The food safety manager at Kansas City’s Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums, home to the Royals and the Chiefs, told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that poor food handling and dirty conditions have routinely been putting fans’ health at risk — including during the World Series. In addition, a city health department inspection completed Nov. 3 found dozens of critical health code violations at the facilities, according to documents obtained by “Outside the Lines.”
Among the concerns found at the stadiums by the manager: cockroaches in vending areas, mouse feces on the same tray as pizza dough, sinks where employees were supposed to wash their hands being blocked by boxes or trash, employees eating in food prep areas and trays of food headed for customers that measured at unsafe temperatures. The health department found several critical violations, including mold growth in ice machines, dirty pans and trays and excessive numbers of fruit flies.
“When we lose control over hygienic practices and we also combine that with poor temperature control — that could be a catastrophe,” said Jon Costa, the district food safety manager for Aramark, which runs the concessions at both venues and has food and beverage contracts with 30 professional sports teams. “That is a recipe for foodborne illness. … It’s very likely temperatures are abused every game. Every game.”
Costa sent information about the food safety concerns to local media and ESPN last week, a step he said he took after months of trying to get Aramark senior management to address his concerns and reprimand employees who broke food handling and prep rules. He said he had no authority to reprimand employees, and he was powerless on site because the employees he would have been instructing did not report to him.After learning that Costa sent those details to the media, Aramark placed him on paid administrative leave last week for violating its media policy, Costa said.
Marc Bruno, chief operating officer of Aramark Sports and Entertainment, said last week that Costa’s photographs and descriptions were “just allegations at this point,” and the company has addressed problems that Costa has raised throughout his 2 years with the company.
“It’s completely contrary to everything that we have done in there,” Bruno said. “Food safety is the top priority, No. 1 at Aramark and No. 1 in Kansas City and all our operations.” He said both venues are routinely inspected by the City of Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department, which has awarded a number of concession stand food safety excellence awards at the stadiums in the past.
Tod MacKenzie, senior vice president of communications and public affairs for Aramark, also wrote a detailed response to “Outside the Lines.”
“The unsubstantiated claims raised by a disgruntled employee are very troubling, as is his unknown motivation,” MacKenzie said. “Especially disturbing is the fact that this individual is personally responsible and entrusted with managing food safety at the locations in question. …
“The random collection of isolated and questionable photographs that the employee distributed represents selective snapshot ‘moments-in-time’ that without proper context can support any number of conclusions.”
The Royals issued a statement, saying: “We take great pride in promoting an atmosphere at Kauffman Stadium that Royals fans of all ages can enjoy. The excitement and energy running through the stadium was on full display during the World Series and our partners, including Aramark, play an important role in creating those memories. Food and beverage is integral to the fan experience and Aramark has been a valued partner in delivering those services to fans. We all take food service, safety and quality very seriously.”
In July 2010, “Outside the Lines” conducted a comprehensive review of food safety at all 107 venues for professional football, hockey, baseball and basketball in North America. In that report, 62 percent of Kauffman’s vendors had critical violations, and at Arrowhead, it was 56 percent. Aramark began its contracts with Kauffman in 2007 and started one with Arrowhead, for general concessions only, in 2010. Costa said his position was created as a result of the “Outside the Lines” report.
Costa said managers have not been promoting food safety, especially among the food prep workers who actually handle the ingredients, as evidenced by a scene he described from the final game of the World Series on Oct. 29. The concession stands were running low on pizza dough, and a prep worker told him that she was left with a tray of dough that had expired Oct. 25.
“She says to me that she called our supplier and our supplier told her, ‘Do not serve dough that is expired,’” Costa said. “However, our manager stepped in and said, ‘You will sell the dough. You will sell the dough.’”
“Outside the Lines” heard two other accounts of the dough incident that backed up Costa’s description and indicated that pizzas made with expired dough were sold to customers.
Even if the dough didn’t pose a health hazard or sicken anyone, Costa said it set a bad precedent for workers.
“I think it says that, ‘Hey, we can sell any substandard food that we want,’” he said.