The good news is that Tropicana Field is getting cleaner. The bad news is that for seven years, Tropicana Field has been the most disgusting place in Major League Baseball to eat.
In 2010, ESPN published an article entitled “What’s Lurking in Your Stadium Food?” which looked at food safety violations at sports stadiums across the United States. Out of 107 stadiums, Tropicana Field finished worst.
At Tropicana Field — home of the Tampa Bay Rays — every one of the stadium’s 47 food and drink outlets inspected incurred a critical violation during inspections within the past year, according to Florida inspection reports. Violations include food residue in a cooler, toxic chemicals stored too close to food preparation areas, “slime” in the ice machines and thermometers not readily visible to measure the temperature of hot foods.
In 2011, Business Insider examined food safety records at Major League Baseball stadiums. Tropicana Field finished with 217 major violations, the most in MLB.
Two years later, WFTS ABC Action News explored Tropicana Field’s food safety records. While they found slight overall improvements, there were still critical mistakes.
There are 47 eateries at the Trop in St. Petersburg and in 2012, two had perfect scores. But over 46% had five or more critical violations.
Yesterday, Sports Illustrated released another list of food safety violations across Major League Baseball for the 2016 season. Again, Tropicana Field was last with the most violations.
With a staggering 105 critical violations in 2017, Tropicana Field brings up the rear in our rankings. Two food entities (the catering kitchen and the stand outside Section 303) tallied over 20 violations each. Violations ranged from the observed presence of live insects to black mold accumulating inside an ice bin. An employee was observed handling hot dogs and cash without washing hands in between. An ESPN report from seven years ago found that every inspected stand at Tropicana had at least one critical violation. That number has dropped from 100% to about 50%, but the Tampa Bay stadium still leads the way in eye-popping food safety numbers.
This is a pattern and a problem.
Yes, the Trop is over 30 years old. Yes, some of the pipes and other structural components are getting older. But there is no excuse why the Rays food service contractor is continuously ranked among the dirtiest in Major League Baseball.
Food is an essential part of the game watching experience. If the Rays food contractor can’t get that right, they should be replaced. It might be too late to replace the food service vendor this season, but immediately after the season, every process should be re-evaluated and assessed.
Although the food service vendor and the Rays are different entities, the Rays need to get on top of this. They are the face of this issue. They need to issue a statement to fans and the public informing them what will be done. If they can issue statements on war statues across the bay, they can issue a statement telling people how food quality will improve in Tropicana Field.
As well, the major news outlets in Tampa Bay need to stay on this story. Don’t accept slick Public Relations platitudes. Inform the public what is happening today to fix the problem and what is planned to happen in the future.
For seven years, food service has been a problem at Tropicana Field. As the Rays struggle with attendance, the experience should not be discouraging people from coming back. Bad food is a bad experience.