SALT LAKE CITY — The Vivint Smart Home Arena falls in the 10 worst pro sports venues to eat at in North America, according to a new report of food safety violations from ESPN.
However, Jeff Oaks, food protection bureau manager with the Salt Lake County Health Department, said the public would know if there was a real problem.
The local violations tallied by ESPN's Outside the Lines include food service employees touching food items with their bare hands, hair sweeping across the plates in VIP serving areas at the arena, both in December 2016, and instances of food served at lower than recommended temperatures, among others.
"The numbers came at a time when we did a top-to-bottom renovation of the building and looked at all services in that regard," said Frank Zang, spokesman for Larry H. Miller Properties and the Vivint Smart Home Arena.
All Star Catering serviced the arena during much of the time surveyed by ESPN, Zang said. The report states that "most violations at sports venues are the result of mistakes or oversights and not blatant or intentional acts of malfeasance" and "does not necessarily mean a venue is unsafe or unsanitary."
"We're committed to providing our guests with best-in-class hospitality and seek to maintain rigorous standards when it comes to food and beverage service," Zang said. He expects Vivint Smart Home Arena will fare better in future reports, given all the changes that were made.
Many of the vendors listed in ESPN's report are no longer part of services offered at the Salt Lake City venue.
The inspection reports used by ESPN to rank all 111 pro sports venues in North America are from 2016 and 2017. Levy, a Chicago-based restaurant management service, took over at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in July 2017, and with a new space, Oaks said, and there might have been a learning curve for the experienced restaurateurs at the beginning.
The arena had just undergone a massive $125-million renovation during which all kitchen and food preparation spaces were updated.
"The arena has a more controlled environment, they know exactly when customers are coming," Oaks said, adding that their rap sheet, though riddled with minor violations, is typically "better than the average place."
"They're a little more institutional," he said.
In addition, the more than 30 food vendors clubs and kitchens at the Vivint Smart Home Arena offer smaller, more concentrated menus of mostly low-risk foods that arrive at the arena precooked. Employees there aren't often handling raw foods, save for special occasions.
Much of the food dispensed at the arena is served in disposable wrapping or on paper trays, Oaks said, so there is no dishwashing operation to worry about.
General cleanliness violations, mostly where food isn't handled, are the most common throughout the county, he said, adding that the department's Food Protection Bureau has conducted more than 6,000 routine inspections at nearly 4,700 permit-holding food establishments in Salt Lake County this year. That does not include follow-up visits or festival booth checks, of which there have been 1,200 in 2018.
Levy operates in at least three of ESPN's eight worst offenders, including Vivint, the Pepsi Center in Denver, and American Airlines Arena in Dallas. Other poorly ranked venues on the list include Yankee Stadium, the Palace of Auburn Hills (which has been closed), Bank of America Stadium, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, Coors Field and Globe Life Park, according to ESPN's report.
Oaks said, though, that a high volume of food goes out during any sporting event, perhaps increasing the potential for problems.
"It can be complicated," he said. "There's so much food prepared so fast by so many people and for so many people — the risks are greater."
The Vivint Smart Home Arena hosts more than 100 events annually with more than 1.8 million guests, though not all of them eat while there.
We're committed to providing our guests with best-in-class hospitality and seek to maintain rigorous standards when it comes to food and beverage service.
–Frank Zang, spokesman
Health inspections are conducted randomly, but, almost always happen at least once during the Utah Jazz basketball season, as there are more people frequenting the arena during that time, Oaks said. The most recent inspection at Vivint Smart Home Arena, on Nov. 5, yielded 28 "critical" and 45 "non-critical" violations, though Oaks said "that's pretty good" for the amount of food available there.
Overall, he said, the arena does a good job.
"We have an obligation and there has to be a health department to check these things," Oaks said, "to make sure operations are healthy for the public."
A public notice would be issued if the health department learned otherwise, he said.
For the most recent Salt Lake County Health Department public health inspection reports or to report an illness, visit slco.org/health.
The bureau will flag violations and then return within a few days to ensure things have been corrected. If the vendor fails to take action, the cost of repeated follow-up visits ($100 for each) become the responsibility of the vendor. Oaks couldn't recall the last time there was a major issue at the venue.