Outside the Lines reporter Paula Lavigne surveyed health department reports for all 107 professional U.S. sports stadiums and found the Verizon Center at the bottom of the list. Health records showed critical violations at every vendor in the arena. An excerpt from the stadium health inspection summary for the District uses two words that no one wants to hear when he's eating: "mice droppings."
"Mice droppings, a critical violation in Washington, were found at at least 10 vendors," said ESPN's report.
Nationals Park was cited for less gross violations, including one violation for failing to display proper certification. The report did not cover RFK Stadium. At FedEx Field, 36 percent of vendors had critical violations -- a relatively low figure.
Neither of those stadiums is located in Chinatown -- one of the busiest and densest dining and entertainment quarters in the District. Rodents are unacceptable in any dining establishment, yet their presence is also inevitable in an entertainment district like Chinatown.
ESPN's state-by-state breakdown flattens the playing field, so to speak, between stadiums whose environments are dissimilar. The effort to keep pests out of FedEx Field is likely a very different kind of fight at the Verizon Center.
An October 15, 2008, routine food inspection for Levy Restaurants -- one of the companies responsible for concessions at the Verizon Center -- found three critical violations. The health inspector observed a mouse on a trap inside the kitchen as well as roaches. On a follow-up inspection on October 27, the health inspector found no evidence of pests. Other reports from 2008 are available on the D.C. Department of Health website.
University of Maryland Center for Food Safety and Security Systems director Robert Buchanan told ESPN that high rates of critical violations point to either systemic errors in management or in the stadium's infrastructure -- or both.
Yesterday, Verizon Center owner Ted Leonsis -- who six weeks ago acquired the Verizon Center, home to the Wizards, Capitals and Mystics -- responded to the report with a statement he posted on his blog.
"From what I understand, the ESPN report stems from incidents in 2009. These professional inspections are conducted several times throughout the year, are unannounced and are public record," said Leonsis. "When and if issues arise, we will take appropriate action, and from what I understand we have done exactly that in the past."
Only Tropicana Field fared as badly as D.C.'s baskeball and hockey arena. Health inspectors discovered critical violations at all the vendors at both Tropicana Field and the Verizon Center.
Aramark, one of the companies responsible for concessions at the Verizon Center, released its own statement. An excerpt emphasizes management and oversight:
Food safety is our top priority. We have rigorous employee training and quality assurance processes, and we continuously invest to enhance our food safety training, resources and safeguards. Any time we learn of potential issues we take prompt action to investigate and remedy all concerns. Issues raised in past reports were addressed and receive our continued attention.
Lavigne reports that health inspectors from several cities have urged cities and vendors to release their health inspection reports to increase competition between vendors and inform the public.