Restaurant inspection update: Roaches, rodents and moldy food

By: - September 30, 2021 8:10 pm

(Photo by Clark Kauffman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

In the past six weeks, state and county food inspectors have cited Iowa restaurants and grocery stores for hundreds of food-safety violations, including moldy pasta and tomatoes, swarms of flies, shrimp and beef left to thaw inside mop sinks, spiders in food containers, “rodent activity,” and filthy kitchens with pooling water and cockroaches.

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 city, county and state inspections at Iowa restaurants, stores, schools, hospitals and other businesses over the past six 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.

Irina’s Restaurant and Bar, 2301 Rocklyn Dr., Urbandale – During a Sept. 2 visit, a state inspector discovered pasta, with what appeared to be mold on it, in the establishment’s pasta cooler. The pasta was discarded.  The inspector also made note of the fact that the establishment was using a residential-style pest-control fogger that is prohibited for use in commercial kitchens. The owner agreed to discontinue using such products. The inspector also reported the restaurant had no certified food protection manager on staff; there was no soap at the handwashing sink; six live cockroaches were seen on walls in the kitchen and on the floor in the dish room; the grease hood and filters were not clean; and cracked floor tiles were allowing water to pool in the dish room. The inspector’s public report says, “Complaint received and verified,” but does not describe the nature of the complaint. The state inspection agency gave the restaurant until March 2022 – more than five months – to have on staff at least one certified food protection manager. The restaurant had last been inspected in June 2019, according to state records.

Gourmet Garden, 5907 University Ave., Cedar Falls — During a Sept. 15 visit, a Black Hawk County inspector cited the restaurant for a leaking condenser inside the walk-in cooler where a rusty can was being used to catch water; for a cooler that was keeping food at 68 degrees; for food that was left out in the open air and was holding at 70 degrees or warmer; for large amounts of “oily, prepped batter” stored “well above 70 degrees;” for failing to have obtained the required food manager certification; for failing to ensure that food-safety requirements are being followed; for the storage of food for unknown durations; for failing to date-mark prepared foods; for being unable to answer questions about food-borne illnesses; for having no chemical sanitizer in the device used to clean dishes; for having both of the staff’s handwashing sinks in the kitchen inaccessible for use; and for maintaining both handwashing sinks in a state described by the inspector as “very soiled.” The inspector noted that she had to use Google Translate to explain certain health-code requirements to the Chinese manager, and made note of other concerns, such as missing thermometers in food-holding units; open containers of food throughout the facility; and dirty equipment above and around the open containers of food. She noted that the kitchen operator’s clothing was soiled; stagnant water was being held inside a used food-product can; single-use food containers were being re-used by the staff; various pieces of equipment as well as the food-preparation coolers were “very soiled with greasy build-up;” there was “garbage and waste is in all areas of the kitchen;” there was “bloody, used chicken packaging” left sitting on a shelf; and there was “garbage accumulation throughout the kitchen.” The inspector returned the next day to check on progress in correcting the violations and reported that she “reiterated multiple times during the visit that food temperatures and food protection are of the greatest concern.” She observed unprotected food; unknown substances – possibly peppers or onions – stored inside re-used water bottles in a walk-in cooler; a can with cigarette butts and ashes in it; food that was being stored on the floor; and utensils that were “sitting in stagnant water.” During a Sept. 23 revisit, the restaurant was cited for “many missed opportunities for handwashing;” for the staff’s handling of raw meat with their bare hands; for workers failing to wash their hands “at any point during the visit;” for continuing to have no food-safety certification; for continuing to store food with no date markings; and for continuing to hold multiple food items at above 41 degrees, such as shrimp at 59 degrees and battered chicken at 64 degrees. At that time, the inspector noted the staff had “done some cleaning” but added that the “owner is not cooperative. He points out frosty build-up on condenser (inside the cooler) and states, ‘How can this be frozen and the food not be cold?’” The inspector said she demonstrated how to hold food at safe temperatures by using stainless steel vessels and ice, but the owner responded by saying, “No, I don’t have enough space or containers.” The inspector noted there were pajamas found in one area of the kitchen.

Jethro’s Barbecue-Southside, 4337 Park Ave., Des Moines – During a Sept. 10 visit, inspectors noted there was a commercial pesticide present in the kitchen, which the manager said was sprayed at night by the cooks. The manager removed the spray from the kitchen and agreed to use the necessary, certified pesticide applicator in the future. Also, the inspector noted there was no soap at a handwashing sink; a worker’s uncovered drink was seen above the food-prep table on the cook line; grilled onions were stored at 119 degrees and had to be discarded; workers did not wash their hands between the handling of dirty and clean dishes; house-made Thousand Island dressing was dated Aug. 20, well past the seven-day limit; a food slicer that had not been used for several hours was crusted with debris; bean and corn salsa was measured at 45 degrees, as were burnt ends; and white barbecue sauce was stored at room temperature in an open jug in the dry storage area.

Casey’s General Store, 102 W. Veterans Drive, Ogden – During a Sept. 14 visit, a state inspector noted that the handwashing sink intended for staff use was instead being used to store employees’ drinks and kitchen utensils. Also, the cook was using a soiled rag, rather than tongs, to retrieve pizzas from the oven. The inspector also noted that mozzarella cheese that had been left sitting out at room temperature was holding at 45 degrees, and that a bucket of sanitizing solution had no measurable level of sanitizer in it. State records indicate the last time the store was inspected was in February 2017.

Casa De Oro, 900 Senate Ave., Red Oak – During a Sept. 13 visit, a state inspector observed dirty dishes being stored in the sink intended for handwashing; there was no hot water in the handwashing sink; the mechanical dishwashing machine had no measurable sanitizing solution; there was a “mold-like substance” in the ice machine; and a “tub of shrimp” was being thawed inside a mop sink.

Frontier Cafe, 831 Main St., Grinnell – During a Sept. 13 visit, a state  inspector noted that cooked pasta, cooked corned beef, cooked soups, cut tomatoes, prepared batters, house made salad dressing, and cooked onions were not marked with either a production date or a discard date, and the person in charge was unable explain the dates on the few items that were marked. Also, the restaurant did not employ a certified food protection manager; the handwashing sink at the waitress station had no hot water; raw chicken was being stored over cooked potatoes and refried beans; raw hamburger patties were stored over ready-to-eat sausage patties and cooked ham; and the interior of the ice machine had a build-up of “black, mold-like growth.” The restaurant had last been inspected in March 2018, according to state records.

Mariana’s, 1305 University Ave., Des Moines – During a Sept. 13 visit, a state inspector saw workers moving between cleaning and food preparation without washing their hands; the chlorine dishwashing machine had no measurable level of sanitizing solution; raw beef was stored above ready-to-eat foods and sauces; raw chicken was sitting in water that splashed onto a nearby cutting board; unidentified meat that was cooked the day before was holding at 44 degrees and had to be discarded; and the person in charge was not effectively monitoring food safety practices. Also, beans, pork and chicken, all of which had been reheating for hours, had to be discarded due to not being within safe temperature ranges. The inspector noted that a “large presence of gnats or small flies” in the food-preparation area and added that many pans had been stacked, unwashed, inside sinks, on counters, on shelves and throughout the kitchen. Cooking grease was being stored in a bucket and then disposed of in the garbage, as there was no proper grease disposal available for the establishment. The inspector also noted a “heavy build-up” of some unspecified substance in various containers and pans, and on kitchen doors, handles and other surfaces. The restaurant had last been inspected in December 2018, according to state records.

El Paraiso Bar & Grill, 2730 Edgewood SW Road, Cedar Rapids – During a Sept. 10 visit, the Linn County inspector noted that rice was holding at  103 degrees and had to be discarded; an employee assisting customers in the serving line was seen washing his hands while they were gloved and then returning to the serving line; another worked handled raw meat and then handled ready-to-eat foods without first washing his hands; raw meat was stored on top of cooked pork inside a walk-in cooler; rice and fried beans that had been held overnight were measured at between 89 degrees and 103 degrees, not hot or cold enough to be safe; and there was no soap at any of three handwashing sinks.

Fox Ridge Farm (Wilson’s Orchard), 4823 Dingleberry NE Road, Iowa City – During a Sept. 10 visit, Johnson County inspectors found crushed tomatoes in the walk-in cooler that had visible mold growth and had to be discarded. The restaurant also had house-made food products stored well beyond the acceptable seven-day limit, such as peach filling that was dated Aug. 20; tomatoes that were dated July 23; house-made pickles dated June 21; and sweet potatoes dated Aug. 21. The restaurant did not employ a certified food protection manager, and the inspector noted an infestation of flies, adding that the use of fly strips was “unable to keep up” with the number of flies. The inspector also noted that the last inspection report was not posted for public viewing. He added that the inspection, while classified as routine, also involved a non-illness complaint concerning “adulterated foods.” The restaurant had last been inspected in October 2018, according to state records.

Marco’s Grilled Cheese, 117N. Linn St., Iowa City – During a Sept. 9 visit, inspectors reported that all of the potentially hazardous food items stored in the food-preparation cooler were not being held at a safe temperature, with some foods measured at 49 degrees. The manager voluntarily discarded all of the food items. The inspector also noted that the person in charge was not a certified food protection manager as required; the vegetable dicer and counter-mounted can opener had a build-up of food and debris on the blades; and the employee in charge of the kitchen was not able to answer basic questions about the necessary holding temperatures for cold and hot foods, or the cooking temperatures of raw items.

Newton’s Paradise Café, 128 E. 4th St., Waterloo – During a Sept. 9 visit, the Black Hawk County inspector reported unspecified “cold holding issues, cleaning issues (and) date marking issues.” He did not elaborate in his report.  The inspection was classified as “routine” but in his report the inspector wrote that he went to the establishment in response to a complaint pertaining to “improper cold holding” of food. His report does not say whether he considered the complaint verified. The inspector’s report also made note of shell eggs sitting out at 82 degrees that had to be discarded, and it referenced two tubs of potato salad that were discarded when it was found that one of them had expired at some point in August and the other had expired Sept. 1, eight days prior. The inspector also remarked that cutting boards in the kitchen were “dirty” and the food slicer had not been taken apart and cleaned properly. He also noted that storage containers of some unspecified type were dirty, and that the walls and floors in the restaurant were dirty.

Baxter Family Market, 103 N. Main St., Baxter – During a Sept. 8 visit, a state inspector noted that there were containers of prepared salsa from Aug. 9, a full month before, in the deli area’s retail display case. The containers were bulging and were discarded. The inspector also found a cooked chicken meal that had been prepared on Sept. 6 but was dated to expire Sept. 16, in excess of the allowable seven days. The establishment had last been inspected in November 2017, according to state records.

The Davenport Country Club, 25500 Valley Dr., Pleasant Valley – During a Sept. 8 visit, a Scott County inspector watched as a worker plated a sandwich with his or her bare hands. The sandwich was discarded and the worker remade the sandwich with washed, gloved hands. The inspector noted this was a repeat violation. The inspector also reported that a handwashing sink for the staff was being used instead as a “dump sink” for food and utensils. Also, four cans of food that were dented on the rim and the seam were found and discarded; there was some form of leakage from a refrigeration unit that resulted in water dripping onto a pan of baked potatoes intended for restaurant patrons; the sides of the fryers and cooking equipment in the two kitchens had an excess build-up of grease; the soda-gun holsters in both kitchens had a build-up of grime; the popcorn machine was soiled and had an excess build-up of food debris; and a freezer in the upstairs kitchen was soiled and in need of cleaning.

Mr. Burrito, 2508 Lincoln Way, Ames – During a Sept. 7 visit, a state inspector discovered the establishment was thawing frozen, raw beef at room temperature by placing it in the mop sink. In one of the coolers, the inspector found corn holding at 50 degrees. The corn and other food products in the cooler were discarded. The restaurant had last been inspected in November 2016, according to state records.

La Capital Del Taco, 311 E. 10th St., Tama – During a Sept. 3 visit of this newly licensed mobile unit, a state inspector reported that there was no date-marking system in use anywhere in the establishment. Cooked tripe, cooked pork, cooked beef, cut lettuce, house-made salsas, shredded cheese, and cooked pepper and onion mix had no dates and their safety could not be assured. The report gives no indication as to whether any of the undated foods were discarded. The inspector also reported that the establishment did not have the ability to sanitize any equipment or utensils, as there was no approved sanitizer anywhere on the premises. While the inspector was on site, an individual delivered cooked rice and cooked beans that had been prepared off-site at someone’s home. The inspector also noted that there was no food thermometer available; raw meats and cut vegetables were being stored in single-use, grocery-style bags; the cutting board was discolored and deeply grooved, making sanitation difficult; food debris, such as rice and cooked meats, were seen in the wells of the steam table and around the stove burners; and the most recent inspection report was not posted.

Brew Central Mart-Riverside, 2026 Riverside Boulevard, Sioux City – During a Sept. 2 visit, a Siouxland District Health Department inspector noted that the containers for pizza toppings were heavily soiled, and the food within the containers was date-marked Aug. 20. “All food was voluntarily discarded during inspection,” the inspector reported. The employee handwashing sink was inaccessible and was blocked with cleaners and grocery sacks, and the ice machine was visibly soiled, as were cutting boards, tongs and spoons.

The Okoboji Grill of Newton, 1425 W. 19th St., Newton – During a Sept. 2 visit, a state inspector reported there was “rodent activity on the premises,” with rodent traps being used. Also, a ribbon-style fly strip, with several dead insects affixed to it, was seen in the kitchen. “This was a complaint investigation concerning the pest control, glove usage and personal hygiene, and the shelf-life of foods,” the inspector wrote in his report, adding that the complaint about rodents could not be verified. “The firm has demonstrated managerial control and adequate mitigation measures to prevent the proliferation of additional pests,” the inspector wrote. The inspector cited the establishment for a container of grilled chicken, still cooling from the previous night, that was holding at 64 degrees and had to be discarded; for visibly soiled fans in the kitchen that could be seen blowing directly into food-preparation areas and onto uncovered food; for storing bathroom cleaner in the food preparation area; for an ice machine that was visibly soiled with “black accumulation” of an unknown substance; for a mounted can opener that was visibly soiled with accumulated debris; for soda fountain nozzles that were visibly soiled with accumulated debris; and for soda-gun nozzles that were visibly soiled. The inspector reported watching as a worker scooped cooked pasta into individual bags using his or her bare hands. The inspector also reported that food-contact surfaces such as the cutting boards, were only being sanitized once a day rather than every four hours. The restaurant had last been inspected in April 2018, according to state records.

Pete’s Thai Kitchen, 609 E. 22nd St., Dubuque – During a Sept. 2 visit, a City of Dubuque inspector cited the establishment for storing raw beef above fruit inside a cooler; for a complete absence of date-marking throughout the business; for storing a bucket inside a sink intended for handwashing; for a lack of any “active, managerial control” for handwashing, holding temperatures and safe food-thawing procedures; for cooked rice left sitting out at room temperature; for holding fresh spring rolls – some containing shrimp and tofu – at 70 degrees; for thawing raw chicken in a large bowl that was left sitting in a storage room; for the use od ribbon-style fly traps directly above a rice cooker and food chopper; and for an “access amount of drain fly’s” (an apparent reference to an excess amount of flies). The inspector also made note to the staff’s use of a dirty rag to cover a dish of rice inside a cooler, and microwave ovens and coolers throughout the kitchen that had a build-up of food debris.

Vesta, 849 Quarry Road, Coralville – During an Aug. 31 visit, a Johnson County inspector found several house-made food items kept well past the seven-day limit, including mango aioli sauce dated July 15, which was 46 days prior to the inspection, and Thousand Island dressing dated Aug. 3, which was 27 days before the inspection.

 Hy-Vee Foods, 1250 N. Lake Ave., Storm Lake – During an Aug. 30 visit, a Buena Vista County inspector found an unspecified amount of expired baby food on store shelves; observed food-service workers donning gloves before washing their hands; determined the person in charge was not meeting their obligations; found several unspecified items that did not have proper date markings; and found multiple dented cans of food throughout the store.

Hy-Vee Gas, 636 Lincoln Way, Ames – During an Aug. 30 visit, a state inspector found numerous hot foods displayed for purchase that were being held at unsafe temperatures, including pizza, chicken sandwiches, buffalo chicken wings, cheeseburgers, mozzarella pizza crunches and chicken strip. All of the food products were discarded.  Also, the establishment was not filling out their food-safety log as required by  public health regulations.

Tapatio Mexican Grill, 1810 4th SW St., Waverly – During an Aug. 27 visit, the Black Hawk County inspector concluded the “staff is not following food-safety rules.” He cited the establishment for having no certified food protection manager for the  certificate; for a lack of date markings on any of the prepared foods; for the staff handling ready-to-eat foods with their bare hands; and for the business operator not being able to correctly answer food-safety questions. (The operator believed it was acceptable for his staff to handle food with their bare hands, the inspector said.) The restaurant was also cited for food-contact surfaces that were soiled with dried food debris, and for cold-holding units that were heavily soiled with food and with “mold-type growth and blackened growth.” Also, large pans of meat were left out at room temperature;  ribbon-style fly traps were hanging over food-preparation  areas; the establishment had “many flying insects,” with the inspector noting that “when walking through some areas, swarms would be gathered;” tortilla packages were stored directly on the floor; house-made cheese sauce was kept at room temperature; the staff was reusing drink-mix bottles for cheese sauce; there was food and a greasy type of build-up on floors; and the flooring was missing pieces, creating large, low-lying areas where water was pooling due to improper drainage. The restaurant had last been inspected in July 2018, according to state records.

China One Buffet, 419 11th SW St., Spencer – After an Aug. 23 visit, a Siouxland District Health Department inspector reported that “due to consistent and ongoing food-borne illness risk factor violations cited on this report and previous inspection reports, a Risk Control Plan will be created between the Siouxland District Health Department and the manager and food employees of China One Buffet.” During the visit, the restaurant was cited for a lack soap at the kitchen handwashing sink; cigarette butts and ashes on the kitchen floor; a dishwashing machine that had no measurable sanitizing solution; pork, chicken, cooked noodles and beef that were held on the buffet at unsafe temperatures; cut watermelon on the cold buffet that was held at an unsafe temperature; live spiders and spider webs found inside a food container; a failure to monitor times and temperatures for sushi on the salad bar; a walk-in cooler that was not able to maintain food at a safe temperature of 41 degrees or below; fecal matter of unspecified origin on the floor of the kitchen; spider webs in the kitchen; equipment that was visibly soiled with food residue on the top, sides, lids, doors and handles; and dirty flooring, walls, doors and ceiling tiles in the kitchen and storage room.

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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.