How Do Houston’s Stadiums Stack Up in Food Safety?

by Terry Bryant

When you’re cheering on the Texans, Astros, or Rockets, grabbing a hot dog or nachos, or trying the latest “haute cuisine”, stadium fare is almost a prerequisite. Most Houstonians would agree that food makes every game better. But just because stadium food tastes good, it unfortunately doesn’t always mean it is safe to eat. Late last year, ESPN released a food safety review based on over 16,000 routine inspection reports from 2016 and 2017 of all 111 football, baseball, basketball, and hockey pro sports venues in North America.

Where did Houston’s venues rank?

Happily, NRG Stadium, home of the Texans, was No. 3 for safety among all venues and No. 1 for safety among NFL stadiums, with fewer than 5% of its food service vendors receiving violations. However, over two years there were about a dozen complaints to health inspectors, including for alleged rat and roach infestations and customers becoming ill after eating various foods. On February 5, 2017, several hot foods measured below required levels in the service kitchen, and on May 23 of that year health inspectors asked that a greasy floor be cleaned at one stand.

In contrast, Minute Maid Park ranked No. 43 overall. High-level violations were found at 20 of the 70 food outlets inspected, or nearly one-third. Some of the findings at the Astros stadium, all from 2016, included black slime in the ice bins of two different vendors—the vendors were told to dispose of the ice–and employees with poorly groomed and uncovered facial hair handling food, on August 17, and a roach stuck in tape that was used to mount a photograph at a food stand, on August 18.

As for the Toyota Center, according to ESPN’s reporting, there was not enough vendor data to rank the venue because the health department wrote up its report for the entire facility in a way that couldn’t be broken out.

The Worst and the Best

What was the overall worst stadium in North America for food safety violations? That “dishonor” goes to Spectrum Center, home of the Charlotte Hornets. Out of 25 food service outlets inspected, 23 had high-level violations.

The top-ranked sports venue for food safety was Oracle Arena, home of the Golden State Warriors. Out of 89 food stands inspected, just one had a high-level violation.

Food Poisoning Stats

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses every year in the U.S. Stadium food may be particularly risky because such large amounts need to be stored and prepared. A single contaminated food item could lead to a lot of people getting sick.

To lower your risk of food poisoning at games, here are some tips:

  • Carefully inspect and smell food before eating it. If anything looks or smells unappetizing or unfamiliar, don’t eat it. Be sure to check children’s foods, too.
  • If you bite into something that tastes sour or somehow off, don’t finish it. And don’t return it to the vendor for a replacement of the same food. If you bite into a meat product and it appears raw, spit it out right away. Salmonella poisoning from chicken and E. coli from uncooked meats are very serious.
  • Observe food service workers while they handle your food. Also, look at the food stand itself. If workers look unhygienic or the stand appears dirty, avoid it.

If you are the unfortunate victim of food poisoning, the experienced attorneys at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law are here to help. Call us at 1 (800) 444-5000 or contact us through our online form.