Restaurant inspection update: Cockroaches, decomposing meat and a ‘suffocating stench’

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals is responsible for inspecting food establishments such as grocery stores, restaurants and convenience stores, as well as food processing plants, hotels and motels. (Photo by Clark Kauffman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

In the past month, state and county food inspectors have cited Iowa restaurants and grocery stores for hundreds of food-safety violations, including cockroach nests, a “suffocating stench” from sewage, moldy food, bug-infested breading and decomposing or unidentifiable meat.

One Iowa restaurant with a history of roach and mice issues was found to be thawing chicken nuggets in “a wet, soggy cardboard box” and thawing shrimp in a bucket of room-temperature water.

The findings are reported by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, which handles food-establishment inspections at the state level. Listed below are some of the more serious findings that stem from inspections at Iowa restaurants, stores, schools, hospitals and other businesses over the past four weeks.

The state inspections department reminds the public that their reports are a “snapshot” in time, and violations are often corrected on the spot before the inspector leaves the establishment. For a more complete list of all inspections, along with additional details on each of the inspections listed below, visit the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals’ website.

QC Dynasty Buffet, 5388 Elmore Circle, Davenport: During a May 17 inspection, the restaurant was cited for eight violations. The inspector reported that raw chicken was being stored over crab rangoon mix, which was a repeat violation; stuffed mushrooms were being held at 50 degrees; cheese-based fillings, macaroni and cheese, and prepared meats were not date marked; the handwashing sink was used for storage and no sanitizer was being used in the three-compartment sink for cleaning dishes; the water for the handwashing sink in the sushi area was not turned on; the edible wrappers for wonton were being thawed in a wet box that was sitting on the floor; and chicken nuggets and breaded shrimp were being thawed inside “a wet, soggy cardboard box.” The inspector also noted that a block of raw shrimp was “being thawed in a bucket of water at room temperature;” living and dead cockroach-like insects were seen in the restaurant and a report from a pest control company indicated an infestation of German cockroaches and mice; the coolers had a buildup of food debris and were in need of cleaning; and there was a “buildup of rotten foods” along the walls and under the  racks of the walk-in coolers. The inspector also reported a “massive buildup” of flour and sugar around food containers in a storage area. In his report, state inspector Logan Hildebrant wrote: “Facility has had a long-term, persistent issues with pests … It is imperative that the facility improves its cleaning practices in order to gain long-term correction for controlling pests in the facility.”

Yen Ching, 2317 Mount Vernon Road SE, Cedar Rapids: During a pre-opening inspection conducted by Linn County officials, inspectors cited the restaurant for cans of soy sauce that were dated 2018 and for raw shell eggs and chicken that were stored above raw vegetables in a cooler. According to inspectors, the staff did not know how to make sanitizer concentration for the three-compartment dishwashing sink; the walk-in cooler walls had mold on them and the shelves in the cooler were littered with debris; the handwashing sink and food-prep sink were contaminated with debris and surfaces around the wok area were littered with food debris; raw vegetables and meat prepared onsite were not date-marked to ensure they were safe to serve; there were no thermometers on hand to measure food temperatures; there there were no thermometers in the kitchen refrigerator or food-prep cooler; a screen door did not close properly, leaving a large gap that could allow the infiltration of pests; ants were seen crawling on a shelf, and bugs were present in an “old container of breading;” cut cabbage was found draining at room temperature, and the staff was using a dirty lid from a container to “stamp down” the cabbage in a soy sauce container sitting on the floor; vegetables and tomato sauce were improperly stored inside metal cans; and the floors and walls were littered with debris. In her report, the county inspector, Sherri Schuchmann, wrote: “This is a pre-opening inspection of a Chinese restaurant with carry out,” adding, that the food-service license was being approved by the county “due to change of ownership.”

Country Manor Memory Care Facility, 900 W. 46th St., Davenport: During a June 8 visit, inspectors reported the facility’s chemical-sanitizing dishwashing machine was not dispensing sanitizer at an effective level; the interior of a large ice machine had a small buildup of grime and required additional cleaning; a container of coleslaw that was opened on May 31 was still being held and had to be discarded; bottles of chemicals were stored on top of the ice machine in the kitchen; a window was open in the kitchen, with no screen in place to prevent insects and pests from entering; the flooring had a buildup of debris and required additional cleaning; and stove filters had a buildup of grease and dust.

Dairy Queen Brazier, 1101 Eagleview Dr., Marion: During a June 8 inspection, the restaurant was cited for sewage lines and a grease trap that were “emitting a suffocating stench” in the building. Inspectors said the dishwashing sink was not properly set up for sanitizing dishes; employees making ice cream treats for customers were not washing their hands between tasks; the manager had not been trained in food safety; and lettuce, thawed hot dogs and milk were not properly date-marked to ensure they were still safe to serve.

Edo’s Sports Bar, 110 E. 11th St., Waterloo: During a June 2 inspection, the bar was cited for failing to date-mark any of its prepared foods, cooked meats and soups. The inspector also noted there signs the staff was smoking in the bar. The inspector saw exposed meat hanging in the cooler, unprotected and hanging in front of a fan. The inspector wrote, “There was some exposed meat hanging in the walk-in cooler. The person in charge was unable to say what kind of meat it was, where it came from, what its intended use was, etc.”

Taco Dreams, 400 N. 2nd St., Fairfield: During a June 8 inspection, the restaurant was cited for having containers that were recently cleaned and drying still visibly soiled. The inspector said cheese in a food-prep cooler was holding at 44 degrees; refrigerated beans were being held at 46 degrees; chicken in the refrigerator was being held at 44 degrees; sour cream was being held 43 degrees; no date markings were being used by the restaurant to ensure food was still safe to serve; spices on the counter did not have lids; and there was no food license posted in plain view for customers to see.

Hy-Vee Foods, 640 Lincolnway, Ames: As part of a June 2 inspection, the store was cited for storing raw chicken above raw beef and for employees failing to wash their hands in between changing gloves. The inspector also noted there were four containers of baby formula on the sales floor dated with a use-by date of May 1, 2021; the bakery department’s three-compartment sink was not properly sanitizing dishes; in the sushi department, food wasn’t cooling in the walk-in cooler or freezer as required, and instead was being placed directly into the sushi display case where it sat at 50 degrees; the sushi department also wasn’t labeling the rice batches with batch numbers, and wasn’t calibrating the pH meter as required; the sushi department’s logbook was not being signed by management as required, and entries for several dates were missing from the logbook; microwave ovens in the bakery and the hickory department were visibly soiled; and a handwashing sink was incapable of dispensing hot water. In his report, the state inspector, Eric Mashek, wrote: “This is a non-illness complaint inspection that was done in conjunction with a routine inspection. The complaint is closed and unverifiable. The complaint was in regard to pest control. The establishment does have a pest control company that checks the facility each month and provided the documents to the inspector.”

Doc’s Place, 111 Main St., Wall Lake: During a June 7 inspection, the restaurant was cited for storing items in a sink that was to be used for employee handwashing. The inspector also reported chemicals were being stored on a shelf above food items; inside the cooler, raw food product was stored above ready-to-eat products, increasing the threat of contamination; food items in the walk-in cooler were not properly date-marked to ensure they were still safe to serve; and the can opener was visibly soiled.

The Express Lane, 6268 Brady St., Davenport: During a June 7 inspection, the restaurant was cited for storing canned beverages, towels and a sponge in the employees’ handwashing sink. The inspector also reported that the women’s restroom had no hand soap available; the large ice machine had a small buildup of black grime and needed additional cleaning; food-contact surfaces such as soda pop dispensing nozzles, ice scoops and coffee pots were not being properly washed, rinsed, and sanitized; bottles of hand sanitizer, bathroom cleaner and cans of air freshener were stored above food and the syrups for the Slushee machine; the thermometer in the reach-in cooler where deli sandwiches were stored was not working; there was debris on the floor behind the large ice machine in an area that required cleaning; and the three-compartment sanitizing had a leak and could not be used for cleaning of food-contact items.

Jethro’s Barbecue Lakehouse, 1425 SW Vintage Parkway, Ankeny: During a June 7 inspection, the restaurant was cited for having multiple foods in its salad-prep cooler holding at temperatures above the maximum 41 degrees, including cottage cheese at 48 degrees, potato salad at 51 degrees and sliced turkey at 54 degrees. The inspector also reported that employees failed to wash their hands after handling soiled utensils; cooked onions were holding at 105 degrees and cooked mushrooms were holding at 101 degrees; baked beans were not properly reheated to 165 degrees and had to be discarded; to-go containers for customer orders were stored on the floor in a back storage area; a cutting board on the main cook line was not in good repair; and the restaurant was unable to provide a temperature-measuring device for its high-temperature dishwashing machine. In his report, the inspector described his visit as “a routine inspection conducted as a result of an illness complaint received by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.” The inspector said the complaint was “unverifiable.”

Monarca Mexican Food, 1321 S. Lincoln St., Knoxville: During a June 7 inspection, the restaurant was cited for storing bottles in the employee handwashing sink. When the inspector asked about the bottles, the owner stated they were put there the previous night, indicating “no employees had washed their hands when arriving to work” that day. The inspector also noted that food handlers were walking outside and returning to the food-prep area without washing their hands or changing their gloves; cooked and prepared foods were not properly date-marked to ensure they were still safe to serve; raw eggs were stored over and alongside produce as well as cooked and prepared foods, increasing the risk of contamination; open drinks were seen in the food-preparation area; and many food containers were stored on the floor of a walk-in cooler. The state inspector, Tina Mickish, wrote in her report: “This is a routine inspection conducted within an illness complaint. Discussed complaint with owners (conversation in internal notes). Due to the nature of the complaint, this cannot be verified. Complaint closed.”

Trostel’s Greenbrier Restaurant and Bar, 5810 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines: During a June 7 inspection, the restaurant was cited for having a chemical dishwashing machine in the bar that was not sanitizing bar glasses; marinara sauce and black beans were not properly reheated to 165 degrees within two hours and had to be discarded; cooked chicken was being held at 48 degrees and hard-boiled eggs were stored at 52 degrees; the bowtie pasta was not properly date-marked to ensure it was still safe to serve; homemade salsa was not date-marked; a toxic spray bottle in the bar area was not labeled; a thermometer for the walk-in cooler was not accurate; test strips used to gauge chlorine and sanitizer levels were expired; and a drain for the sink in the food-prep area was leaking. The state inspector, Addison Boughton, wrote in the report: “This was a routine inspection conducted as a result of an illness complaint received by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals,” adding that the “complaint is unverifiable.”

Hy-Vee Foods, 420 Court Ave., Des Moines: During a June 4 inspection, the establishment was cited for improper sushi preparation. Employees had prepared sushi rice the night before, intending to add vinegar to finish the rice the next morning. The person in charge in the sushi department stated the staff intended to use the rice for sushi without first measuring its pH levels as required. The sushi rice had to be discarded. Also, the inspector noted the handwashing sink for the hibachi kitchen and bakery kitchen areas was not easily accessible and was blocked by a trash can and a push cart; a sanitizer bucket was stored directly on the floor inside the meat department; in-use utensils for the Hibachi grill area were stored in standing water alongside the rice; ice buckets in the Wahlburgers kitchen area were stored above the ice machine so they could not adequately drain; and microwave ovens in the bakery were visibly soiled with what appeared to be a buildup of food debris.

Boz Wellz, 507 Erie St., Storm Lake: During a June 3 inspection, the restaurant was cited for a handwashing sink that appeared to be used for dumping drinks. The inspector also noted a lack of soap and paper towels at the handwashing sink; food-contact surfaces such as the can opener were visibly soiled; several food items did not have proper date markings, and several other items were stored past the seven-day limit; raw hamburger was being thawed on the a tray outside the cooler; a cutting board was extremely  discolored, indicating that sanitizing the board could be an issue; and some of the kitchen equipment was visibly soiled.

The Inn of the Six-Toed Cat, 200 S. Central Ave., Allerton: During a June 3 inspection, the restaurant was cited for moldy grapes found in the cooler. The inspector also noted that many cooked and prepared items in the cooler were not date-marked and that several cartons of raw shell eggs in the kitchen had come from an unapproved source. Also, food was found stored on the floor of the kitchen, and there was “overflowing garbage” in the kitchen, which was littered with “a large amount of unnecessary items.”

Sippi’s 406 W. 2nd St., Davenport: During a June 3 inspection, inspectors found a pan of alfredo sauce stored in the cooler with a preparation date of May 22. The inspector also reported that a meat slicer had a buildup of food particles, as did a knife rack; the holster for the pop-dispensing device had a buildup of mold in it; no employee health agreement records were available to review; the handwashing sink appeared to be used for dumping drinks; and an employee’s drink was sitting on the food-preparation table.

Tacos La Papa, 1111 SE 14th St., Des Moines: During a June 3 inspection, a state inspector cited the restaurant for more than a dozen violations, including a failure to have the person in charge certified as a food protection manager. The inspector also reported that an employee used his gloved hands to taste meat on the grill; an employee failed to washing his or her hands between changing gloves; the kitchen’s handwashing sink could not produce hot water and was not stocked with soap; a carton of raw shell eggs was stored above cooked meats in the reach-in cooler; an opened cans of beans prepared at 9 a.m. had not cooled to 41 degrees by 2 p.m. and had to be discarded; the restaurant did not have a working food thermometer; a pipe under the handwashing sink was leaking; wastewater was accumulating in a bucket to be disposed of in a sewer drain; and the stove ventilation hood was visibly soiled with accumulated grease and debris. Also, cooked onions were holding 109 degrees and a container of cooked meat was holding at 105 degrees. In addition, bags of sliced ham were holding at 55 degrees, a container of ham slices was holding at 51 degrees, and bags of shredded lettuce and cooked beef tongue were not marked with their preparation or opening dates. The state inspector, Samuel Pang, wrote in his report: “This was a complaint investigation regarding general sanitation and equipment sanitation, improper holding temperatures, improper cooking temperatures and personal hygiene, conducted alongside a routine inspection. Inspector discussed complaint with owner who was unaware of the complaint. There is enough information to partially verify the complaint regarding improper holding temperatures and personal hygiene; the other parts of the complaint were unverifiable.”

Abelardo’s Mexican Food, 2510 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines: During a June 2 inspection, the restaurant was cited for storing raw shell eggs stored over ready-to-eat items, and storing raw beef over pico de gallo salsa. The inspector also reported that the ice machine was visibly soiled and had what appeared to be a buildup of mold in it; marinated beef in the walk-in cooler that had been prepared the night before was holding at 44 degrees and had to be discarded; queso sauce was holding at 118 degrees and had to be discarded; the restaurants had no “verifiable date marking system in place” to ensure food was served only while still safe; the restaurant had no thermometers on site; boxes of food were stored directly on the floor; spatulas for the flat-top griddle were stored on a surface that was visibly soiled and had a buildup of food debris and grease; the microwave oven was visibly soiled with a buildup of food debris; and the ceiling in the kitchen and the floor drains in the kitchen had a buildup of what appeared to be grease and food residue. The state inspector, Scott Stroud, wrote in his report: “Routine inspection conducted in conjunction with a non-illness complaint. Complainant stated concerns with pest control, poor personnel hygiene and general facility sanitation. Inspector followed the flow of food from receiving to serving and observed food handlers during service. Complaint is partially verified.”

La Wine Bar & Restaurant, 180 E. Burlington St., Iowa City: During a June 2 inspection, the restaurant was cited for multiple food items not being marked with the date of preparation. The inspector also reported finding “multiple moldy red/green bell peppers” in a walk-in cooler, and reported that food contact surfaces were not being sanitized in the kitchen. The establishment was also keeping mayonnaise and spicy mayonnaise on a counter at room temperature (79 degrees). A commercial meat slicer and meat grinder, while in storage, had dried food debris on the blade and on internal parts. Raw beef and chicken were stored directly above raw vegetables in the walk-in cooler, and the kitchen’s handwashing sink was being used to rinse items and utensils. The inspector also reported multiple containers of dry goods stored throughout kitchen without any form of covering on them; multiple soiled wiping cloths stored on countertops; and said the surfaces of cooking equipment had excessive food build-up on them, as did the inside of the microwave ovens. The inspector also noted a buildup of food and debris on the floor and the walls of the kitchen.

Spanky’s Restaurant and Catering, 422 2nd St., Gladbrook: During a May 28 inspection, the business was cited for failing to adequately sanitize cutting boards at least once every four hours; for storing raw shell eggs over raw fish and whole-muscle meats in the refrigerator; for failing to date cooked baked potatoes; and for failing to clean the interior of the ice machine, which had a “brown, slime-like buildup.”

Baked Beer and Bread Co., 1113 Mound St., Davenport: During a May 27 inspection, the establishment was cited for several house-made dressings that were held longer than seven days; for employee drinks that were “located all over several food prep surfaces and areas;” for food items that were not date-marked to ensure they were safe to serve; for a lack of sanitizing solution in the dishwashing machine; for holding several toppings and ingredients in a cooler at 55 degrees, even after 12 hours of refrigeration; and for a reach-in cooler that was “soiled with old ground meat and a bag of decomposing meat.” The ice machine used for customers’ drinks was soiled with grime and mildew. The county inspector, Logan Hildebrant, wrote in his report: “Facility has been cited several times for violations that are known to be risk factors for contributing to foodborne illness … Due to the number of times these violations have been recorded on inspection reports, facility will participate in a corrective action plan. Continued, repeated violations can incur additional regulatory actions including fines and closures.”

Warrior Hotel, 525 6th St., Sioux City: During a May 27 visit, inspectors noted foods throughout all of the kitchen coolers that had been held more than the allowable seven days. Also, the stationary can opener and meat saw were visibly soiled with food debris and squash found inside a walk-in cooler was “visibly spoiled with black and white mold present.”

Hilton Garden Inn, 328 S. Clinton St., Iowa City: After completing an inspection on May 25, inspectors cited the inn for 16 violations. Among the problems: Cooked bacon was not being held at a high enough temperature — a minimum of 165 degrees — at the self-service breakfast bar; multiple handwashing sinks were being misused for storage or access to them was blocked; chemical spray bottles were left hanging on the lip of one handwashing sink; there was no parasite-destruction documentation for raw or partially cooked fish; the skim, whole, and 2% milks were not being chilled properly at the continental breakfast bar; refrigerated items in a cooler were not being maintained at a safe temperature; a can opener had dried food debris on it; multiple spray bottles were mislabeled as to their chemical contents; and both of the establishment’s high-temperature dishwashing machines were not able to reach temperatures necessary to sanitize items. Inspectors also noted that the walls around the cooking equipment in one kitchen had food-debris buildup, and that the last inspection report was not posted in a conspicuous location easily readable by the public. During a June 2 revisit by inspectors, many of the same violations were noted.

Grand River Center, 500 Bell St., Dubuque: During a May 25 inspection, the establishment was cited for a nonfunctional handwashing sink; for opened, sliced turkey deli meat that was not date marked; for chicken cordon bleu, scallop potatoes, and mashed red potatoes that were cooked, cooled and held for more than 24 hours without being date-marked; and for keeping Riesling wine cheese sauce that had been cooked and then refrigerated 10 days earlier.

Hy-Vee Foods, 3235 Oakland Road, Cedar Rapids: During a May 24 inspection, inspectors cited the store for failing to date-mark foods, including pineapple and chicken, to ensure they were still safe to serve; for failing to clean the breakfast buffet cooler of debris buildup; for failing to document sushi-preparation training; for allowing all of its certified food-protection manager certificates to expire; for failing to properly maintain logs for sushi preparation; for employees not using sanitizer solution; and for failing to have sanitizer in the sushi area.

SAAP SAAP, 1405 Elm St., West Liberty: On May 21, the restaurant was cited for 15 violations. Among the problems: The dishwashing machine was not properly sanitizing dishes; there was no hot water at the handwashing sink in the cooking area and no  soap at the handwashing sink in the food-prep area; raw shell eggs were stored over produce and raw chicken; a set of knives that had not been used that day were soiled with dried food debris; a meat slicer that the person in charge said had been cleaned was still visibly soiled with dried food debris; the interior of the microwave was soiled with food debris; there was no date-marking system in place for foods prepared on site and held for more than 24 hours; fuel was being stored over food; raw chicken and raw beef were thawing at room temperature rather in the cooler; a dying cockroach was spotted in the dining area; there was a “moderate accumulation of dead insects” in the light fixtures; a soiled food bowl was stored among the single-use containers; multiple surfaces, such as the exterior of the microwave and the sides of cooking equipment, were soiled with greasy residue and food debris; there was “sticky residue” on the floors throughout the establishment; and there was a large accumulation of grease on the vent filters.

El Palomino, 3116 E. 14th St., Des Moines: After a May 20 inspection, the restaurant was cited for 18 violations. Among the problems: the source of the oysters in the retail meat and seafood display case could not be verified and the oysters were discarded; a carton of eggs came from a non-commercial supplier that could not verify egg-handling licensure, and so the eggs were discarded; raw bacon was stored over ready-to-eat hot dogs in a retail display cooler; access to a handwashing sink was blocked by a trash can; cooked cactus mix and containers of lard in the walk-in cooler did not have lids or coverings; containers of pico in the walk-in cooler were being held at 47 degrees, while cartons of raw shell eggs were measured at 73 degrees; the kitchen meat slicer was visibly soiled with accumulated food debris; and a case of guavas in the walk-in cooler were “visibly adulterated with mold.”

Monterey Mexican Restaurant, 8801 University Ave., Clive: After a May 13 inspection, the restaurant was cited for 14 violations. Among the problems: a grill cook handled raw chicken with his gloved hands then failed to change gloves before retrieving vegetables from a cooler; a box of raw ground beef was stored on top of uncovered tamales in a freezer; beef was being held in a steamtable at 90 degrees and had to reheated to 165 degrees; food in the coolers — including carnitas, chimichangas, prepared beef, refried beans and shredded chicken — were not dated; queso was cooling at room temperature in stacked pans; refried beans were cooling at room temperature; raw ground beef was thawing at room temperature; no food thermometers were available in the building; and a pot of raw ground beef was stored on the floor. The inspector wrote in his report that the visit was a “routine inspection due to illness complaint received.” He did not indicate whether the complaint was verified.

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.