ILLINOIS: Sports fans and food safety
Posted: January 23rd, 2011 - 11:58am
Source: Chicago Tribune
During the Chicago Fire's season at Toyota Park, a local public health official is on site for at least one game to ensure food is safe to eat. She'll stick a thermometer in hot dogs or throw milk away that's been out too long.
It's a practice the village of Bridgeview, which owns the soccer stadium, has maintained since 2006. Similarly, the city of Evanston has inspected Ryan Field, home of Northwestern's football team, before games begin the last two years.
But in Chicago, fans have no such assurances that the food they buy has been checked over. Health officials almost always conduct their inspections of the city's major stadiums during the offseason, when concessions are limited or not operating, a review of city records shows.
At Soldier Field, site of Sunday's Bears-Packers playoff game, the food venues, restrooms and kitchens haven't been inspected during the football season in at least three years, records show. At Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field, regular inspections were held a few days before the Cubs' and White Sox's first home games the last three years.
Meanwhile, no inspections have been recorded in more than a year at the United Center, an apparent violation of the city and state code. Records also show that the city hasn't met minimum inspection rules set by the state for sit-down restaurants at the stadiums and other venues thought to pose the highest risk of causing foodborne illness.
If a city health inspector visits a Chicago stadium in the middle of a season, it is usually in response to a public complaint.
In response to questions submitted by the Tribune, the city issued a statement that said inspections are performed annually before season starts because it provides the "optimal time" to educate food service operators on food safety.
"We are confident in our methods and proud of the work we do to help protect the health of the literally millions of people who eat at our city's sports venues every year," the statement said. "The results speak for themselves: In at least the last 20 years in Chicago (with thousands of professional sporting and entertainment events attended by literally millions of fans), there has not been a confirmed outbreak of foodborne illness linked to a sports stadium in the city."
In contrast, Evanston inspects food venues during the first home game and has returned for follow-up visits, sometimes finding violations involving food temperatures.