Flagging the Food - Part 1

What health inspectors found here will certainly give you some food for thought.

Bob Segall/13 Investigates

This is part one in a series. Read other stories related to Flagging the Food.

Indianapolis - 13 Investigates has found repeated, critical food safety violations at Lucas Oil Stadium. Health inspectors have been flagging the food, saying those type of violations put customers at risk.

After months of research, we broke the story to fans at Sunday afternoon's game.

Sunday afternoon in downtown Indianapolis, it's not just about football. It's also about the food. Inside the stadium, there is all manner of comfort food available: chicken fingers, pizza, cheeseburgers, nachos, pretzels and hot dogs.

This brand new facility is more than a football stadium. It's also a 63,000-seat restaurant. Centerplate is the company that runs the stadium's food operations, and, like any other restaurant, Lucas Oil Stadium gets inspected.

What health inspectors found here will certainly give you some food for thought.

For months, 13 Investigates has been examining thousands of inspection reports dating back to when the stadium opened. Those reports show a staggering number of food safety violations, including many critical violations -- the kind that health inspectors say can make customers sick.

Health inspections found lots of mouse droppings. Inspectors found them in storage rooms and kitchens. They even found mouse droppings in an oven. Inspectors also found dead mice and after repeated warnings, they then found numerous live mice running throughout a loge level kitchen.

"Mice can carry food borne illness like salmonella," said Ed Culver, who oversees the food safety program for the Marion County Health Department. He says the stadium has had a widespread rodent problem in its first year of operation.

Culver wouldn't say that the mouse problem has been eliminated. "I'd say it's under control. One wouldn't want to say it's totally eliminated."

Culver says inspections this fall have shown more signs of mice and there are plenty of other violations from the past twelve months like employees not washing their hands, food contaminated and in unsafe condition, disposable food containers being used more than once, employees not knowing how to safely cook food and dozens of foods sitting at improper temperatures. That can quickly lead to bacteria growing on the food and that can make you sick. Yet inspectors found popular items such as hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza sitting at potentially dangerous temperatures.

Culver said those problems are supposed to be corrected immediately. But 13 Investigates has learned many of the problems were not fixed right away. For example, inspectors cited the same kitchen with critical food temperature violations on five straight inspections.

"I wonder why the food service provider wasn't fired after this many violations," said one fan.

"All of it's common sense issues that should be solved. None of this should be happening," said another.

Eventually the health department took some drastic measures by issuing citations and fines. Inspectors wrote the citations to send a clear message.

"The basic message is they have to pay utmost attention to the basics of food safety. They have a lot of consumers who are depending on them to protect their health," said Culver.

It's important to note that all stadiums have food safety violations. But the Marion County Health Department says in the past year, there were a lot more violations here than they would have expected.

Colts send letter to fans

Tuesday evening, the Indianapolis Colts e-mailed the following message to season ticket holders about the 13 Investigates report: 

There was a recent media report concerning the sanitation and safety of certain food operations areas inside Lucas Oil Stadium.  The Indianapolis Colts are in the process of confirming that any problem is promptly resolved.  Nothing is more important to the Indianapolis Colts than the health and safety of our fans.  We also believe that anything that can be controlled, such as sanitation, should never be compromised.  The entities directly in control of food operations at Lucas Oil Stadium, Centerplate and the CIB, have assured us that they are thoroughly investigating the report and that any issues they identify will be corrected immediately.  We are monitoring the progress of the investigation and we have every confidence that the professionals at Centerplate and the CIB will fulfill their commitment.

The Indianapolis Colts