You may show up to see baseball. Or football. Or soccer. But let's be frank. The roar of the crowd at any Baltimore stadium is nothing compared to the growling of your stomach in the stands. Ask any fan and you’ll quickly find out food is part of the draw to any sporting event.
“You’ve got to have the hot dog. Got to have the funnel cake, cracker jacks, everything," Orioles fan Patty McCarty said.
Great stadium food is the fringe benefit to sports fandom. You stuff it down but who's checking up to make sure the people and places that serve your favorite stadium treats are safe? That’s a position assigned to the Baltimore City Health Department. Patricia Vauls leads the team of people who handle inspections of the stadiums you love to visit.
"We want them to know we do have their back," Vauls said.
And so do we.
ABC2 Investigators went through hundreds of inspection reports for stadiums in Baltimore and beyond, looking at what local health departments found at Baltimore Arena, M&T Bank Stadium, Ripken Stadium and Camden Yards.
"We just blitz it and get it done in one day. We try and do it all in one day," Vauls said.
There is a team of 12 food sanitarians who inspect stadiums in Baltimore. That work is done in conjunction with inspections of hundreds of restaurants around the city. And the stadiums don’t get special treatment according to Vauls.
Stadium facilities get routine inspections, typically before they open for the season, with inspectors looking at everything from food temperatures to pest problems. And the reports show, critters are sports fans too.
In the inspections at Camden Yards last month, a handful of reports show "mice activities and droppings" in one of the kitchens, in one of the pantries and in the picnic area with droppings noted as the topping to a mobile ice cream unit.
The records for other venues from last fall also turn up small amounts of pest problems, with dead roaches spotted on the floor at the Baltimore Arena along with mice droppings. Mice got a mention at M&T Bank Stadium too, with reports mentioning heavy activity seen in a storage area and under sinks in one of the sports bars last fall. Vauls says those violations, although not considered critical, are taken seriously.
"If they have problems, we tell them you need to get them fixed," Vauls said.
The Health Department says the stadiums each took care of their issues, using pest control companies to correct the violations. They're not a common problem, but it happens, just like the myriad of other violations that can be cited in these inspections.
We found no closures linked to any of the city stadiums in the last three years. There were no closures reported at Ripken Stadium in Harford County either, although their reports provide greater detail about what inspectors found during their visits.
In reports from last summer at Ripken Stadium we discovered a few critical temperature violations that forced some vendors to toss food last summer. Despite those rare serious violations, inspectors like Vauls say generally the stadiums you visit are safe, “You can eat in confidence."
ABC2 reached out to the organizations whose inspections we examined. Mike Frenz with the Maryland Stadium Authority, which oversees Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, says safety is a priority for their facilities and that the minor issues we saw were immediately corrected, with the stadiums allowed to open for business with no delay.
A spokeswoman for Baltimore Arena and Crown Foods sent us this statement, saying, “We value you our patrons above all else. Hence we will continue to take a proactive and aggressive stance in all matters that may effect our guests."
And Glenn Valis with Ripken Baseball also sent us a statement, saying, “we take great pride in our food and beverage operation and we hold our team to the highest standard. Inspections happen regularly and the results are very positive. On this one occasion, a few items were found to be stored at an unacceptable temperature and we quickly rectified the problem. We inspect our process daily to insure quality.”