ESPN report details health, food violations at Detroit sports venues: Here's what they found

Palace of Auburn Hills had some of worst marks

DETROIT – ESPN's Outside the Lines published an in-depth report this week on how clean and safe food is at stadiums and arenas around the country.

ESPN reviewed and collected more than 16,000 food-safety inspection reports from health departments that monitor the 111 professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey facilities across North America. 

"The review of routine inspection reports from 2016 and 2017 found that at about 28 percent of the venues, half or more of the food service outlets incurred a high-level violation -- one that poses a potential threat for foodborne illness."

For Michigan venues, the Palace of Auburn Hills was nearly the worst for highest violations. The venue is now closed. Other venues fared better, including Ford Field and Little Caesars Arena. 

Inspections at some stadium venues turned up a higher percentage of trouble spots than at others. Here are the three venues that had the highest and lowest percentages of outlets where inspectors found at least one or more high-level violations.

Three highest violation rates:

  • Spectrum Center - 92 percent
  • Palace of Auburn Hills - 86.11 percent
  • American Airlines Center - 83.08 percent

Here's where Michigan venues ranked and what ESPN found (Rankings out of 107 total):

No. 106: Palace of Auburn Hills (now closed):

Out-of-date food: Inspectors found a gallon of milk past the expiration date in a cooler and chemicals stored next to bar syrups during a June 23, 2016, inspection. That was one of three priority violations at this location during the inspection.

Copper cup issues: Copper-lined cups were used to serve Moscow mules at a bar on Dec. 21, 2016. Using cups lined only with copper can create a chemical reaction that allows ingestion of the copper, and such cups are banned for use in commercial food service operations by many states' food codes.

Uncovered hair: Inspectors saw employees without hair nets in the club mini-kitchen on June 28, 2017.

No. 77: Joe Louis Arena (now closed):

Raw fish storage: On Feb. 8, 2016, inspectors found raw fish (salmon) stored over cooked mashed potatoes in the walk-in cooler.

Bare hands used: Inspectors saw employees handle cut fruits with bare hands at two different bars during Jan. 31, 2017, inspections.

Uncovered hair: Inspectors saw bearded employees with no nets over their facial hair on Jan. 25, 2017.

No. 61: Comerica Park:

Food too warm: Inspectors found chicken salad and tomatoes at 55 degrees and potato salad and pasta salad at 45 degrees at the Press Box Lounge salad bar on April 13, 2017. Cold foods are to be kept at 41 degrees or less.

Handwashing issue: Inspectors responded to a complaint from a customer who said that on June 16, 2017, while in the restroom she saw a female employee of concession stand exit the restroom without washing her hands, and she followed that same employee back to the concession stand and observed her working with bare, unwashed hands. She stated that the employee was putting pizza toppings in a stainless steel container.

Out-of-date food: On April 12, 2016, inspectors found raw beef over cooked ground beef, which holds a potential for contamination. And on June 8, 2017, inspectors found two, 3-pound containers of sour cream with a use-by date of May 3, 2017.

Related: Ex-Comerica Park worker caught spitting on customer's pizza sentenced to probation

No. 50: Little Caesars Arena:

Out-of-date food: On Oct. 25, 2017, inspectors found lime juice at the bar dated for use by Oct. 11 and raisins and apricots dated for use by Oct. 2 in a cooler.

Food too cold: Inspectors measured fish, beef, chicken and green beans at temperatures ranging from 84 to 133 degrees at the Players Club West. Hot foods are to be held at 135 degrees or above.

Beer in hand sink: Inspectors saw a cup with beer in it sitting in the hand sink at the East Club on Oct. 25, 2017. Sinks designated for handwashing aren't to be used for other purposes.

No. 32: Ford Field

Raw burger contamination: Inspectors saw an employee touch raw hamburger then a hamburger bun without washing hands and changing gloves on Oct. 8, 2017.

Customers didn't use utensils: Inspectors saw customers self-serve condiments without utensils at a concession stand on Oct. 16, 2016, allowing for potential contamination.

Dirty hot chocolate machine: The inside of a hot chocolate machine was dirty at a concession on Oct. 16, 2016. Inspectors ordered that the machine be cleaned on a daily basis.

Being slapped with a high-level violation -- often labeled as "critical," "priority" or "major," depending on the jurisdiction -- does not necessarily mean a venue is unsafe or unsanitary. After all, mistakes happen, no matter whether food is being prepped and served at a stadium kitchen, a fast-food outlet or a fine-dining restaurant. But stadium environments carry unique risks because of the large number of people being served in a short period of time, said Patricia Buck, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention.

Check out the full ESPN report here.

About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.