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Inspectors find dead rodent, undated food at Valley ballpark eateries

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Spring training fans: Before you bite into that hot dog or sip that lemonade, you might want to check out the place you bought it from first.

During the last two years, Maricopa County inspectors found at least one food-safety violation within eight of the nine ballparks that host Cactus League spring training games, according to public records.

The violations ranged from finding a dead rodent in the kitchen to witnessing an employee wipe down a counter with a dirty cloth.

Each ballpark has numerous eateries.

One vendor had so many violations, it was on the verge of county legal action. However, many individual ballpark vendors passed health inspections without any major problems and earned “A” grades from the county’s environmental services department.

The county inspects about 5,000 restaurants, cafeterias and grocery stores every month. Although they must have an inspection, food establishments can choose whether to participate in the county’s grading system.

That didn’t sit well with one Dodger fan.

First time spring training attendee Charlie Cravens, 21, said he’s shocked food vendors can opt out of grading. He said the grading system is necessary for transparency.

In addition, he said the grading system should be more severe and that some violations, like rodent issues, should warrant more punishment.

“With the millions of dollars that go into ballparks, I’d expect the food to be handled well,” Cravens said.

Cronkite News examined restaurant inspections at nine Cactus League ballparks. (The 10th, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, isn’t regulated by Maricopa County since it’s in the Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which is sovereign land.) Each ballpark had numerous vendors, which were inspected separately.

Here are highlights of some violations:

  • Sloan Park at Mesa Riverview: One establishment had five violations during its latest inspection on March 27. One violation involved staff using a cell phone and touching his or her face without removing gloves or washing hands. The county cited another vendor for improper hot holding temperatures for its turkey burgers.
  • Scottsdale Stadium: One inspector reported a dead rodent in the back of a vendor’s kitchen along with rodent droppings. A March 26 report also found a freezer that needed repairs and rotting floors.
  • Goodyear Ballpark: Although the vast majority of establishments received positive inspections there, two had violations related to cleanliness. One commissary was in violation of wiping down surfaces with a food-contaminated cloth.
  • Peoria Sports Complex: Inspectors found a “formica” surface in severe disrepair and “potentially hazardous food” temperatures for both hot items ­­(hot dogs) and cold items (lettuce, blue cheese, tomatoes) within the ballpark.
  • Camelback Ranch: One vendor had five violations in the last two years, including food that was not properly dated. Employees assured the inspector that cooked hamburgers and chili were made two days prior.
  • Maryvale Baseball Park: Five of its food carts had four acts of improper use of utensils, like placing ice scoops on the soda fountain drain. This violation reoccurred twice at the same food cart.

Inspectors found minimal to no violations at Tempe Diablo, Hohokam and Surprise stadiums. The county does not provide records for vendors with seasonal permits, like Carly’s Italian Ice at Maryvale Baseball Park and Camelback Ranch, all year long, said Jeannie Taylor, a spokeswoman with environmental services.

While restaurant inspections may seem simple, it’s not just as easy as giving out letter grades, spokesman Johnny Dilone added.

First and foremost, health inspections must prevent foodborne illnesses from spreading, he said.

How can you tell if a vendor has had violations?

Some vendors post letter grades from inspections in plain sight. For those that don’t participate in letter grades, it’s a little trickier.

Consumers can find violations on the county’s website. These records correlate to permit ID numbers each food vendor must post on the establishment.

Despite the violations, one sports fan said expectations aren’t high to begin with when it comes to stadium dining.

“Everyone has a level of cleanliness that makes them comfortable,” said Jessica Hynes, 22, exercise and wellness major at Arizona State University.