At a food safety convention in Baltimore earlier this month, it is being reported that over 100 people got food poisoning. The event was attended by 1300 people who either work in the food industry, or for food safety institutions like United States Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of the food service attendees were representatives from McDonald’s and Tyson Foods. A food safety violation at a convention focused on preventing them could be a red flag that the issue is more widespread than is desired.
The exact numbers are unclear. According to another report, 400 people who attended the food safety summit contacted local health officials, reporting bouts of diarrhea and nausea. It is believed they were victims of food poisoning. Centerplate, the company in charge of food service for the convention center was issued with a violation regarding condensation drippings from an ice machine in the kitchen. This would not be the first time this company has been faced with food safety violations.
In 2009, at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Centerplate had an ongoing issue with a mouse infestation. Even after violations had been given out and a major clean up occurred, a picture was taken of rodent droppings on a food shelf. This was in one of the VIP areas of the stadium.
A side point that is worth noting, is that the NFL has a promise from local health inspectors that they will be forewarned before an inspection occurs. This is unprecedented in the food service industry. The whole point of an inspection is to catch a kitchen staff off guard in order to see the quality of day to day operations. The reason given by the NFL for their arrangement is game day security. It can only be presumed that the NFL has this arrangement with health boards in cities all over the country.
Whether Centerplate’s negligence got anyone sick in 2009 is not known. There is also no conclusive evidence that the illnesses in Baltimore this month was caused by their negligence. Whether the contamination was from the ice machine condensation or some unnoticed culprit, the chances of Centerplate being responsible for the gastroenteritis outbreak are high. Unless, of course, there was another widely circulated food source at the convention center.
However, various violations at facilities in Florida, New York and Minnesota throughout the passed four years may hint at a pattern of performance. In 2012, in Minneapolis, no critical violations were issued, but basic things like lack of an appropriate number of toilets for employees, elementary equipment maintenance, mops hung improperly and unclean surfaces that make contact with food were among the minor violations. Three critical violations were reported at a facility in New York City in 2010, including toxic material in contact with a utensil container. Five critical violations were issued at two facilities in Orlando, Florida in 2013 with a total of 20 between the two.
It seems that the organizers in Baltimore may not have done their homework. A food safety violation at a food safety convention is not only an embarrassment, but is unacceptable. There is no such thing as too careful or too clean in the world of food service.
by Stacy Lamy