Restaurant inspection update: Insects in the syrup, plus weevils, gnats and rodents

By: - October 25, 2021 11:05 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 five weeks, state and county food inspectors have cited Iowa restaurants and grocery stores for hundreds of food-safety violations, including bug-infested edibles, moldy peppers, rodent activity and food stored in five-gallon paint buckets.

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 five 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.

International Buffet, 901 E. Euclid Ave., Des Moines – In his report of an Oct. 14 visit, a state inspector wrote that honey chicken and broccoli chicken had been reheated to a temperature below the allowable 165 degrees; raw shell eggs were stored without temperature control underneath a sauce cart in the kitchen.

Also, shredded lettuce on the cold buffet line was observed at 51 degrees; pudding was measured at 46 degrees; a tray of raw chicken was stored above a tray of raw beef inside a cooler; a container of raw, sliced beef was stored above raw shrimp; there were no food items anywhere in the facility that were marked with their preparation or opening dates; containers of raw shrimp were stored above ready-to-eat noodles; and a container of wonton chips and a container of breading were stored uncovered on a food-preparation table and had to be discarded.

Also, a tray of Mongolian beef was holding at 104 degrees; a tray of shrimp with peppers was holding at 97 degrees; a tray of dumplings was holding at 106 degrees; and a tray of teriyaki chicken was holding at 105 degrees. An employee was allowed to correct the issue by reheating the trays to at least 165 degrees.

The inspector also noted that a bulk bin of flour “had what appeared to be a weevil” – sometimes called a “flour bug” – inside the container, and an uncovered container of wonton chips was stored on table that was “soiled with what appeared to be rodent droppings.” The mounted can opener and the interior of the ice machine were both heavily soiled with accumulated debris.

“Several gnats were observed near the soda fountain and near the dry storage area,” the inspector wrote in his report. “There were what appeared to be rodent droppings on the food preparation table next to the dry storage area and the lower compartment underneath the buffet steam tables. What appeared to be rodent droppings were observed above the chlorine ware-washing machine.”

Also, buffet rice scoops were being stored in standing water; squid was stored inside a plastic grocery bag; and ceilings throughout the dining area and the kitchen were “visibly soiled with accumulated debris.”

The inspector wrote that “this was a non-illness complaint investigation conducted in conjunction with a routine inspection. The complaint concerned contaminated equipment, cross-contamination, adulterated foods, general facility sanitation, pest control, and personal hygiene. Inspector discussed complaint with person in charge who was unaware of the complaint. Based on inspection observations regarding all categories, the complaint is closed and verified.”

During an October 2020 visit triggered by verified complaints of rodent activity, an inspector noted bell peppers that were “visibly molded” and “fried wonton chips, a bin of flour, and a table with a mounted can opener (that) were visibly adulterated with what appeared to be rodent droppings.” He also reported that “rodent droppings were observed throughout the kitchen.”

Elilly’s Restaurant and Coffee House, 1529 Pierce St., Sioux City – During  an Oct. 20 visit, an inspector noted the presence of “live cockroaches” on the kitchen floor, and saw frozen meats being stored in large black garbage bags. Also, totes that were used to store bags of onions and potatoes were “heavily soiled to sight and touch.”

The inspectors also found a small freezer with a large plastic black bag storing lamb parts, and another freezer was used store plastic zipper bags of goat meat. The establishment was unable to provide information as to the source of the meat. Also, a handwashing sink in the kitchen was inoperable and was inaccessible to the staff due to “boxes of garbage.” A blender in the kitchen contained some sort of “onion mixture” that the staff said had been prepared two days prior.

Also, inspectors reported that a large container of shiro – a dish that typically consists of chickpeas, minced onions and garlic – had “bugs” in it and had to be discarded. The restaurant did not have a certified food protection manager on staff, there was no soap at the staff’s handwashing sink and a “pan of roach bait” from Walmart was stored under the dishwashing sinks. Before leaving the establishment, the inspectors embargoed all goat and lamb product in the freezers, prohibiting it from being sold, used or discarded until further notice.

Viet-Thai Taste, 208 S. 2nd Ave., Newton – During an Oct. 21 visit, an  inspector cited the restaurant for storing bags of raw chicken in a sink basin that also held soiled dishes. Also, chicken wings in the fryer were holding below the allowable 165 degrees; the chicken slicer was visibly soiled with debris and juice  from the previous day; lettuce was being stored in the same container as raw shelled eggs; and cardboard boxes that had previously been used to store raw chicken were being reused to store other foods.

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Tropical Grocery Store, 424 20th St., Sioux City – During a Sept. 21 visit, an inspector noted the “presence of what appear to be live and dead pests/cockroaches in kitchen, in food equipment, and in food.” The owner reported having no pest-control contracts and was informed that he could not use retail products such as Raid and cockroach bait in commercial food establishments.

“Due to the large number of live and deceased pests in kitchen, food and equipment, owner will voluntarily close kitchen services until they have emptied, cleaned (and) removed all opened food containers and obtain pest control,” the inspector reported, adding that he was unable to go over all of his findings with the owner because the owner “refused to finish and asked inspectors to leave.”

The inspector also reported that food was being stored directly inside plastic garbage cans and laundry-detergent buckets. Cut, raw meat was simply lying in the freezer without any covering or packaging. Also, cooked meats and sauces were not dated to ensure safety; a handwashing sink was blocked by dishes in the basin; cooked meat inside a large pot was stored on top of a stove with no heat applied; no sanitizing solution was being used to clean dishes; there was no certified food protection manager on staff; and raw meat was stored in a bucket in a refrigerator above ready-to-eat foods.

During a previous inspection, the owner had said he would stop cutting meat and selling it, but the inspector found the meat cutter, with food debris on it, downstairs where the owners said he was still cutting meat. When informed he could not do this since there were no sinks in that area of the building, the owner said he carried the cutter upstairs every time he needed to use it. The kitchen was “visibly soiled with food debris (and) dirt on floors, tables, walls, etc.,” the inspector reported.

Perkin’s, 2785 Plaza Drive, Dubuque – During an Oct. 20 visit, an inspector noted the person in charge at the restaurant “failed to recognize the walk-in refrigerator was not running.” Most of the temperature-controlled foods in the refrigerator were “well out of temperature cold-holding requirements,” the inspector reported.

Also, the person in charge did not notice that access to the bakery area’s handwashing sink was blocked by a bakery rack and, if the sink was used, it would splash onto to unpackaged, ready-to-eat bakery products.

Also, the salad cooler was “running warm” and shredded cheese and shredded lettuce were out of the allowable temperature range. Bagged ham was observed thawing in standing water inside a sink basin that also contained a dirty whisk and a soiled scrub pad. The floors and walls throughout the food-preparation area were in need of “a more thorough cleaning,” the inspector reported.

The Great One, 4501 Southern Hills Drive, Sioux City – During an Oct. 14 visit, an inspector noted there were “lots of dead flies on the sticky traps hanging from the ceiling” and “there were some shrimp being stored below the hand sink in the back area.” Also, the produce cooler was holding food above the maximum of 41 degrees, and beef, chicken and shrimp in the grill area were holding at 58 to 60 degrees and had to be discarded.

Also, the fish in the sushi area was holding at 48 to 52 degrees and had to be discarded. A cook was observed handling and cutting onions with his bare hands; raw fish was being stored above seafood salad; raw chicken was being stored above raw beef; cooked chicken and beef prepared the day before was still holding at above the allowable maximum of 41 degrees; several handwashing sinks had pots, pans and towels being stored in them; and the dishwashing machine was not properly sanitizing dishes.

The inspector wrote in his report, “This visit was because a non-illness pest control complaint that was filed on Oct. 13, 2021.  The routine inspection was also due, so I completed the routine inspection as well. The complainant did provide a picture of the roach so I validated the complaint. I only saw several flies in the back entry area that were trapped on the sticky traps. I did not notice any roaches in the facility.”

Oyama Sushi Japanese Steakhouse, 5350 Council NE St., Cedar Rapids – During an Oct. 12 visit, the inspector wrote in his report that he observed cooked rice from the previous day that was holding at 78 degrees in “deep plastic containers at room temperature to serve it.” Also, raw meat was stored above ready-to-eat food such as butter, sliced fresh lemon, and sauces inside two coolers. The inspector also reported there were many small and large containers of food that were not date-marked.

Jersey’s Pub & Grub, 5761 C St., Cedar Rapids – During an Oct. 11 visit, an inspector found cooked chicken wings that had been prepared Oct. 1 and were held over the allowable seven days. He reported watching as workers touched ready-to-eat foods at the bar area without wearing gloves.

Cooked chicken wings in the walk-in cooler were stored on the bottom shelf below raw beef; the reach-in cooler was holding food at 50 degrees, well above the allowable maximum temperature; a worker that was handling raw chicken was then picking up ready-to-eat food while wearing the same gloves; soup held in a warmer was measured at 108 degrees; and there was some unspecified “buildup” inside the ice machine.

Panchero’s Mexican Grill, 2845 Crossroads Boulevard, Waterloo – During an Oct. 11 visit, an inspector observed food handlers slicing red peppers directly from delivery box without washing them first. He also noted that the hot-water faucet handle on a handwashing sink was not working, which was an issue noted in several previous inspection reports. Also, the area around the garbage bin outside was “very heavily soiled with garbage on the ground,” and the restaurant’s cleaning methods were deemed ineffective as evidenced by heavily soiled floors throughout the building.

Also, the steam-table vegetables, steak and chicken were being held at temperatures well below the allowable minimum; cooked steak was left sitting out at room temperature as food handlers attended to other tasks; and sour cream was held at 47 to 50 degrees.

Red Ginger, 2230 Edgewood SW Road, Cedar Rapids – During an Oct. 8 visit, an inspector noted that cooked white rice in a large bowl was left out at room temperature and was sitting underneath a food-preparation table at 79 degrees. The report notes that prepared food items were not adequately date-marked to ensure their safety, and that a cooler at the sushi station was holding food above the allowed maximum of 41 degrees.

Also, an employee was seen cutting green onions with his or her bare hands, and vacuum-packaged fish was improperly stored and thawed. The inspector noted in his report that the visit was in response to a complaint of some kind, but the report, as written, is unclear, stating: “This is a routine inspection in conjunction with a non-illness complaint received from the public on Oct. 4, 2021. Addressed the complaint nature to the manager (sic) and manager explained an inspector (sic) that the facility did not experience (any) sort of fire in the kitchen.”

Tienda Mexicana, 1524 E Grand Ave., Des Moines – During an Oct. 7 visit, inspectors cited the establishment for 18 violations, an unusually high number. Among the issues: no food items in the facility were marked with either their preparation or opening date, making it impossible verify they were safe to serve; what appeared to be a meal moth was observed inside a bulk container of gelatin that was on display and offered for retail sale; the business was dehydrating meat for shelf-stability but without the required variance for specialized food-processing methods.

Also, chicharrones were held without regard to temperature control or their seven-day shelf life; raw pork and whole fish were stored in five-gallon buckets that previously contained dish detergent, and lard for food preparation was being stored in five-gallon buckets that previously contained paint.

Also, employees didn’t wash their hands when switching between working with raw meat and ready-to-eat products; cooked whole fish, chicharrones and cooked carnitas were holding in a hot display case at temperatures well below the allowable minimum; cans of tomato sauce, jalapeno peppers, hominy, and pickled jalapenos were severely dented at the seams; several chilled food items, including chicharrones, pico de gallo and bagged cheese were held at temperatures above the allowable maximum, and a can of Raid pesticide was stored above bulk bag of salt.

The designated person in charge was not a certified food protection manager; cooked pork was stored in boxes that had contained raw pork; and the kitchen handwashing sink was rendered unusable by items stored in its basin. Also, fly strips with multiple dead flies were hanging directly above bagged rice in the kitchen; the meat and cheese deli cooler was holding food at 50 degrees, and the heat bulbs within a hot-holding display case appeared to be burned out and the unit was in disrepair.

Casey’s General Store, 500 North Ave., Norwalk – During an Oct. 5 visit, an inspector noted there was no soap at the staff handwashing sink by the ovens; lettuce and diced tomatoes were left sitting out at room temperature; numerous food-contact surfaces were visibly soiled; the handles on the hot-holding units, the pizza-prep table, the lid on a garlic-butter mixture, the interior of a cheese container, and the interior and exterior of a taco-chip container were all soiled.

Also, numerous food items — including the garlic-butter mixture, diced ham, ham slices, eggs, sausage and gravy — were not date marked; the pizza cutter was being cleaned and sanitized only once per day; and the employees handling food were not washing their hands. Also, the store was not displaying the results of its most recent inspection.

Mi Pueblo Real, 1021 W. Madison St., Washington – During an Oct. 5 visit, an inspector observed there were bottles of syrups located behind the bar area that contained insects. Also, eggs were located above mushrooms in the food-preparation cooler; raw chicken was stored above eggs and steak inside the walk-in cooler; and the employee handwashing sink in the bar area had no soap.

Los Laureles, 1518 E. Grand Ave., Des Moines – During an Oct. 4 visit, an inspector noted there was zero measurable sanitizing solution in the dishwashing machine and the bar-area sanitizing basin. The inspector also noted that employees were failing to wash their hands after handling raw chicken; the ice machine was visibly soiled with accumulated debris; salsa in a hot-holding well was measured at 111 degrees; cheese dip was being held at 95 degrees; cooked steak was measured at 114 degrees; most of the food items throughout the establishment – including cheese dips, cooked meats, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, tamales and salsas – were not marked with their preparation or opening dates.

Also, a bin of shredded cheese was in a cooling unit underneath a stove and was holding items at 50 degrees; raw bacon was stored above containers of cooked foods inside a cooler; and large plastic containers of salsa from the previous day had not cooled properly and were still holding at above the 41-degree maximum temperature.

Also, the restaurant was not displaying a complete version of its most recent inspection report. In his report, the state inspector wrote that he was there in response to an “illness complaint” and was also performing a routine inspection. He did not describe the nature of the complaint, but wrote that the owner said “that there was no loss of power, no sewage backup, no interruption of water, and no equipment malfunction during the timeframe of the complaint. There is not enough information to verify the complaint – complaint is closed and unverifiable.”

Casey’s General Store, 2105 E. Washington St., Mount Pleasant – During an Oct. 1 visit, an inspector observed a customer-use, reach-in cooler that was holding food item at 46 degrees to 50 degrees. Also, windshield washer fluid was stored on top of chips and snacks in the storage area, and breakfast pizza in the customer-use, reach-in warmer had no “time out” label indicating when it should be pulled from sale.

Also, boxes of croissants were stored on the floor of a walk-in cooler; boxes of food were stored on the floor in the storage room; and containers of pizza boxes were stored on the floor of the kitchen. There was “pizza sauce on the wall” and the submarine-sandwich prep table was soiled with an accumulation of food debris.

Old Chicago, 2732 SE Delaware Ave., Ankeny – During an Oct. 1 visit, an inspector noted that there was homemade ranch dressing on hand that had been held for more than the allowable seven days; there was no soap at an employee handwashing sink; pizza sauce, spicy marinara sauce, black beans and chicken gravy were all well below the allowable minimum temperature, even after two hours of reheating; a handwashing sink was used to dump beverages instead, and was blocked by empty bottles; and a food worker’s therapy dog was allowed inside the kitchen.

“This was a routine inspection conducted as a result of a poor personal hygiene complaint received by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals,” the inspector wrote in his report. “The establishment was not aware of the complaint and has had no other recent complaints. Complaint is unverifiable.”

HyVee, 910 N. Jefferson, Indianola – During a Sept. 30 visit, an inspector observed several foods not held at safe temperatures, including cooked beef, cooked chicken and cooked pork, which were discarded. Also, chemicals were “stored with food and food-contact surfaces in numerous locations.”

The inspector also noted chilled foods kept above the maximum allowable temperature of 41 degrees, including leafy greens at 64 degrees, diced ham at 54 degrees, rice at 60 degrees, and diced tomatoes 50.1 degrees, all of which were discarded. The inspector noted there were food-contact surfaces in numerous locations that were soiled. Also, the floor was described as soiled.

“This is a routine inspection conducted with a non-illness complaint,” the state inspector reported. “Discussed complaint with management, complaint closed and verified.”

Gateway Market, 2002 Woodland Ave., Des Moines – During a Sept. 28 visit, an inspector noted that the business was holding both liquid and shell eggs at 54 degrees on the cook line and had to be discarded. Also, cut melons and fruit in the produce retail case had been held past the allowable seven days, such as cantaloupe that should have been discarded the previous day.

The inspector also reported that the dishwashing machine was not reaching adequate temperatures to sanitize items, and there were “numerous potentially hazardous food items” that were not date-marked in various coolers. The report also noted two trays of cooked chicken that were frozen and then left to thaw at room temperature; two large mixers, plus food-storage bins in the bakery, that were soiled with what appeared to be food debris; and garbage bins throughout the establishment that had an unspecified “buildup” on the sides of the containers.

The Blind Pig, 3325 Center Point NE Road, Cedar Rapids – During a Sept. 28 visit, an inspector noted that uncovered food was stored underneath an excessive  buildup of ice in two freezers and reported that “most of the equipment has dark buildup and is soiled.” He noted that refrigerators and freezers were soiled with a buildup of food debris, and a sink that was to be used for food preparation and vegetable washing was instead loaded with dishes. There was no sanitizer in use during the inspection and no sanitizer prepared for future use.

The written  inspector’s report is unclear as to the nature of some of the more serious violations, stating for example, “no sanitizing after cleaning, during the cleaning at a frequency of food contact surfaces to minimize pathogen grow.”

The report makes note of cheese sauce that was being held at 110 degrees while submerged in water. The inspector also reported that none of the food storage containers were labeled with the common name of the food they contained; cooking equipment and pans had some sort of unspecified buildup; the ceiling duct work was dusty and the walls behind the grill were greasy; a walk-in cooler had a heavy, dark buildup of some kind; the ventilation hoods and filters were “dripping grease condensation (and) collecting on walls and ceilings;” and the establishment had not posted its most recent inspection report.

The inspector said his visit was a “routine inspection follow-up on a customer complaint.” He didn’t describe the nature of the complaint or state whether it was verified.

Mi Ranchito Mexican Grill & Seafood, 1010 W. Lincoln Way, Marshalltown – During a Sept. 24 visit, an inspector noted large pans of beans prepared the previous day were still holding 56 degrees and had to be discarded. The establishment did not employ a certified food protection manager; multiple items in the walk-in cooler, such as salsas and ground beef, were holding at temperatures above the 41-degree maximum; a can opener and soda-gun holster were soiled with food debris and a “brown gel-like buildup.”

Also, employees were handling warmed tortillas with their bare hands; there was no food thermometer anywhere in the building; dead insects were seen on the floor in the basement area; small, gnat-like insects were observed in the bar area; multiple containers of food were seen on the floor of a walk-in cooler; open bags and boxes of food were stored on the floor; and the business’ license was not posted.

Carter Lake VFW Post 9661, 100 E. Locust St., Carter Lake – During a Sept. 23 visit, an inspector observed hamburgers that were partially cooked sitting inside a container above the pilot light on the stove – an indication the business was “practicing non-continuous cooking,” but without any written procedures to ensure consumer safety.

The inspector also observed what was reported as a “a black mold-like substance on the inside surface of the ice machine,” and noted that hamburgers cooked four hours earlier were holding at 95 degrees, which was not within safe food-holding ranges. The inspector reported seeing a cook handle hamburger buns with his or her bare hands – a violation that was corrected by having the person heat the buns.

“Several flies and fruit flies were observed in the kitchen area,” the inspector reported; there was a “black, mold-like substance” on several ceiling tiles, and there was “encrusted food debris” on one wall of the kitchen.

The inspector characterized his visit as a “routine inspection conducted in reference to a non-illness complaint” that alleged equipment contamination, poor sanitation, improper food-holding temperatures and poor personal hygiene. The complaint was “partially verified,” the inspector reported.

Hawkeye Sports Bar & Grille, 4646 Cheyenne Ave., Davenport – During a Sept. 22 visit, an inspector reported that coolers needed cleaning due to standing water and spilled food debris; an onion dicer and a food slicer were both stored on a shelf with dried food debris on them; there was no sanitizer being used behind the bar for cleaning customers’ drinking glasses; and there was no hand soap at the handwashing sink behind the bar.

Also, a package of fully cooked, oven-roasted prime rib was stored inside the same container as a bag of raw pork chops, and it was learned that the tamales being served were purchased not from an approved, licensed source, but from a woman in Illinois who prepared them in her home kitchen.

Casey’s General Store, 1305 E. South St., Mount Ayr – During a Sept. 21 visit, inspectors noted that bacon and hamburgers were not cooked to at least 135 degrees, and instead were cooked to 98 degrees; and numerous deli sandwiches that were on display for consumers to purchase and eat had expired in recent days.

La Tapatia 2,  3506 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines – During a Sept. 21 visit, an inspector reported seeing multiple employees moving between tasks without washing their hands as required; cookware was being cleaned and stored without any sanitizing solution used; there was no certified food protection manager on duty; tamales were held in an insulated box at 133 degrees and had to be discarded; and cut melons were held at 68 degrees and were discarded. The inspector’s report states that he also observed raw shrimp thawing in standing water.

The inspector characterized his visit as a non-illness complaint investigation that was conducted along with a routine inspection. The complaint, which the inspector did not describe, was classified as “unverifiable.”

Subway, 1407 Buchanan St., Des Moines – During a Sept. 20 visit, an inspector noted the interior of the drive-through service’s soda fountain ice machine was visibly soiled with an accumulation of black debris, and the interior of the ice-dispensing chute was visibly soiled with pink debris. Also, the interior of the microwave was visibly soiled with debris.

In the sandwich line, meatballs were being held 48 degrees, chicken strips at 46 degrees and steak at 46 degrees. All of those food items had to be discarded. The inspector also noted “what appeared to be gnats were flying throughout the back ware-washing area.”

There was no trash container inside the dining area’s self-service station, so refuse was accumulating inside the cabinet where the container would normally be housed. The interior floor of the walk-in cooler was visibly soiled with accumulated food, and there was water pooling on the floor in front of a walk-in freezer and next to a beverage cooler by the sandwich preparation line.

The most recent inspection report was not posted for the public to see. The inspector wrote that this was a “non-illness complaint investigation regarding two complaints conducted in conjunction with a routine inspection.”

The complaints concerned general facility sanitation, rodent activity, and concerns for freshness and shelf-life of sandwich ingredients. The inspector saw no rodent activity and declared that element of the complaint, and the element pertaining to food  freshness, to be unverifiable. The complaints about general sanitation were verified.

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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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