For many, a summer day at the ballpark isn’t complete without a hot dog or a box of popcorn from the concession stand. But a combination of warm weather, exposure to the outdoors and volunteers without backgrounds in food preparation means there’s a chance of being served unsafe food.
Typically, the Monroe County Health Department regularly inspects restaurants and food trucks, and health violations are public record. But Indiana Code 16-18-2-137 states health departments don’t have to regulate food served for “educational purposes in a nonpublic educational setting.”
This means the county health department doesn’t inspect most concession stands, including those affiliated with schools and youth organizations such as little leagues, said Ashley Berquist, MCHD’s environmental health services manager.
School concessions run by athletic departments, clubs
Schools usually have an appointed person or group in charge of maintaining their concession stands, Berquist said. But since the county health department doesn’t inspect them, it doesn’t keep any information on them.
At Bloomington High School North, Athletic Director Andy Hodson bears the brunt of concession responsibilities. Parent and student volunteers typically run the stands at games, he said. But for the most part, he does the rest.
Every Monday, Hodson places an order with Gold Medal, a company that sells concession supplies, which takes care of foods like popcorn, chips and candy bars. Every two or three weeks, he places an order with Pepsi. And two or three times a week, he makes a run to Sam’s Club to get hot dogs, buns and anything else the stands are running short on.
Then, with the help from assistant athletic directors and student teacher’s assistants, he’s helping unload and restock deliveries every week.
“It makes me stop whatever else I have to do, but that’s just part of this gig,” he said.
While most of the food and drinks — aside from hot dogs — are individually packaged and aren’t likely to make anyone sick if they’re expired or tampered with, Hodson said, he ensures volunteers throw away food approaching expiration. At the end of every game night, any leftover warmed food is thrown away, too.
Volunteers from different school clubs and sports teams run the concessions every game, and all of the profits go back to them, Hodson said.
At one point, booster clubs ran concessions, Hodson said. The school also used to have a concessions operator. But Hodson feels more comfortable running the show himself, he said, even if it takes time away from his other duties.
“It does take up a lot of our time, and that’s not lucrative,” he said. “But if people see the concession stand not ready to go, they’re not going to look at whatever booster club, they’re going to look at the athletic department … they’re going to look at me.”
Bloomington High School South and Edgewood High School concessions are run by the schools’ respective band booster clubs and operate in a similar fashion.
Little League run by parent volunteers
Some organizations, such as Richland-Bean Blossom’s Youth Sports Organization — which runs little league baseball and softball in Ellettsville — are harder to pin down.
The Richland Township Trustee leases several concession buildings to R-BB Youth Sports, trustee Marty Stephens said, but otherwise is not involved with the baseball league.
The R-BB Youth Sports concessions are run by a concessions director, according to the organization’s bylaws. Representatives from the organization did not respond to requests for comment.
Multiple people, from R-BB Youth Sports volunteers to coaches, receive keys to the concessions buildings, Stephens said. Eventually, it becomes hard to keep track of who has keys.
“There’s keys everywhere, so if you don’t lock up, you leave the door open, something like that,” Stephens said. “Things happen.”
Last month, a parent volunteer posted on Facebook that the R-BB Youth Sports concessions buildings were covered in mice droppings before they were cleaned ahead of the summer season. The post received dozens of comments recalling similar problems with cleanliness in the concession buildings.
A food pantry inside the trustee building, located a few hundred feet from the baseball and softball fields, is regularly inspected by the county health department, Stephens said. The concessions are not. Even when Stephens has asked the department to inspect the concessions buildings, it hasn’t.
“How is it that we get food from Hoosier Hills Food Bank and it’s packed or frozen and we put it in freezers and coolers, and (concessions operators) get food from wherever they get food from, and they open it and they touch it and sell it to hundreds of people, and they don’t get inspected?” Stephens said. “It just seems like it’s a little out of balance.”
Contact Christine Stephenson at email@example.com.