Fenway food stands failed inspections

Fell short on opening day, cleared after 19 games

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By John C. Drake
Globe Staff / June 12, 2008

Fenway Park's food stands flunked city health inspections on more than a dozen health and safety measurements on Red Sox opening day April 8, from storing food at unsafe temperatures to failing to clean food preparation counters.

City inspectors discovered the violations, which were significant enough to pose a risk of food poisoning for patrons, even though they had found virtually the same set of problems in an examination more than a week earlier and demanded corrective action.

The concession operator's response to the city's findings was so slow that the city threatened at a municipal court hearing to shut down Fenway Park's food stands if the problems were not fixed. Ultimately, 19 home games passed, and thousands of $4 hot dogs and $6 Italian sausages passed across the counters before the Red Sox concession stands finally passed a city health inspection on May 16.

Red Sox officials said the team was not informed of the violations by its food vendor, Aramark, when they occurred and did not learn of the numerous health and safety issues until it was informed by the Globe yesterday.

"We have made it clear to Aramark that we want to be informed immediately when any issues related to the Division of Health occur from this point going forward," Red Sox chief operating officer Mike Dee said in an interview.

The team's agreement with Aramark requires such notification, a team official said.

In the initial visit, on April 1, inspectors found sausages thawing in stagnant water, employees handling raw burgers without changing their gloves, and rodent droppings underneath service counters, city records show.

"Those are serious violations," said Kathleen MacVarish, a Boston University clinical assistant professor of environmental health who worked for two decades in state and local public health departments as an inspector.

She said it was especially troubling that many of the same issues, except for the rodent droppings, were identified in the April 8 opening day reinspection.

Red Sox and Aramark officials pointed out that the first health inspection occurred while the park was undergoing major renovations and that Opening Day inspection came when the park still was fixing kinks with its equipment.

In one instance, a breaker operating a refrigerator had tripped, leading to a major violation of food being stored at the wrong temperature. All the food in the refrigerator was immediately thrown out, said Aramark's regional vice president, Rich Roper.

"The building was still under construction at the time, and I did not know that was going to be an actual inspection," he said of the April 1 visit. "I asked them if they could come back.

"We tried our best in the nine days before they came back for the next inspection," he added. "We got to a lot of the things; some of the things we didn't get to. At no time were any of those things hazardous to anyone's health."

However, the city's April 8 follow-up identified 15 violations of the state sanitary code, including three that were deemed critical and two that pose a danger of food poisoning.

Fans streaming into the park for yesterday's home game were upset to learn that the concession stands had been cited.

"I eat Fenway Franks all the time, and I had no idea," said Katherine Fleischhasker, a 24-year-old fan from Somerville. "It's kind of upsetting."

"I brought $25 with me, which will probably only get me something like a hot dog and a Coke, and I would hope they would at least be clean," said Dan Curran, 18, of Wenham.

The inspection reports paint an unsettling portrait of the Fenway dining experience.

One food stand was cited for "sausages thawing in stagnant water" and employees eating in a back kitchen. Another was cited for having "a large amount of food crumbs and rodent droppings under the pizza oven," and soiled sinks. Still another had "rodent droppings along floor and inside the hole in the wall" and "rodent droppings underneath the service counter."

One vendor was cited for a "black moldlike substance" on the inside of a refrigerator, soiled frialator cabinets," "rodent droppings throughout the stand," and a sink that was not set up to wash, rinse, and sanitize. Another was ordered to "remove foul odor from stand" and to "clean drains to remove odor."

The Fenway food warehouse racked up a page and a half of violations, including paper products stored within 6 inches of the ground and rodent droppings on boxes of cutlery.

While the records do not reflect a clean inspection report until May 16, Roper said the problems were fixed immediately.

"There was a time space in between inspections, but we certainly did not wait to react to any of the violations," he said.

Generally, when city inspectors find critical violations at a restaurant, they return the following day to see whether they have been corrected.

Tom Goodfellow, assistant commissioner of inspectional services, said inspectors are limited to game days at Fenway Park.

"If they've gone on a road trip, it makes no sense to do a reinspection" the next day, he said.

While the problems were serious, they do not rise to the level of violations that should force a city to immediately temporarily shut down an establishment, said MacVarish. The city of Boston has suspended permits for nearly 40 restaurants in the last three months.

Many of the suspensions were issued during the Financial District water main break last month that forced many restaurants to close because of a gas service interruption.

"I know people think health inspectors close restaurants all the time, but it's really a very serious matter and it's not always necessary," she said. "I wouldn't have considered closing them, even on a recheck."

She said hauling Aramark into a hearing, as the city did, was the appropriate step.

Mayoral spokeswoman Dorothy Joyce said Fenway Park was not treated differently from other establishments.

"We work closely with Fenway and all of our vendors to make sure they are in compliance with all the codes of the city of Boston," Joyce said.

John C. Drake can be reached at Globe correspondent Marc Robins contributed to this report.

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