Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Utah Jazz, ranks poorly for health-code violations in ESPN report, but county officials say the venue’s food is relatively safe

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz play New York Knicks at Vivint Smart Home Arena Friday, January 19, 2018. New York Knicks defeated Utah Jazz 117-115.

The home of the Utah Jazz is also home to an alarming number of health-code violations in the concessions stands, according to an ESPN analysis of sports stadiums across North America.

Vendors at Vivint Smart Home Arena in downtown Salt Lake City were cited for 72 health-code violations in 2016 and 2017, and 54 of those — or 75 percent — were high-level violations, according to an analysis reported Thursday on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”

That percentage put The Viv at 100th out of 107 sports venues whose health records were analyzed for the network, and fifth-worst among National Basketball Association arenas, according to ESPN’s analysis.

The only NBA sites with worse percentages were: the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.; the now-closed Palace of Auburn Hills near Detroit; American Airlines Arena in Dallas; and the Pepsi Center in Denver.

The report attempted to analyze health inspection statistics from all 111 sports venues for Major League Baseball, the NBA, the National Football League and the National Hockey League. Four arenas did not have enough vendor information for analysis.

Among the violations ESPN cited at The Viv:

• Inspectors found employees handling food with bare hands in the main kitchen on Dec. 6, 2016.

• On the same day, inspectors saw hostesses’ hair contacting plates in the first-floor VIP room.

• And on Nov. 13, 2017, cooked noodles in a warmer were measured at 103 degrees — below the 135 degrees that is considered safe.

Nicholas Rupp, a spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department, noted that ESPN’s figures “are a little strange because of the timing of the analysis.” The figures came from 2016 and 2017, as The Viv was undergoing its $125 million renovation, and switching from one set of vendors to another at the start of the 2017 NBA season.

“If you look at it this year, the numbers would be very different,” Rupp said.

Rupp said he couldn’t “think of the last time we’ve had a situation serious enough at Vivint Arena … that merited a closure” of a restaurant. Most of the 38 vendors at The Viv serve what the health department considers “relatively low-risk food items,” like popcorn, nachos and pre-cooked hot dogs, usually prepared offsite and served at the arena.

The Viv fared better than restaurants around the arena. According to ESPN’s statistics, The Viv had 1.43 high-level violations per inspection, while the restaurants in the area around the arena registered 2.77 high-level violations per inspection. Rupp said those numbers correspond generally with his department’s figures countywide.

Besides being the Jazz’s home for 41 regular-season games a year, plus pre-season and playoff games, The Viv plays host to rock and country concerts, ice shows, monster-truck shows and other events year-round. An arena spokesman said The Viv is open for more than 100 events a year, and welcomes some 1.8 million visitors.

Food at sports venues is a $2 billion industry, according to National Association of Concessionaires statistics reported by ESPN.