Restaurant inspection update: Gnats in whiskey, ham in a bucket and suspicious ‘poultry activity’

By: - July 12, 2021 10:00 am

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 illustration 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 week-old scrambled eggs, gnats floating in a whiskey bottle, a carton of ice cream submerged in a pan of raw chicken, and four-month-old sliced ham found stored in a bucket.

Last week, the inspectors visited a Chinese restaurant in Council Bluffs and reported “what appeared to be an area that was used to raise poultry” in an upstairs portion of the building. The restaurant owner assured inspectors that while there once was “poultry activity” directly above the restaurant, that was the fault of the previous owner from years prior.

The findings are among those 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.

The 1908 Draught House, 196 S. 50th St., West Des Moines — During a July 8 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for failing to keep its cheese sauce heated to a safe temperature; for having the handwashing sink in the kitchen blocked and inaccessible; for keeping bacon-wrapped jalapenos beyond the allowable seven days; for failing to clean an ice machine that was “visibly soiled with what appeared to be a mold-like substance;” for storing raw shell eggs over ready-to-eat foods; for having on hand chicken wings, egg rolls and roast beef that were not dated to ensure safety and freshness; and for having no one on staff with a current food protection manager certificate. Inspectors also noted other issues for which no citation was issued, such as salmon that was observed completely thawed inside its sealed package; the lack of any probe-style thermometer to check the temperature of food; a soda-dispensing gun that had what appeared to be a buildup of a mold-like substance; and an accumulation of what appeared to be mold on the shelving inside the walk-in cooler used for food storage.

Burger King, 5308 University Ave., West Des Moines — During a July 8 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for failing to ensure that an employee was certified as a food protection manager; for having two pans of tomatoes holding at 62 degrees on the production line without the proper time labeling; and for “multiple violations” committed by the person in charge. The inspector also saw a case of thawed chicken stored above brioche buns and dripping fluid onto the bread case. Also, the mixer on the ice cream machine was noted to be soiled with dry debris, and the cook was seen touching customers’ food while “switching tasks, including wiping sweat, nose, with gloves on and not washing hands or changing gloves.” The inspector also noted, but issued no citations, for other issues such as an outside door being propped open with a mop; the lack of a test kit to check sanitizing fluids; missing kitchen floor tiles in an area stretching 20 feet or more; missing ceiling tiles at the rear of the kitchen; a “heavy build-up” of some kind on the floor underneath equipment; plywood on the floor that could not be easily cleaned; and vent hoods with an excess buildup of grease. The inspector classified this as a routine inspection, but also noted that two separate non-illness complaints had been filed.

The Goose Lake C Store, 169 O’Brien St., Goose Lake — During a July 8 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for failing to ensure the chlorine sanitizer used in its sink was properly mixed; for having on hand scrambled eggs that were dated June 28 and coleslaw that was dated June 20; for having bagged cheese inside a heated dispenser that was holding at an unsafe temperature; and for having frozen, raw chicken that was removed from its packaging and then stored over ready-to-eat foods.

Taste Of China, 30 Pearl St., Council Bluffs — During a July 8 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for failing to ensure the person in charge was performing their duties, such as holding foods at safe temperatures and properly date-marking food to ensure it was safe to eat. The inspector noted “what appeared to be a mold-like substance on the shield located in the ice machine,” saw a worker’s open beverage container near the rice steamer in the kitchen’s food-prep area; observed multiple food items in the walk-in cooler without the proper date markings to ensure freshness and safety; noted there was no handwashing soap at handwashing sink in the kitchen; saw a worker wash his or her hands without first removing their gloves; observed raw chicken being stored above ready-to-eat sauce; and noted several food items, such as cooked pasta, pork ribs, shredded chicken and bourbon chicken, that were holding at temperatures above the allowable maximum of 41 degrees. The inspector also noted the discovery of “what appeared to be an area that was used to raise poultry” in an upstairs portion of the building along with several windows that were either missing and covered with plastic tarp, or were open to the outside. The inspector classified the visit as a “routine inspection conducted in reference to a non-illness complaint.” The complaint had alleged “general sanitation” violations and concerns with “poultry activity” at the restaurant and the use of nonapproved sources of meat. The inspection, which was conducted with the assistance of meat and poultry inspectors from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, documented unspecified “evidence of poultry activity.” The person in charge told inspectors that activity was attributable to a previous owner and the restaurant “no longer had poultry activity.” The current owners have been in charge of the establishment for two years, the inspector noted. The inspectors provided the owners with “guidance” on cleaning the area.

Cappy’s Pizzeria, 7037 C Ave., Cedar Rapids — During a July 7 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for failing to ensure sanitizer was being used for kitchen cutting boards and the three-compartment sink used to clean dishes. The inspector also reported that the cooler was holding food such as mashed potatoes and feta cheese at an unsafe temperature, between 50 degrees and 55 degrees; another cooler was holding foods at 45 degrees, which was also too warm; there was no certified food protection manager on site; sliced ham was found in a plastic bucket and date marked March 17; and food inside the walk-in cooler and refrigerators were not properly date marked. The inspector also noted other issues, such as the lack of a food thermometer in the building; improper dishwashing practices; and the fact that the most recent inspection report was not posted for the public to see.

Hot Diggity Dogz, 1902 Central Ave., Dubuque — During a July 7 visit, an inspector reported that the employee handwashing sink was non-functional; cut tomatoes used as a condiment were held at 79 degrees, which was far too warm; and hot dogs in “cold holding” were measured at 50 degrees, which was also too warm.

Thai Flavor Restaurant, 1254 E. 14th St., Des Moines — During a June 30 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for failing to maintain parasite-destruction letters to ensure the safety of the fish used for sushi; the sanitizing solution being used had an undetectable level of sanitizer; a container of raw chicken and raw pork was stored above a container of ready-to-eat noodles; a container of slurry was holding at 69 degrees and had to be discarded; the ice machine was visibly soiled with accumulated debris; at least one employee designated as the person in charge was not a certified food protection manager; soup was being held at 107 degrees and was discarded; multiple flats of raw-shell eggs were stored in the kitchen without being refrigerated; multiple sauces and soups were stored uncovered throughout the kitchen; and no foods at all — including noodles, spring rolls, bags of cut leafy greens, sliced tomatoes, bags of cooked rice, bags of cooked frozen rice, and containers of cooked chicken — were properly marked with their preparation or opening date. The inspector determined that due to the issues regarding violations related to cooling methods and  temperature control, the person in charge was not fulfilling their duties. The inspector also noted other issues, including noodles and cooked and fried meals being left to cool inside large, plastic bins; multiple soups and house-made sauces stored outside of any sort of hot-holding or cold-holding units; frozen dumplings and frozen chicken left to thaw at room temperature; the lack of a food thermometer; boxes of green beans, bags of rice, and boxes of leafy greens that “were stored directly on the ground;” glass cups stored in the dining room for customer use that were stacked while wet and unable to air dry; the lack of a testing kit for the sanitizing solution; and a ventilation hood that was heavily soiled with accumulated debris. The inspector noted that his visit was part of “an illness complaint investigation regarding allergen contamination and intentional contamination of food conducted,” but classified it as a routine inspection. The inspector determined the allegation of allergen contamination was verified but the claim of intentional contamination of food was unverifiable.

La Casa Mexican Restaurant, 508 N. Jefferson Way,  Indianola — During a June 29 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for storing ice cream, which was inside a cardboard container, submerged in a pan of uncovered raw chicken; for storing raw chicken over raw beef inside a cooler; for food handlers and other workers failing to wash their hands; for “spraying” the floor as part of cleaning in the food-prep area while uncovered containers of food were sitting on a table; for numerous containers of cooked and prepared foods that were not date marked; for refrigerator and cooler handles that had a “buildup” of some kind on them; for use of an unapproved chemical, Raid bug killer, in a licensed food establishment; for chemicals stored next to food-contact surfaces; for no soap at the handwashing sink in the bar area; for holding raw beef on the food-prep table at 57 degrees; and for a dishwashing machine that was not sanitizing dishes. The inspector also made note of numerous fly strips, described as “full,” hanging in the establishment; containers of food that were stored on the floor inside a walk-in cooler; numerous containers of food that were stored uncovered; and the lack of a probe-type thermometer to check the temperature of food. The state inspector said her visit was made in conjunction with a non-illness complaint, but she classified the inspection as routine. She wrote in her report that the manager informed her he had “not had any complaints regarding this” — the inspector didn’t disclose what “this” was — and she added in her report that “there was no indication of presence,” without stating what it was that she had determined wasn’t present.

Mitchell’s, 107 B St., Leland — During a June 29 visit, an inspector discovered frozen ground meat in a shed “that was not from an approved source.” The food protection manager’s certification had expired in April; there were raw shell eggs stored over ready-to-eat items; and the facility’s date-marking system was inconsistent. Also, sauces were stored at room temperature and were not refrigerated after opening. The state inspector wrote in her report that her visit was conducted in conjunction with a non-illness complaint of some kind, but the visit was classified as a routine inspection. She reported that the allegations in the complaint, which she did not describe, were verified through discussion with management.

Arandas Mexican Restaurant, 203 W. Broadway, Fairfield — During a June 28 visit, an inspector saw kitchen employees handling finished quesadillas with their bare hands; noted there was no soap at the employee handwashing sink in the kitchen; and determined that employees did not wash their hands between the handling of raw fish and ready-to-eat tortilla shells. There was salsa inside the cooler that was dated June 7, a violation the owner corrected by writing a new date on the item. Also, containers of cooked chicken and cooked beef were holding at 45 degrees inside a walk-in cooler and had to be discarded. The inspector also noted other issues, such as cooked rice that was being cooled on a counter at room temperature rather than in a cooler; a thermometer in the kitchen that was not operational; and the wall behind the dishwashing machine, which was visibly soiled with what appeared to be a mold-like substance.

The Grumpy Goat, 1303 Walnut St., Des Moines — During a June 28 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for storing raw shell eggs stored over ready-to-eat juice and milk; for holding batter that contained egg at 52 degrees; for storing food such as cooked chicken and pasta inside the reach-in cooler with no date markings; for failing to clean the ice machine and vegetable dicer, which were visibly soiled with what appeared to be food debris and mold; for failing to clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces; for holding chicken at 89 degrees; and for using the only sink designated for handwashing in the bar area to dump drinks. The inspector also noted raw ground hamburger that was thawing on the kitchen counter at room temperature. Also, the mechanical ventilation system was seen to be “dripping grease” and was visibly soiled with what appeared to be a build-up of grease on the filters.

Hometown Foods, 119 Main St., Conrad — During a June 25 visit, an inspector cited the store for failure to have any soap at the handwashing sink in the meat room. The sink also had gloves and a cleaning sponge stored inside of it, making it inaccessible for handwashing. Also, 14 containers of infant formula that had expired on March 1 were spotted and removed from the store shelves; there was no hot water available at the handwashing sink in the deli area; a worker’s pack of cigarettes was sitting directly on the sandwich-preparation table and cutting board; cut watermelon was being held at 51 degrees; and cut cantaloupe was being held at 55 degrees.

The Hub, 253 Main St., Dubuque — During a June 25 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for an ice machine with a buildup of debris; for measurable sanitizer in the solution used to clean glassware; and for gnats that were found in both a bottle of Black Velvet whisky and a bottle of cranberry vodka.

Hy-Vee Foods, 901 S. 4th St., Clinton — During a June 24 visit, an inspector cited the store for incorrectly demonstrating the procedures for food-safety testing of sushi rice, and for storing raw ground beef above other meat inside a cooler. The inspector also noted salmon had not been sliced open prior to thawing; the handles on equipment in the meat department were soiled with a buildup of debris; the mop used to clean the floor was stored directly in dirty mop water after use; and “general cleanliness” was lacking on the floors in the Asian food department, with a black buildup present. The inspector wrote that her visit was in conjunction with “a non-illness complaint,” but the visit was classified as a routine inspection. The complaint “involved bagging groceries near the Dumpster area,” the inspector wrote, adding that the complaint was verified. She did not elaborate or make any other reference to the issue in her report.

The Machine Shed, 7250 Northwest Blvd., Davenport — During a June 23 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for holding several products for more than 24 hours without proper date markings to ensure freshness and safety. The items included ribs, pot roast, cooked ham, pasta salad, gravy, noodles and potato salad. The inspector wrote that the establishment “appears to only be using date markings half of the time when foods are prepared,” noting that this same violation had been pointed out on previous occasions. Also, the interior of several refrigeration units required additional cleaning. The reach-in cooler, the refrigerated drawers, the cooler at the end of the cook line and the salad cooler were all determined to have a buildup of food debris and were in need of cleaning. The onion dicer was stored on the clean-dish rack with a large accumulation of dried food debris on it; and cooked, crispy onion strands were being held under a heat lamp at 80 degrees and had to be discarded. Also, two crates holding “clean” plates were stored on the floor in the back of the kitchen where they were at risk of contamination; the exterior doors and handles of the reach-in coolers had a buildup of dried food debris; a shelf holding clean pans was noted to have a buildup of spilled food debris; the floor in the walk-in freezer had a large amount of spilled food on the floor; and a microwave oven had a buildup of dried food on it. “All areas require additional cleaning,” the inspector wrote.

Cabos Cantina & Grill No. 2, 5717 Elmore Ave., Davenport — During a June 22 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for a walk-in cooler that was holding foods at 53 to 55 degrees, far too warm to ensure food safety. Several prepared foods had to be discarded, including cheese sauce, pans of beans, prepared meats, containers of milk and cheeses. A separate reach-in cooler was also holding foods at 53 to 55 degrees, resulting in more food being discarded. A third cooler was holding raw chicken and beef at 53 to 54 degrees. Also, there was no sanitizer being used in the dishwashing machine; several cooked foods were improperly date marked and had to be discarded; the handwashing sink was used for trash and was filled with discarded packages; and employees were not properly using the three-compartment sink to sanitize dishes, were not washing their hands before putting on gloves to cook food, and were using their bare hands to place toppings on tacos.

Pho Vietnamese Restaurant, 2315 Edgewood SW Road, Cedar Rapids — During a June 22 visit, an inspector saw an employee working on raw meat while handling orders from customers, and filling a bowl of soup, all without washing her hands. The inspector also reported that eggs were left at room temperature rather than in a cooler; that raw chicken was stored on top of cooked beef inside a cooler; and several food items were not date marked as required.

Old China Buffet, 2275 16th SW Ave., Cedar Rapids — During a June 17 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for not using any sanitizing solution in the kitchen; for holding fried rice in a cooker that reached only 78 degrees; for having no one on duty trained in food safety procedures; and for storing food with no date markings. Some of the inspector’s findings were not clearly articulated in her report, with one violation related to a worker who “pilled ripped banana” — presumably meaning “peeled a ripe banana” — with their bare hands. The inspector wrote that many of the violations she observed were repeat violations and added that she informed the manager the restaurant was operating without a current valid license.

Hawkeye Sports Bar & Grille, 4646 Cheyenne Ave., Davenport — During a June 16 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for a lack of soap at the staff handwashing sinks; for a cooler that was holding foods between 46 and 50 degrees, too warm to ensure food safety; for storing several toxic chemicals throughout the establishment alongside food; for a buildup of grime on the holsters for pop-dispensing guns; for standing water and a buildup of food debris in two coolers; for raw beef patties being stored over fully cooked corned beef; for several open packages of deli meats that were held for more than 24 hours with no proper date markings; and for grime along the shelving racks in the kitchen. “All items require additional cleaning,” the inspector wrote. The visit was prompted by an allegation that the restaurant was operating without a license. The inspector wrote that the owner was “unknowingly operating without their food service establishment license” and that he subsequently completed an application and paid a licensing fee.

The Filling Station, 305 E. 35th St., Davenport — During a June 15 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for holding cooked chicken breasts at 111 degrees and fried chicken wings at 128 degrees in the hot-holding area, which was too cold to ensure food safety. Raw tenderloin patties were stored a walk-in cooler above ready-to eat foods; a cooler was holding foods between 43 and 49 degrees, too warm to ensure food safety; and another walk-in cooler was observed holding several foods, such as dressing, deli meat, pickles, etc., above the maximum allowable 41 degrees; one of the holsters for the pop-dispensing guns had a buildup of grime; the interior of a reach-in cooler had a buildup of food debris and standing water in it; a vegetable dicer had a buildup of food debris; the high-heat dishwashing machine was not properly  sanitizing dishes; and several products in the coolers had no proper date markings, including hot dogs, chili, stew, gravy, and roasts. Also, a bag of flour was stored on the floor of the kitchen; several pans sitting in the “clean” dish rack had visible, sticky residue; there was no test kit available for checking the concentration of the sanitizing solution used behind the bar; and the filters above the fryers had a buildup of grease and required additional cleaning. Almost all of the violations were repeat violations, the inspector noted.

Mini Super La Victoria, 1638 E. University Ave., Des Moines — During a June 15 visit, an inspector cited the store for a head of lettuce and bag of carrots that were “visibly adulterated with what appeared to be a mold-like substance,” and reported that a nearby bag of hot dogs had liquid from the “adulterated lettuce” on them. Chicken was being held at 117 degrees and had had to be discarded; bread was observed “drying” above the kitchen cooler without any lid or covering; a container of rice that was holding at 104 degrees had to be discarded; bottles of snow-cone flavoring were stored next to cleaning chemicals; raw shell eggs were stored above cooked beans inside a cooler; raw chicken was stored above raw pork at the meat counter; and there were no food items that were date marked in the establishment. Also, multiple bulk-ingredient bins for retail sales were not labeled with their product name; multiple boxes of snack items were stored “directly on the ground in the back;” and the toilet was out of service and inaccessible to employees. The inspector wrote that his visit was part of a non-illness complaint investigation concerning general facility and equipment sanitation, adulterated food and improper holding temperatures. The visit was classified as a routine inspection. The inspector reported that he verified the complaints pertaining to adulterated foods and improper holding temperatures, but that all other complaints, including those related to general facility and equipment sanitation, were considered unverifiable.

La Michuacana and Michoacana Meat Market, 1215 and 1221 Franklin St., Waterloo — During a June 8 inspection, an inspector reported that shredded lettuce was sitting on top of raw hamburger on the dish sink in the kitchen. The inspector also reported that multiple hot food items were left out on the counter and were holding at 130 degrees or less, which was too cold to ensure they were safe. Also, the handwashing sink on the grocery side of the business was full of dirty dishes and “meat bits;” the walk-in cooler on the restaurant side of the business was holding food at 60 degrees or higher, far too warm to ensure food safety; and meat on the counter in the deli side of the business was holding at 54 degrees. Also, multiple badly dented cans had to be removed from the sales floor on the grocery side of the business.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Clark Kauffman
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.

MORE FROM AUTHOR