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Why you shouldn't panic about Denver sports venues' reported health code violations

While all three venues rank in the top 10 for overall violations, a local health inspector told 9NEWS that there are reasons Denver's venues scored so much lower than others around the country.

A report from ESPN this morning putting all three of Denver's big sports venues in the top 10 of most serious health code violations nationwide has several locals on social media swearing off stadium food for good.

Broncos Stadium, Pepsi Center and Coors Field are sixth, eighth and 10th overall with the highest percentage of "high-level" health code violations throughout the country. There were 104 other venues on the list. 

"High-level" health code violations as defined by ESPN include the most severe level of violations - ones that could lead to dangerous foodborne illnesses. 

And while the report paints doom and gloom for Coors Field in particular - it begins with a story of someone finding a mouse in their popcorn - all three venues look poor when compared to those nationwide. Twitter especially has many users swearing off food from the venues or even visiting them altogether.

ESPN INTERACTIVE | What's lurking in your stadium food?

Here's why that might be an overreaction. 9NEWS reached out to the Denver Health Department and spoke to Danica Lee, the director of the Public Health Investigations Division for the department. She wanted to stress people shouldn't start panicking or avoid the venues.

In fact, she said in a Skype interview that the report actually shows that the venues are likely some of the safer in the nation.

"That might seem counter-intuitive ... but because of our inspection process, we have very meaningful inspections, and then we educate the facility where there needs to be education," Lee said.

Lee explained that the Denver Health Department is very different from others nationwide. In the ESPN report, it mentioned that in D.C., the venue where the Washington Capitals played has had only one visit in the past two years. Denver, meanwhile, makes a point to visit these venues unannounced during peak times, according to Lee.

"That's not true of every health department in the country," she explained. "There are challenges to accessing venues because of security and we worked really hard in Denver to make sure we can access these venues without prior coordination."

The types of violations at the three Denver sports venues in the ESPN article are headline-grabbing: Pepsi Center's inspectors saw something like black-mold on an ice machine in October 2017; inspectors saw "thousands of accumulated mouse feces" and live cockroaches during two separate September 2016 visits; and Broncos Stadium inspectors found rodent droppings and bloody mary mix stored at room temperature.

In the article, ESPN points out that the stadium venues all fare better in inspections than the surrounding areas. 

Charlotte, North Carolina's venues are also near the top with Denver's, and inspectors there are also very thorough, according to the ESPN article.

Lee with Denver Health said the city has very thorough health inspections. "We have a very rigorous training program for our inspectors. It's multiple months before they can go out on their own, and there is a lot of oversight from supervisors," she said. "The results I've seen form these stadiums are not hugely different than we might find in other regulated food providers."

9NEWS reached out to all three Denver venues named in the report. We have yet to hear back from staff overseeing Broncos Stadium at Mile High. The Colorado Rockies organization pointed us to a statement they posted on Twitter that read:

"The well-being of all fans is a top priority. We take food safety very seriously and work closely with our partners on an ongoing basis to ensure that. We were made aware of each health inspection report and potential issues, all of which were immediately addressed and corrected."

Staff at Pepsi Center did not return a request for comment but did post a statement on Twitter. It read:

"Pepsi Center and its food service providers are aware of today’s ESPN story. The health and safety of our patrons is of utmost importance. We continue to work diligently with our providers and with local authorities to adhere to appropriate safety standards, and whenever an issue is raised we address and rectify it immediately."

Lee added that the scope of the violations at the larger venues is pretty consistent with what her department sees throughout the city's restaurants. She also added, however, that the outdoor venues (like Coors Field especially), have more trouble than completely enclosed spaces.

"There are some unique challenges, with an outdoor stadium, you don't have the same protection from the elements and also from pests in an urban environment than you would in a venue that's surrounded by four walls," she explained. "These are venues that gear up for a short period of time with a lot of food and a lot of customers."

So while the image of a mouse eating through a bag of Cracker Jack at Coors Field certainly sticks in the mind, it was an issue that was found, dealt with and hasn't been reported since. Panicking about the food at these venues, according to Lee, is an overreaction.