Flagging the Food - Part 2 - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Flagging the Food - Part 2

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An Eyewitness News investigation finds hundreds of critical food safety violations at Lucas Oil Stadium. 13 Investigates tallies up the numbers and shows you why inspectors have issued thousands of dollars in fines against the stadium's food service provider.

Note: This is Part Two in a two-part series. Read Part One here.

Bob Segall/13 Investigates

The Indianapolis Colts’ first year at Lucas Oil Stadium has been quite a success.

For the stadium's food service provider, however, the past year has been much more challenging.

13 Investigates reviewed more than 2,000 food inspection reports for the stadium's first year of operation and discovered dozens of citations, hundreds of critical safety violations and thousands of dollars in fines for Centerplate food service.

“We did find a large number of violations,” said Ed Culver, head administrator for the Marion County Health Department’s Food Safety Division. “We don't give fines very often, but when the situation calls for it, we will. In this case, we felt it was needed to make sure our message was being heard.”

Culver says his department issued 42 citations and imposed $3,900 in fines after Centerplate repeatedly failed to correct critical safety violations, the type of violations that can cause food-borne illness. Considering the Marion County Health Department issued a total of 148 citations in 2008 to a very small number of Marion County’s 2,500 licensed food-service providers, issuing 42 citations to one facility is quite notable.

“We're hoping, of course, that drives home the seriousness of the problem,” he told WTHR Monday morning. “They have a lot of consumers who are depending on them to protect their health.”

Lots of problems

The problem, according to inspection reports, is wide-ranging and scattered throughout the stadium's many kitchens and concession areas.

Among the numerous violations, inspectors found employees not washing their hands and unknowledgeable about safe cooking procedures; food considered contaminated and in unsafe condition; and cooked food sitting at improper temperatures which could potentially make customers sick.

The violations are supposed to be corrected immediately, but 13 Investigates discovered many of the problems lingered for months. For example, county health inspectors cited the stadium's lower suite level kitchen with critical food temperature violations during five straight inspections.

Centerplate has also been cited on multiple inspections for an ongoing rodent problem.

The issue was first discovered in December when inspectors noted "mice have infested [a] bag of peanuts" at the terrace-level Backfield Brew concession area. In January, inspectors found mouse droppings in a loge-level kitchen storage room and then, a month later, discovered more droppings on ketchup boxes located at the terrace-level First Down Dogs concession stand. By March, inspectors found widespread mouse droppings in multiple kitchens (including droppings detected in an oven). They also found dead mice stuck to glue boards in a kitchen dish room. And by mid-April, during a visit to the loge-level suite kitchen, an inspector spotted "numerous mice running throughout the kitchen."

Centerplate responds

Centerplate would not allow WTHR to talk to a supervisor in Indianapolis and, despite multiple requests, the company would not allow WTHR cameras to videotape inside its kitchens and concession areas at Lucas Oil Stadium.

But Tuesday afternoon, WTHR talked via telephone with George Wooten, Centerplate's executive vice president of operations. Wooten, who joined Centerplate four months ago, said his policy is that violations be remedied immediately. He was not aware of the many repeat violations discovered at Lucas Oil Stadium venues, nor any citations or fines that had been issued as a result.

"That should not be the case, and when I hang up the phone, I will look into what you found out from the health department versus what I was provided," he said.

Wooten admitted Centerplate had more violations during its first year at Lucas Oil Stadium than the company had hoped, but he said the company has made great strides in correcting problems. "Any violation is serious and I'm personally going to be there this weekend to ensure that what I believe is happening is happening."

Lucas Oil Stadium has 174 licensed food stands compared to just 26 at its predecessor, the RCA Dome. According to Centerplate's public relations firm, the company relies upon 1,475 food service workers to staff each Colts game, including 845 volunteers from non-profit organizations around Indiana, and all workers receive training before they handle food at the stadium.

More intervention

Centerplate is getting help from the health department. In response to the high number of repeated violations cited by inspectors, county food safety officials have conducted a series of special training sessions for Centerplate workers, according to Culver.

"It was clear there needed to be more training and more oversight," he explained. "Based on what we saw, we felt there was a need for greater involvement on our part, so that's what we've done and I think it's paying off. Our recent inspections are showing far fewer problems than we did when they first opened."

Wooten attributes the improvement to a new log system to better monitor food temperatures and the presence of six in-house inspectors to frequently supervise concession areas during Colts games. He says an exterminator has been hired to deal with the rodent issue and traps have been placed throughout the stadium to monitor mouse activity. "It is our belief that [mouse] activity is next to zero based on the monitoring stations," he said.

Inspectors will soon find out if Wooten is correct. According to the health department, they’ll be back at Lucas Oil Stadium before the end of the Colts' season for another thorough inspection of all 174 licensed food stands. WTHR will provide an update when that happens.

Tuesday night, after WTHR broadcast its "Flagging the Food" investigation, the Indianapolis Colts sent an email to all its season ticket holders about food safety violations at Lucas Oil Stadium. To read that email, click here.

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