By David Abrams and Sean Mussenden
ANNAPOLIS – Health inspection records for the three major league sports stadiums in Maryland show some violations of public health standards, but in Baltimore it’s hard to know what condition food service is in because of sloppy records and infrequent inspections.
Capital News Service conducted an investigation of food preparation and storage inspections dating back as far as three years for Oriole Park at Camden Yards and PSINet football stadium, both in Baltimore, and FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, which opened in Landover in 1997.
An entire season’s worth of inspection reports was missing for PSINet Stadium from the Baltimore City Health Department, CNS found.
The department said it has performed at least one inspection per year since the stadium opened in 1998 with a preseason victory over the Chicago Bears, but it cannot locate half the records.
“I’ve been unable to find them in the office, so they were not put in the folders as they should have been,” said Bernard J. Bochenek, director of the Baltimore Health Department Bureau of Food and Institutional Facilities.
“I’ve given up the search,” he said.
Portions of three years of Baltimore City Health Department inspections for Oriole Park, where the Orioles baseball team plays, were missing.
“How can people tell what kind of inspections they’re doing if they aren’t even keeping records?” said Robyn Gershon, an occupational health and safety researcher at Columbia University’s School of Public Health.
“Clearly we need to have those records available to the public,” said Baltimore Commissioner of Health Peter Beilenson, who restarted the search for the lost records.
In contrast, the Prince George’s County Division of Environmental Health kept all records and more frequently inspected the professional stadium in its territory – FedEx Field.
State regulations require similar training and procedures of different health departments. Inspectors look for a variety of violations regarding proper food temperature and storage, for example, rodent or insect infestation, proper hand-washing procedures by food operators, proper hot water installations in food carts and clean food preparation areas.
No public complaints have been made about PSINet Stadium since it opened in 1998, and no fines have been issued against its food operator, Fine Host Corp.
This year, the Baltimore health inspector conducted only one inspection of PSINet spread over three days. And only one part of that review came on a game day – before an Oct. 22 contest against the Tennessee Titans. The Ravens’ stadium, which seats 69,084, operates during 10 pre-season and regular-season home games.
Camden Yards, catered by Aramark, was inspected only once before 81 home games were played there during the regular season, and never had a regular inspection during a game. The ballpark seats 48,262.
“I’m amazed that they wouldn’t have them weekly,” said Gershon. “Think about the thousands of people who are eating the food there.”
Steven Grover, National Restaurant Association vice president of health and safety regulatory affairs, was an environmental health sanitarian for 15 years in Virginia. He was surprised by the infrequency of inspections in Baltimore.
The rate of inspections should depend on the volume of food served, he said. He performed monthly summer inspections during concerts at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va.
The frequency of inspections is appropriate, Beilenson said, and explained that the resources of the city health department are limited. Baltimore inspects according to whether a facility is high- or low- risk, not relative to the number of people served.
“We have to inspect over 6,000 food places with 16 inspectors, so that comes out to about 20,000 to 25,000 inspections per year,” he said.
The stadium gets lower priority, Beilenson said, in order to focus on thousands of restaurants that operate daily in the city.
Despite infrequent inspections, Baltimore inspectors did find violations this season at the facility. Five inspection reports indicated evidence of mice or insect infestation. At one food stand, an inspector noted “droppings throughout, dead roaches throughout.”
Bochenek said the observations did not constitute a major problem.
The Ravens declined to comment on the CNS findings, stating that they do not prepare the food at the stadium. Fine Host Corp., the stadium’s food operator, did not return repeated calls.
Several health experts said while the goal is to have no evidence of infestation, such things do occur. The key element is whether or not there was any evidence of rodent contact with food, they said, which Baltimore records did not indicate.
Although health departments for Baltimore and Prince George’s County generally follow the same state laws – mandating licensing for health inspectors, for example – they differ in execution.
Prince George’s County inspectors conducted frequent inspections. Their records were complete, organized and detailed. They also recorded more violations and issued more fines.
FedEx Field has had four random game-day inspections this year of its two vendors Ridgewells catering and Volume Services America, and more during other events.
Several reports indicated evidence of significant rodent infestation in 1998 and 1999. The Redskins were fined $300 for operating the “loge” area after it was ordered closed due to rodent infestation problems.
Redskins officials said the fine was before the change of ownership and that no fines regarding rodent infestation have issued in the last two years.
Last year, the team brought in a private contractor to address the problem. The exterminator found evidence of mice in the main kitchen, in janitorial rooms and in trash and storage areas. In 1999, five reports listed such violations.
Alan R. Heck, chief inspector for the Prince George’s County Division of Environmental Health, said the infestation was a significant problem, but the stadium took appropriate steps to fix it.
“We discovered a mouse infestation essentially when the stadium was still under construction,” Heck said.
Then the $15 million in improvements to seating and escalators last year invited mice in from the cold, Heck said.
“I think it was a combination of inattention of construction workers and the cold snap,” he said.
Since the team changed ownership last year, no reports of infestation have occurred.
Food safety experts said the multiple violation notices, follow- ups and fines – although not serious problems – were an indication that inspectors were performing their jobs correctly.
Redskins Senior Vice President Karl Swanson said significant efforts have been made to comply with health regulations.
“When we took control of the stadium last year,” he said, “we noted some areas that needed to be improved, and we’ve clearly fixed them.”