Ranking MLB ballparks by food safety inspections
By: Tanner Walters, Sports Illustrated | Photo: ERIC GAY/AP IMAGES
Millions of baseball fans attend ballparks across North America annually, buying some peanuts and Cracker Jack—and hot food, too. But what are they getting themselves into?
Thousands of public inspection records gathered from local health departments in the United States and Canada reveal that food safety varies widely across Major League Baseball’s venues. Inspectors uncovered many concerning practices, from nearly 250 total violations at Dodger Stadium to a single concession stand at Tropicana Field that racked up 25 violations alone. They also found stadiums, like Safeco Field, in stellar condition.
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. Public records requests to Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Detroit’s Comerica Park went unfulfilled by publication, leaving them off this list.
Representatives from health departments across the country explained that violations on their own don’t mean fans should panic, but they should be most wary of violations found across multiple concession stands within a stadium.
You can find the full rankings below, along with how they were made and what they mean. You can also read a separate, detailed look at how consumers should approach ballpark food safety here.
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.
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.
Here is the full ballpark food safety breakdown, with stadiums ranked best to worst:
1.) Safeco Field – Seattle Mariners
Total violations: 5 | Critical violations: 1
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: .08 | Entities inspected: 72
Seattle set the league standard, and it wasn’t close. The lone critical violation was for food held at an improper temperature. Two minor violations were cited for utensils stored improperly. We went back to each stand’s 2016 inspection to see if this year was an outlier. Last year’s results were worse overall—17 total violations, eight of which were critical—but would’ve still snagged first place in our rankings. Congrats, Mariners fans. Enjoy your grasshoppers with peace of mind.
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
Fenway performed well here, with 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. We looked at a midseason inspection from 2016 to see if this year’s numbers were an outlier, and found that there were actually even fewer violations last year.
Source: City of Boston
3.) Minute Maid Park – Houston Astros
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 – Colorado Rockies
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 – Arizona Diamondbacks
Total violations: 44 | Critical violations: 23
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: .83 | Entities inspected: 81
While there are new concerns emerging about Chase Field’s conditions, its number of food violations were relatively low. The 2017 inspections, which were almost entirely carried out in mid-May, highlighted 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. Fifty-nine food entities at Rogers Centre have been inspected this season, with most coming at the end of May and beginning of June. Both inspection days featured home games the same day. Most of the non-critical problems had to do with improper cleaning of equipment and various surfaces.
Source: City of Toronto
8.) Wrigley Field – Chicago Cubs
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 – Pittsburgh Pirates
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 – Milwaukee Brewers
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. About one-third of the inspected food entities were looked at in March before the season started, while the rest were spread between April, May and June.
Source: City of Milwaukee Health Dept.
11.) Marlins Park – Miami Marlins
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 other 13 establishments were inspected earlier this year. 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 – Philadelphia Phillies
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 – Atlanta Braves
Total violations: 63 | Critical violations: 38
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.28 | Entities inspected: 79
In its inaugural year, SunTrust Park had average food safety results relative to its companion stadiums. Nearly all of the inspections were conducted in late May, with a few holdovers the next month, ultimately totaling 79 inspected food establishments. 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. It was discovered May 25, and promptly discarded. 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. A 2014 report from ESPN found that only 4% of the entities at AT&T had a critical violation. That number is now 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. A 2014 report from ESPN found that 62% of the stadium’s vendors had at least one critical violation. Three years later, 31% of the 88 inspected entities have critical violations. While that doesn’t put KC at the top of our list, it’s an improvement. 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? The mid-June inspection at Guaranteed Rate Field revealed a plethora of violations—many critical—in Chicago. 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 – Cincinnati Reds
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 – Texas Rangers
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. Last year, even without a fly problem, Yankee Stadium would have finished in the same spot in our rankings. The ballpark had fewer overall violations but more that were critical, mostly from the restaurants and suites.
Source: New York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene
22.) Target Field – Minnesota Twins
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 – Washington Nationals
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. These were included in the tally, so it is possible our rankings are missing some critical violations. To see if this inspection was an outlier, we analyzed all reports from 2016. The stadium fared better—153 total, 33 critical—but would have remained in the bottom-third of the league.
Source: County of Los Angeles Public Health
26.) Oriole Park at Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles
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. About eight of the stands’ licenses to serve food had expired dating back to 2015.
Source: Baltimore City Health Dept.
27.) Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum – Oakland Athletics
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. An ESPN report from seven years ago found that every inspected stand at Tropicana had at least one critical violation. That number has dropped from 100% to about 50%, but the Tampa Bay stadium still leads the way in eye-popping food safety numbers.
Source: Florida Division of Business and Professional Regulation
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 confirmed our data request on July 12. Numerous follow-up voicemails and emails to multiple members of the department went unanswered until notice of publication. The request went unfulfilled by time of publication.
Original Article Published at Sports Illustrated, August 8, 2017