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2 Investigators: Food Inspectors Cry Foul At United Center

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City health inspectors found violations at food vending sites at United Center. (CBS)

City health inspectors found violations at food vending sites at United Center. (CBS)

Pam Zekman Pam Zekman
Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Pam Zekman serves on CBS 2 Chicago’s...
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CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Health Department has found critical food safety violations at the United Center.

After a CBS 2 investigation, the city began inspecting food vendors at sports venues during games — something they had not done before.

2 Investigator Pam Zekman has previously reported on the potentially dangerous food temperature violations at Wrigley Field, Soldier Field and U.S. Cellular Field.

Now the results of inspections at the United Center are in and violations found at eight different concession stands resulted in the United Center getting an F, a failed inspection.

“We found a lot of findings that are pretty common in other places as well, temperature-control violations,” Dr. Bechara Choucair, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, says. “They are critical because they are the gateway to food-borne illness, and we want to make sure that when we identify temperature-control issues that we address it right on the spot.”

He added: “What we were happy about is the immediate response from these food stand operators to fix these problems.”

The inspectors found 12 critical temperature violations similar to violations they found at other Chicago sports arenas.

The Steakhouse concession stand was cited by health inspectors for critical temperature violations because operators did not keep tuna burgers and coleslaw at the right temperature.

Inspectors found pizza at The Breakaway stand and Italian beef sandwiches at the Back Stage counter below the acceptable hot temperature of 140 degrees. The Mex It Up concession stand was cited because its prep cooler was not maintaining food at a temperature of 40 degrees or below. The cooler was tagged until it was repaired or replaced.

The eight vendors cited with the critical violations during the inspection had to throw out 47 pounds of potentially hazardous food.

Food safety expert Kantha Shelke reviewed the inspection reports and was alarmed at the findings.

“I’m surprised that the enterprises operating at United Center did not pay attention and follow the simplest rules of food safety,” she says.

Dr. Choucair said the unannounced inspections on game day have proven to be valuable.

“I am very happy with this program. We’re going to continue operating under this policy in 2012,” he says.

Choucair added that with education of workers and continued spot inspections, they hope to end food temperature problems.  All violations at the United Center were corrected at the time of the inspections.

“We were happy about the immediate response from these food stand operators to fix these problems. Choucair said, “and the continuous ongoing dialogue with them to ensure that these problems are not happening again.”

Levy Restaurants, the company that runs the United Center concessions, declined to answer specific questions about the inspection reports. But a spokesperson issued a statement:

“A world-class experience for our guests is our passion and, needless to say, this requires great attention to every detail in both the front and the back-of-the-house. To that end, we provide in-depth training, maintain the highest standards and aim for perfection in health department reviews. It takes a no-nonsense commitment and a vigilant eye at every level, in every area of a facility, to adhere to these standards and we expect nothing less from our team members.”

Levy Restaurants turned down CBS 2’s request to see and videotape its food preparation process.

Click here to see the full report of health inspections at the United Center.

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