Public Health

Why Handwashing Is Key to Ballpark Food Safety

A new study shines a light on public health protection at America's stadiums.


Robert Byron / Dreamstime

In an interesting before-you-reach-for-that-hot-dog style report released last week, Sports Illustrated compared and ranked the food-safety climate at every Major League Baseball park in the United States. Seattle's Safeco Field came in first, while Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field brought up the rear. My favorite (and hometown) ballpark, Boston's Fenway, ranked second.

Among its conclusions, the report found "almost a third of the league's stadiums had over 100 total violations, including both Los Angeles clubs. One Chicago stadium failed its routine inspection for the second summer in a row. Eighteen ballparks had critical violations in at least a quarter of their concession stands."

Some of the violations reported are objectively gross: "Camden Yards had evidence of rodent infestation at eight different food entities and Yankee Stadium had 14 stands overrun with filth flies."

The SI report updates the first such study, published by ESPN in 2009.

Food safety at sporting events has long intrigued me. The first time I ever really thought about food safety is intimately tied to sports. The year was 1980. I was seven years old. As I watched an episode of Quincy, M.E.—titled "Deadly Arena"—I saw the title character engage in what IMDB characterizes as "a race against time to find the source of" a botulism outbreak at a sports stadium "before the field becomes littered with bodies."

Some of the best stadium food I've eaten in the years since has been the Ichiroll (an Ichiro Suzuki-themed sushi roll) and the grasshoppers at Safeco. The worst food I've ever eaten at a sporting event—football, rather than baseball—was a crab and cheese pretzel at FedEx Field in Maryland.

But the relative tastiness of a stadium's food doesn't have much if anything to do with the safety of that food.

"The real risk, it seems to me at the ballpark, is the handling of food," said UCLA Prof. Michael Roberts—with whom I serve on the board of the Academy of Food Law & Policy—in comments to SI. "That's where you've got handlers cooking the food, handing it out, managing refrigeration and heating. … So it seems that the most important players in this would be local level, the county inspectors, the folks that are there to ensure quality and safety measures are being followed."

Others SI spoke with echoed Roberts. And I will, too. He's exactly right. Data back him up. Nearly six out of every ten cases of foodborne illness in this country are caused by norovirus, which is transmitted most often from person to person due to poor handwashing after using a restroom.

According to a 2016 article published in the Journal of Food Protection, every state requires workers to wash their hands after using a restroom.

Requiring foodservice employees to wash their hands after using a restroom is—in a bubble—smart lawmaking. But other rules may offset the handwashing rule.

For example, fire-safety laws requiring that bathroom doors open inward, rather than outward, means in most cases that a person must touch a door handle before they leave a restroom. So a foodservice worker may do everything they're supposed to—washing their hands before leaving a restroom—but their best efforts may be foiled by having to share a bathroom-door handle (and the associated germs) with people who don't wash their hands.

The FDA's model food code recognizes the potential for re-contamination after washing one's hands.

"TO avoid recontaminating their hands … FOOD EMPLOYEES may use disposable paper towels or similar clean barriers when touching surfaces such as manually operated faucet handles on a HANDWASHING SINK or the handle of a restroom door," it states.

But many foodservice establishments are swapping out environmentally unsound disposable paper towels for efficient, modern air dryers. As more and more restaurants move to fancy Dyson-style air driers, fewer and fewer restaurants even have paper towels in their restrooms, making it difficult to open a bathroom door without touching the handle.

Sports stadiums, airports, and other venues that often swap out bathroom doors entirely for visual barriers might be ahead of the curve in ensuring both food safety and fire safety. Many also place hand sanitizer in key spots throughout the venue. These are smart steps.

Finally, it's worth noting that food-safety rules differ from state to state. States are free to adopt the FDA food code in whole, in part, or not at all. SI reports one of the more common violations was a lack of gloves worn by foodservice workers to handle food. But only three quarters of states prohibit bare-hand contact with food. And, as I've written before, data suggest better food-safety outcomes are likely if foodservice workers do not wear gloves to handle food.

When I use the restroom at home, I wash my hands in the restroom. And if I go to the kitchen to prepare food afterwards, I wash my hands once more in the kitchen. In fact, I wash my hands in the kitchen every time I reenter for any reason and plan to handle food there. That's a commonsense approach I think state foodservice rules should embrace.

NEXT: Augustana U, Former Student Agree to Title IX Lawsuit Dismissal

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  1. Thank you very much for sharing best informative articles through your blog.keep going like this with many more updated articles like this.terrarium tv

  2. Hello,looks around,goes to check back yard for NAZI invaders.

    1. Something tells me it’s going to be a Nazi-free weekend, because there’s just no way in hell these losers are going to work two weekends in a row.

      1. Soros won’t spring for more overtime.

        1. ROFLMAO. Funny because it’s probably true.

        2. ‘You promised us BONUS PAY if we went to Charlottesville! Pay up Nazi! Yeah, you think we don’t know about your past? Cough it up or we go to the med….’

          /drops to floor with bullet in head.

    2. Checked my yard and I can Nazi any.

  3. So where’s the links to all the mass food poisoning outbreaks from filthy stadium food? If the health inspectors are there to protect us from the filth but there’s still filth and yet no mass food poisoning, isn’t that an indication that A), the health inspectors aren’t doing their job and B) the filth isn’t actually that big a health threat? And hand sanitizer? When your kid’s little you need to let him play in the toilet bowl a few times, build up some resistance to those bacteria instead of turning him into a bubble boy – a little filth now and then is a good thing for the immune system.

    My first job was at a restaurant that regularly got dinged on at least a few of the 400 items on the health inspector’s checklist, I can guarantee you the restaurant kitchen was a hundred times cleaner than my kitchen at home and I’ve picked up food off the floor at home and eaten it. I’ve eaten sandwiches while sitting on the toilet taking a dump. Only died of the typhoid twice and dysentery once.

    1. Of course, my first reaction to the story was to think, “oh, this is one of those stories where if it weren’t for the brave heroes in government protecting us from those evil greedy corporations, they’d cheerfully poison all their customers because that’s just standard business practice”. But then I realized we’re talking about stadiums, quasi-governmental businesses with a monopoly granted to whatever food service company gives the most kickbacks and I realized they probably really don’t give a shit if they poison their customers. I wonder how their health department scores stack up next to the fast-food places right outside the stadium where there’s free-enterprise competition.

      1. Phew. Ideology intact.

    2. Eating filthy, disgusting food is part of the ambiance of the municipal ballpark.

  4. Huh? An article in a libertarian journal advocating “state foodservice rules”? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised tho – “Reason” fell off the rails a long time ago. My local jurisdiction (and probably most others) has the most ridiculous rules and regulations, and can shut you down in a minute if they don’t like the distance between the sink and the paper towel dispenser, or if your hot water is two degrees too cool, or if your freezer is two degrees too warm. They shut a place down here because the proprietor used a funnel to pour salt from a large bag into the individual salt shakers – because the proprietor doesn’t wash the funnel in-between every single salt shaker. That’s just insane.

    1. Why are restaurants permitted to have salt shakers, ketchup dispensers, soy-sauce bottles, and their ilk in the first place? Remember the Tylenol tampering episode?

      1. Salt natural kills germs. Salt shakers should be encouraged, as opposed to packets, which do nothing but spill.

    2. I take it you have no problem with food service proprietors poisoning their clientele through lax (if not positively unsanitary) conditions or practices.

      1. Have a problem with it? I own three restaurants and poisoning my customers is how I make my money! (The ones who refuse to eat the food I beat over the head with a baseball bat; the money’s not as good but you get the personal satisfaction of a job well done that you just don’t get with a bucket of poison. It’s that attention to detail, the craftsman’s touch that keeps my customers coming back.)

        1. The only thing better than a repeat customer is a dead one.

          It is known.

      2. Really. I love those who think that if the government doesn’t inspect salt shakers, no one else can or will – and we’ll all DIE.

        1. I’m guessing they don’t. I get inspected in my business (not in food) and let’s just say they ain’t all that concerned with things that matter most. Paper work on the other hand….that they love.

    1. Hate is hate. It is not speech; it’s hate. Sometimes hate is violence, even when no action is attached. How do I know, you might ask? I know because hate is, by definition, hateful, and that means it’s not speech. And why isn’t it speech? Because it’s hate, and hate isn’t speech. This is basic common sense, rejected only by haters.

      I hate when can’t tell if serious.

      1. That’s why it is good satire, my dood.

        1. Thank you very much indeed for the link, CJ. I intend to forward the article to some of my buddies.

          Cooke’s writing greatly reminded me of sarcasmic’s style of mordant satire.

    2. The thing is, the ACLU’s been down this road before, it’s why Nat Hentoff (pbuh) quit the organization. The ACLU initially defended the Nazis in Skokie until enough people withdrew their donations that the ACLU decided discretion was the better part of valor and didn’t pursue the issue any further than the appeals. Hentoff, IIRC, said he understood that the ACLU had to pick their battles but he felt First Amendment absolutism was a hill worth dying on. If the ACLU is to stand up to the “principals, not principles” crowd that suddenly are accusing them of being right-wing extremists (has that shithead over at the SPLC marked the ACLU as a hate group yet?), I’d suggest donating a few bucks to the ACLU and/or a strong message as to just why you’re supporting them on this issue. Because I can guarantee you they’re getting a fuckton of hate mails telling them they’re wrong and if that’s all they’re hearing it’s kind of a morale killer.

      1. Too late. They’ve already found their excuse to switch sides, and it underlines why the ACLU is not really a civil liberties organization.

        Charlottesville violence prompts ACLU to change policy on hate groups protesting with guns

        “The events of Charlottesville require any judge, any police chief and any legal group to look at the facts of any white-supremacy protests with a much finer comb,” Romero told the Journal. “If a protest group insists, ‘No, we want to be able to carry loaded firearms,’ well, we don’t have to represent them. They can find someone else,” he added.

        Translation: if a group wants to exercise their first amendment rights, they have to waive their second amendment rights first. And you want me to donate to these cretins?

        And of course the violence at the protests had NOTHING to do with guns. This is just a copout.

        1. Nice. It’s like colleges coming up with creative ways to discriminate against asians in admissions.

          Never mind that no was shot, and that everyone carried bats and other “non lethal” weapons which were used constantly. And the murder was caused by a car.

    3. More troubling, the legal gains on which the A.C.L.U. rests its colorblind logic have never secured real freedom or even safety for all.

      Safety? That’s not the point of the first amendment.

      Anyhow, if everybody had just let the morons hold their rally and speak their idiocy in peace, there wouldn’t have been any deaths or injuries.

      1. Safety? That’s not the point of the first amendment.

        It’s for the children. Why do you hate children?

        1. Hate is not children. It’s *hate*.

      2. This is what I don’t get with these people.

        You might as well argue on scrapping the right to due process because it just doesn’t sound SJW-y enough.

        I’m really not starting to care about arguments like his.

        1. You might as well argue on scrapping the right to due process because it just doesn’t sound SJW-y enough.

          Not really a hypothetical anymore, in view of the Title IX kangaroo courts. They are the model for the left’s Justice System Reform.

  5. Make food illegal and all these problems would go away, just like with drugs. No… wait- nevermind.

  6. The stuff at ballparks is food?

  7. I stopped eating at stadiums after waiting in line for a Vienna Beef hot dog at Coors Field after I watched an employee (teenager) who was putting the hot dogs into the buns (he was wearing plastic gloves), dispose of an empty bun bag into the trash. That was not so bad, he then proceeded to push his hands into the garbage, all around, to compress it further, with other, sticky, trash falling around and on top of his hands, and then continue to place hot dogs into buns. I declined a hot dog when I reached the person handing them out and told them why, the cashier person told me, “but he was wearing gloves…” It seems the role of gloves and contamination was utterly lost on her or the employee.

    (I used to handle radioactive material, daily, so I have an idea of how to wear gloves and what NOT to do when you wear them. (Don’t get me started on some of the “fools” I dealt with who were the “regulators,” most of the Federal folks (NRC) were knowledgable and respectful, state level folks, well, not so much…) I do get a chuckle watching various CSI type shows where gloves are used in ways they would never, ever, be used in a real world, like you’d never, ever, open a door and walk out to the hall with a glove on that may be contaminated with something.)

    1. Gloves are magically always sterile hand coverings.

    2. I, too, was under the impression that gloves weren’t used to keep a food service worker’s hands clean, but to keep the food clean from the worker’s hands.

      I once watched a kid at a Firehouse Subs diligently clean the built up crap from around and under a cash register. He was wearing gloves. I thought to myself, “no way he’s also handling food. It’s just common sense.”

      After reading your about your experience, I’m not so sure.

    3. LOL – I’ll go you one better. At a fast food chain that I won’t name (rhymes with Blendy’s) kid back there with a stack of cheese slices he’s peeling off and putting on the burger patties and he’s licking his glove-encased fingers to get a better grip on the slices.

      Still not as bad as that time at a buffet where some old man got himself a scoop of potato salad then licked off the serving spoon and stuck it back in the bowl.

      1. When you use the tongs at a salad bar, you are shaking hands with the genitals of everyone else who has come to the salad bar that day. It is known.
        — Henry Hensel (1956-2017)

        1. Indeed. This is why I simply dig my hands into whatever food I want as a means of delivering it to my plate. In this manner I can be certain that only my own germs will be ingested.

          I jest. In truth, I do not touch my food after handling/touching items manipulated by my fellow diners. Of course, I am trusting the employees who washed the tableware and rolled them up in the napkin….

    4. I worked with a water regulator that used a plastic bottled water bottle to refill from the tap. She used it every day without washing it.

  8. This is why we need taxpayers to fund new stadiums. It’s a public health issue.

    1. +1 TSA

  9. The crab fries are worth the risk at the Trop.

    A lot of these violations seem somewhat minor to me. Handling money and a dog with the same hand doesn’t strike me as egregious. SI has become nothing more than a humorless scold in recent years. If I can survive a dirty water dog in Manhattan, I can survive stadium food.

    Pro tip: If you’re ever at Coors Field, you can bring in your own food and drink.

  10. To be fair, failing a health inspection in Chicago probably just means the right palms weren’t greased, not left unwashed.

  11. OT: they are literally protesting the idea of free speech in Boston. The organizers said they wanted their rally to just be for free speech and explicitly said they didn’t want to welcome white nationalists. The left came and protested the event anyway

    I’m speechless, and that may literally be true within our lifetimes if these psychopaths ever get their way

    1. It is all so crazy. The real objective of the left is to make anyone who doesn’t agree with them, a Nazi, racist, etc.

      1. Oh no that’s just a means towards justifying mass murder, which will in turn be their means towards achieving equality. We all know that standard Marxist playbook

      2. That’s my take away from all of this. Yelling ‘racist’ anymore doesn’t get the reaction they want, apparently ‘Nazi’ now does. It’s already getting old. I’m not looking forward to 8 more months of this crap.

    2. It appears that they were successful in scaring away the free speech rally. The birthplace of the American Revolution. Ironic?

      1. How else are they going to have a social life?

    3. When they’re on the receiving end, they won’t have seen it coming.

    4. The organizers said they wanted their rally to just be for free speech and explicitly said they didn’t want to welcome white nationalists.

      Which is why their headline speaker is Kyle Chapman, currently indicted in California for beating protesters with a club in Berkeley.

      You know, because they value free speech so much.

      1. Yes Berkeley was a massive right wing riot. My bad

        1. Yeah, those Marxist Antifa protestors weren’t attacking people, the video of them attacking people was created by the same people who faked the moon landing.

          1. So if person A hit person B, that makes it perfectly okay for person C to hit person D, as long as C voted for my team. Got it.

            1. If person D is in the same violent mob as person A? Hell yeah, regardless of who C voted for.

              If you’re in a group that’s attacked by a mob, you don’t exactly have time to do a flippin inquiry to determine which members of the mob have already hit one of your group. If you don’t want to get beaten, don’t be part of a mob that’s beating people. You’d be surprised how effective that is.

              1. If you don’t want to get beaten, don’t be part of a mob that’s beating people.

                So you have the same views on protests as black-block apparently.

                1. Umm no, black bloc has a history of attacking groups of people none of which were attacking them. Though of course your fellow leftists are trying to redefine violence to include speech they don’t like.

                  We don’t know who started attacking who in Charlottesville. If it was the neo-Nazis and their friends, the media and Dem city and state governments would have been screaming the evidence from the rooftops. They haven’t, so it was probably the antifa again.

            2. Man you sure got that strawman!

  12. City of Nazis?…..-downtown/

    1. The Cultural Revolution continues apace

    2. Tynan Krakoff is the lead organizer of Showing Up For Racial Justice who it putting on this rally and said it this statue represents some of the bad in American history.

      (Mighty fine writing, BTW.) Uh-huh. Roger Cokoff said it represents the beginning of American history.

      “We’re calling on the city council, the mayor and the city of Columbus to remove the statue,” said Krakow.

      “And if they don’t — well, we have a pen and a phone, if you catch my drift.”

      1. Roger Cokoff said it represents the beginning of American history.

        In the same sense a statue of Mark Twain in Moscow could be said to represent the beginning of Russian history. I mean sure Mark Twain was never in Russia, and he wasn’t the first person to visit Europe, and there was large numbers of people in Europe already when he got there, but damn it, he wrote Innocents Abroad, so why do you hate America, commie?

        1. Neat

        2. Stormy, could you please draw a diagram of your point? Because that made no sense.

          1. The idea that Christopher Columbus “represents the beginning of American history” is an absurd statement.

            1. Ok… now… draw the dots to Mark Twain and Moscow…

            2. If Christopher Columbus hadn’t come across the sea there never would have been an America as we know it.

              Not so of Mark Twain and Russia.

            3. Yes the Vikings made far more vital contributions towards the beginnings of American history, and lots of really important history was already happening here and being recorded with the natives

              And yes when we say American history we always mean just the USA so your Mark Twain analogy is really clever

              1. Columbus statues out

                Viking statues in

                And Twain statues for Moscow

            4. Yeah,like Nick Gillespie’s grandparents, Christopher Columbus was a “person of mud”.

    3. At this point it’s just a giant FYTW. It’s kids with a taste of power and no adults around to smack them upside the head and tell them to STFU.

  13. Good to build up your immunity, if you don’t die. I’m referencing stadium food.

    1. Last time I had a stadium hot dog I died

      1. Last time I had a stadium hot dog I died

        This very same thing happened to me when I was a child.

        You would have thought I learned my lesson but no – the next time we were at the ballpark I bought another hot dog and sure enough I died again. After the second time I kept to hamburgers, which only resulted in a slight fever and dryness of the throat. Well, that and the dizziness. Oh – and an itchy rash followed by severe muscle spasms and the drooling. At that point my entire digestive system collapsed. After all of that I was basically reduced to a quivering wasted piece of jelly.

        1. Too bad there wasn’t an army of government officials going around sticking their fingers in everything. We would still be alive today.

    2. That would explain the bathroom line length.

  14. I’m just confused. This is Reason right? A LIBERTARIAN website and publication? WTF, if I want this kinda thin, I’ll run over to HuffPo or NPR or maybe even the Guardian.

    Libertarians if you can find any on staff would say, if people get sick or die, no one will go there anymore+lawsuit. The market is very efficient.

    Now Baylin, please go read your Freidman again.

    1. If only there was some sort of technology people could use to communicate their pleasure or displeasure of their eating experiences. Alas, I guess a paper-driven government bureaucracy is our only hope. Tha

      1. “My infant son died of Norovirus, but the nachos were good. 1.5 stars.”

    2. They are Libertarian in the sense they reflexively support the Libertarian party pretty much no matter what idiocy it spews.

      But not so much libertarian in the philosophical sense.

      1. P.S.: anyone who actually believes they’re all telling the truth when they say who they’re voting for is just a complete fool.

  15. I can’t wait to die

  16. Hate is hate.


    Did Chapman wrote that?

    I guess when you start an argument with a tautology, it, like Crusty’s dick, can go anywhere.

    1. Can a tautology go in a glory hole?

      1. It’s the only kind of ology that can.

  17. “filth flies” I’ve never heard that before.
    Ok, joke: freedom flies

  18. I really love the Reason articles that make you wait until halfway through to get to the libertarian part.

    Really ups the suspense. Like Jaws, really. Spielberg would be proud.

  19. WTS? Germs are unpossible in libertopia.

    1. That’s nonsense of course there are germs. But since there are no roads, the germs don’t travel easily

    2. Libertopia would have irradiated food

  20. My county reguires that food workers have a food hander’s permit from the local health department. You go through a class, take a test, pay your fee. One year, I decided to work for a food vendor at the state fair which takes place in the county, and realized that no one ever asked me for a food handler’s permit. Sloppy enforcement? Exception to the law? Technically illegal looking the other way? I’m not sure which it was, but either way, it wouldn’t be a big suprise to me.

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