Restaurant inspection update: Rodents, dead mussels and garbage-can lettuce

By: - August 23, 2021 11:28 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 flying insects, a garbage can used to wash lettuce, rodent infestations and a restaurant owner who reportedly “did not understand the basics of food safety.”

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 the 1,000 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.

Three Samurai, 1801 2nd St., Coralville — During an Aug. 10 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for 20 separate risk-factor violations, which is an extraordinarily large number of serious violations tied to a single inspection. Among the violations: A food worker was handling cooked appetizers with his or her bare hands while placing them on customers’ plates; milk was being held at 50 degrees and cut lettuce was being held at 60 degrees; a cooler was unable to maintain proper cold-holding temperatures; the dishwashing machine was not reaching the required temperature to sanitize dishes; sushi rice that must be disposed of in a timely fashion was not marked with the preparation time and had to be discarded; there was no designated person in charge who was present in the restaurant; house-made, perishable foods stored in coolers were not date-marked and had to be discarded; the person in charge of the restaurant appeared to have no knowledge of time and temperature controls necessary to ensure food safety; cooked fried rice was holding at room temperature on a kitchen counter and no one could say how long it had been there; and there was dried food debris on the food slicer, although it had not been used that day. The inspector also noted other violations that did not fall into the category of serious, risk-factor violations. Among them: Frozen raw salmon was left on a counter at room temperature to thaw; multiple containers of seasonings and sauces in squeeze bottles had no labels; a cook was working without a hairnet; and the scoop used to pull ice from the ice machine for customers’ drinks was stored on top of the ice machine. The inspection was classified as a routine inspection but stemmed from a complaint that the inspector ruled was unverifiable. Many of the violations were of the same nature as those noted during the last routine inspection in 2019.

Best Western Regency Inn’s El Ranchero, 3303 S. Center St., Marshalltown — During a July 27 visit, inspectors observed ant-and-roach pesticide sitting on stored, clean plates above a food-preparation table; a kitchen worker was packaging tortillas with his bare hands; and items such as cooked rice, cooked meat and beans, cooked pork loin, cooked beef tongue, cooked roasts, cut lettuce mixtures and fresh salsas inside the walk-in cooler were not marked with any date of production or any date of disposal. Also, the person in charge was not a certified food protection manager; a large pan of cooked meat and beans prepared a day before was holding at 64 degrees inside a cooler; bags of commercially prepared scrambled-egg mix were seen thawing on the counter at room temperature; multiple boxes of tortillas, onions, rice, and beans were stored on the floor throughout the kitchen; and food-preparation sink was leaking into a pan of stagnant water. The inspection was prompted by a complaint but classified as a routine inspection. The complaint pertained to general sanitation, food temperatures, and pest control, and was deemed by the state inspector to be partially verified.

Tasty Tacos, 6326 Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines — During a July 29 visit, an inspector observed that the sanitizing fluid mixed to clean dishes and utensils was too weak; the beans held in a food warmer were averaging 111 degrees to 127 degrees, which was too cool to prevent spoilage; the meat and bean mixture prepared the day before was not date-marked; the steak meat next inside a reach-in cooler was covered in foil and should have been placed in a freezer; the back door near the employee storage and kitchen areas had visible air gaps; there were no test strips available to check the chlorine-based sanitizer; and there was no handle for the hot-water faucet in one of the bathrooms. The inspection was conducted in response to a complaint from a customer who had reportedly become ill after eating at the restaurant, but the inspection was classified as routine. The manager told inspectors the restaurant had not received any complaints but did have one reach-in cooler repaired earlier in the week as it wasn’t working properly. The complaint was deemed unverifiable. The state inspector wrote in his report that the manager could not provide any documentation showing the restaurant had been monitoring the temperatures of food and so the use of timers was discussed. The manager indicated he would “consider” using timers, the report states.

Floyd Valley Hospital, 714 Lincoln St. NE, Le Mars — During a July 27 visit, an inspector noted that containers of bleach and a container of bathroom cleaner were being stored “directly next to or above food-contact surfaces” in the kitchen, with no barrier. Also, chili that had been cooked the night before was inside the walk-in cooler and was still holding at 59 degrees and had to be discarded. The hospital kitchen also discarded sliced melons and yogurt that were being held above the minimum allowable temperature. The inspector noted that shredded spinach, shredded cheese, sliced turkey and sliced tomatoes on the sandwich bar all measured 52 degrees to 59 degrees. The kitchen manager said those items would not be discarded and would be served at lunch that same day. If they hadn’t cooled to 41 degrees by the time lunch service ended, the manager said, they would be discarded.

Thunder Lanes, 810 E 1st St., Sumner — During an Aug. 11 visit, an inspector cited the establishment for having many food items that were “not adequately protected,” an apparent reference to construction dust and debris caused by a remodeling project that was initiated at least two years prior to the inspection. The report also noted “missed opportunities for handwashing” by the staff; “many violations and repeats” that were not specified by the inspector; foods that were not properly date-marked to prevent spoilage; mold in door gaskets; and a food-preparation board that smelled “greasy” and was heavily soiled with “blackened growth.”  In her report, the inspector also noted there were “many gaps and openings” around the building, and said walls and ceilings were incomplete, and the flooring was “broken up in a number of areas.”  She also noted “vast areas” that might harbor pests, and pointed out there was a “large amount of rodent droppings” found in cupboards and around the grilling area. She cited construction dust throughout the area, as well as soiled clothing, food containers for to-go orders that were improperly stored, plumbing that was in a state of disrepair, exposed ground and gravel in the interior of the building, a large amount of general debris, flooring that was marked by greasy build-up and old food particles, and mouse droppings that had not been cleaned up. The establishment “needed to be thoroughly cleaned,” the inspector wrote.

Casey’s General Store, 825 Flindt Dr., Storm Lake — During an Aug. 12 visit, an inspector cited the establishment for a freezer door that was in poor condition and allowing ice to form and build up on boxes of food; for having no certified food protection manager the previous two months; for workers who washed their hands only after donning gloves; for boxes of food stored in a walk-in freezer that were open and not protected from contamination; and for failing to date-mark the food used to prepare submarine sandwiches.

Homer’s Sports Bar & Grille, 1911 S. Federal Ave., Mason City — During an Aug. 12 visit, an inspector cited the establishment for keeping prime rib sitting at the top of a cooler, at 55 degrees, rather than on a lower shelf to prevent cross-contamination; for a walk-in cooler that was holding food at 46 degrees, which was too warm to prevent spoilage; for taco meat that was being held in a crockpot at 77 degrees, which was far too cool to prevent spoilage; for holding other taco meat at 80 degrees; and for having shut off the water to the kitchen’s hand-washing sink due to a leak.

Hy-Vee Foods, Highway 34, Albia — During an Aug. 11 visit, an inspector cited the establishment for having no currently certified food protection manager and for having failed to date-mark cooked brats, breading, a cooked rice dish, lasagna, and boiled eggs to prevent spoilage.

Fast Break, 2580 Naples Ave., Iowa City — During an Aug. 11 visit, inspectors cited the establishment for hot dogs and tornadoes that were holding on the roller grill well below the minimum required temperature of 135 degrees that would prevent spoilage; for several prepared food items in the refrigerator had been held past maximum allowable time of seven days and had to be discarded; and for multiple items that were not date-marked to prevent spoilage.

New York Gyros, 808 7th Ave., Marion — During an Aug. 9 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for nine serious risk-factor violations. “The owner did not understand the basics of food safety,” according to the inspector, and also was “not familiar with the employee health requirements.” Prepared items were held more than 24 hours without being date-marked; employees handled food with their bare hands; there was “no sanitizer” in the building; and there was no certified food protection manager on staff, the inspector reported.

Subway, 2302 Muscatine Ave., Iowa City — During an Aug. 9 inspection, the restaurant was cited for failing to have a certified food protection manager on staff or available to answer questions. The report also made note of meatballs for sandwiches that were held at 111 degrees, which was too cool to prevent spoilage; a bottle of glass cleaner and a wet sanitizing cloth that were left on a cutting board alongside the meatballs; a lack of sanitizing solution; and flooring under the equipment on the food-prep line that had a build-up of food debris.

The Bohemian, 1029 3rd St. SE, Cedar Rapids — During an Aug. 5 inspection, the restaurant was cited for holding butter, sour cream, sliced ham, chicken wings and chopped chicken salad for more than seven days. Also, several items in the walk-in cooler were not date-marked; red cabbage was stored by raw meat; baked potatoes were sitting on a tray left at room temperature and were about 60 degrees; workers were not washing their hands at the appropriate times; and short ribs that were “thrown in a warmer” were holding at 120 degrees and had to be reheated to 165 degrees.

Tokyo Bay Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, 1931 Sears Ave., Waterloo — As the result of an Aug. 5 visit, an inspector reported that “due to numerous foodborne-illness risk-factor violations today, the person in charge needs to review what their duties and responsibilities are in this facility.” Among the violations: a large tub of pasta cooked the previous day was in a walk-in cooler and was measured at 56 degrees, having not yet reached the required minimum holding temperature of 41 degrees; there was no date-marking process in place for foods prepared on site; four large trays of eggs were sitting on a shelf by the grill and were being held at 78 degrees and had to be discarded; cooked chicken, cooked tempura shrimp and vegetable items were being held at room temperature and had to be discarded; a large plastic garbage can was being used to hold washed lettuce and without being sanitized before each use; several bins of cooked pasta prepared in recent days were not date-marked and the staff was unclear as to which of them had been prepared first.

Nina’s Café 93, 820 E 1st St., Sumner —During an Aug. 4 inspection, the restaurant was cited for raw poultry that was stored above ready-to-eat items; a contaminated food-preparation board where chicken was cut; sauces that were labeled as needing refrigeration were stored at room temperature; food items that had no date-markings; and “many food safety errors, many violations” noted by the inspector but not specified. The inspector reported that no sanitizer buckets were set up in the kitchen and wiping cloths were being reused without any sanitizing solution. Many plastic containers that were meant to be single-use containers were being reused, and the area around the mop sink was “very smelly” and was infested with “many flying insects.” Also, the ventilation hoods were heavily soiled and dripping with grease.

Baroncini, 104 S. Linn St., Iowa City — During an Aug. 3 inspection, the restaurant was cited for several dead mussels that were found in a bucket alongside live mussels. The violation was corrected by having the person in charge remove all of the mussels that were dead. The inspector also noted that the kitchen’s commercial meat slicer had an excessive amount of food debris built up on the blade; there were no shell-stock tags for some of the mussels; Krazy Glue and a burn ointment were stored in the rings and molds used by the kitchen staff for food arrangements; and meat inside a cooler was not being held at a cold enough temperature and had to be discarded. Also, containers were stored while still wet and were not allowed to completely air dry before stacking; untreated wood two-by-fours were used on the pizza preparation table as bumpers to keep food items from falling off the table; the restaurant had no chlorine test strips for checking sanitizer concentrations used for cleaning; food splatters were observed on the ceiling; and the restaurant’s last inspection report was not posted in a conspicuous location where it could be easily read by the public.

Hy-Vee Foods, 2540 Euclid Ave., Des Moines — During an Aug. 3 visit, the inspector observed that the inside of a microwave oven was visibly soiled with accumulated food debris; the handwashing sink was not stocked with paper towels; a container of pulled pork from July 26 was stored beyond the allowable seven days; shell-stock identification tags were not stored with the displayed oysters; cooked noodles from July 31 were still on hand and holding at 50 degrees; multiple containers of food, including taco meat, General Tso chicken, and meatloaf, were not marked with their preparation dates; and employees’ open cans of energy drinks were seen on top of sour cream containers in the kitchen area. This inspection was the result of a complaint regarding the improper date-marking of deli cheese, but was classified a routine inspection. The complaint was deemed unverifiable by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. The restaurant manager agreed to re-train employees regarding date-marking procedures.

Hy-Vee Gas, 4018 W. Lincoln Way, Ames — During an Aug. 3 visit, an inspector observed that numerous hot foods were not being held at a safe temperature, including cheese spuds at 121 degrees; sausage bagel sandwiches at 109 degrees; an egg-cheese-and-bacon muffin at 124 degrees; a french toast sandwich with sausage at 108 degrees; and several other items. Also, the establishment was not filling out logs as required by public health regulations, and the employee handwashing sink in the kitchen was not operational.

Texas Roadhouse, 5130 Sergeant Road, Sioux City — During a July 29 visit, an inspector observed that one of the meat coolers was not plugged in. Meat that had been placed in the cooler about 30 minutes prior to the inspector’s arrival was measured at 48 to 50 degrees. Also, the salad cooler that was holding cheese was holding food at 55 to 60 degrees. Sinks intended for handwashing had bowls being stored in them; the “clean” plates that were stored were visibly unclean; the high-temperature dishwashing machine was not properly sanitizing the surfaces of dishes; several flies were seen in the food-preparation area; several cutting boards were visibly stained and deeply grooved, making them difficult to sanitize; and areas of the storage room were not clean.

Hy-Vee Foods, 2900 Devil’s Glen Road, Bettendorf —During a July 28 visit, an inspector noted that the sanitizer used in the Market Grille and at the Starbucks kiosk was not mixed properly and was not  strong enough to sanitize surfaces as intended. Also, a pan of tomatoes in the deli area was more than a week old and had to be discarded; two “clean” knives used in kitchen area behind the Asian Food station were visibly soiled with food debris; several of the handwashing sinks throughout the store had no paper towels; and one of the racks inside the walk-in cooler had a build-up of grime and a mold-like substance. In the retail store, the inspector found seven cans of infant and toddler formula that were past the use-by date and had to be discarded.

Cedar Rapids Country Club, 550 27th St., Cedar Rapids — During a July 22 visit, inspectors noted that one cooler was holding milk at 55 degrees; another cooler was holding butter at 58 degrees; raw hamburger was stored above cooked meat inside a walk-in cooler, creating a risk of cross-contamination; a sink intended for handwashing was blocked by a dirty-towel bin and by wet towels inside sink basin; house-made herb oil and chicken thighs were dated July 8, indicating they were well past the seven-day limit; and the dishwashing machine wasn’t properly sanitizing dishes. Also, a pan of frozen salmon was found “on the floor in the basement of the No. 2 freezer,” and the most recent inspection report was not posted in a conspicuous area for customers to read.

Hy-Vee Foods, 3800 W. Lincoln Way, Ames — During a July 21 visit, inspectors noted that the inside of the ice machine was visibly soiled, and the surrounding area was soiled and marked by stagnant water. A sink intended for handwashing was blocked by a cart full of trays; the cleaning solution in a three-compartment sink was not properly sanitizing dishes as it had zero measurable sanitizing fluid in it; and several food products in the Market Grille area were held longer than seven days, including macaroni and cheese, baked beans, salsa and pico de gallo. Also, the restaurant was not following sushi-preparation protocols to ensure a safe food product, and four containers of expired infant formula were found.

Cabos Cantina & Grill, 1500 E. LeClaire Road, Eldridge — During a July 20 inspection, the restaurant was cited for holding a pan of refried beans, as well as a pan of rice, at room temperature for several hours; a pan of hard-shell tacos was being stored on top of an open garbage can in the kitchen; both of the sinks intended for staff handwashing were being used to clean or store utensils and containers; a can of chemical glass cleaner was stored next to pan of cooling refried beans; a can toxic stainless-steel cleaner was stored on top of “clean” plates in the kitchen; a reach-in cooler on the cook line was holding foods between 47 and 54 degrees, despite being set to the coldest level; one of the coolers had a build-up of food debris and grime and required additional cleaning; and the dishwashing machine was not sanitizing dishes by either heat or chemicals. Also, the kitchen floor and the floor of a walk-in cooler floor were visibly soiled with a build-up of food debris and required additional cleaning.

King’s Pointe Waterpark Resort, 1520 E. Lakeshore Dr., Storm Lake — During a July 16 visit, an inspector noted that “several food contact surfaces were not clean to the sight or touch,” but he did not elaborate. Also, several unspecified items in the walk-in cooler were being held at temperatures above the minimum of 41 degrees; other food was being held past the use-by date; house-made gravy was being held near room temperature; some unspecified items in the cooler did not have proper date-markings on them; unspecified kitchen equipment was visibly soiled; and the establishment’s license was expired.

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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.

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