Restaurant inspection update: moldy food, rodents and immediate closures

By: - November 26, 2021 10:30 am

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

In the past four weeks, state and county food inspectors have cited Iowa restaurants for hundreds of food-safety violations, including moldy vegetables, rodent activity, cockroach infestations and kitchens so filthy they triggered an immediate, temporary closure of the establishment.

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.

Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet, 1801 22nd St., West Des Moines — After an Oct. 27 inspection, the operator of the restaurant, which bills itself as the largest Asian buffet in Iowa, agreed to voluntarily close and perform a thorough cleaning of the establishment. He also agreed not to reopen without approval, according to state records.

During his visit, the state inspector cited the restaurant for kitchen sinks being used to store items; for a lack of soap at the three handwashing sinks in kitchen; for plates that had been stored in the back of the restaurant with a buildup of dried food still visible on them; for a dishwashing machine that had no measurable amount of sanitizing solution in it; for beef that was left out at 44 degrees; for 60 pounds of cooked oysters and crab that had been left sitting out at 67 degrees and had to be discarded, and for 12-15 trays of sushi that had to discarded due to uncertainty over its preparation time.

The business was also cited for the use of store-bought pesticides rather than professional extermination; for multiple meats and other items left to thaw on counters throughout the kitchen; for multiple large buckets of flour, sugar and other food product that were not labelled for identification; and for live roaches “observed in numbers” in the dishwashing machine, on and around hand sinks, inside holes in the walls of the kitchen, and stuck in glue-traps deployed in the dining area and under service counters. The inspector noted that there were traps of some kind throughout the restaurant with dead roaches in the them and a trap in the dry-storage area was found with a dead mouse in it.

Racks, shelves and the sides of cooking equipment throughout the restaurant were soiled with various forms of buildup, and there was food and debris on floors, walls and other hard-to-clean areas. The inspection was performed in response to a complaint but was categorized as a routine inspection, with the complaint ruled “unverifiable.”

Casa Azul, 335 S. Gilbert St., Iowa City — During an Oct. 22, visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for 19 serious risk-factor violations.

Among the violations: The person in charge was unable to answer questions related to the cooking temperature for meat, hot-and-cold holding temperatures, sanitizing requirements and proper handwashing techniques; there was no certified food protection manager employed by the business; access to the handwashing sink in the dish room was blocked, and there were multiple moldy vegetables in the walk-in cooler.

Also, kitchen employees were seen handling raw meat and then using shakers and utensils while wearing the same pair of single-use gloves; containers of food were stored on floor in the kitchen and in a garage storage area; a vegetable dicer had dried food debris on it; the kitchen’s high-temperature dishwashing machine was not able to produce surface temperatures of 160 degrees as required and so service at the restaurant had to be temporarily suspended.

Also, sour cream was being stored at room temperature; there was “no form of date-marking in place” for any items made onsite; rice was being cooled in a container with a tight plastic covering that didn’t allow heat to dissipate; pork was being thawed on a countertop at room temperature; there was “excessive” fruit fly activity near the dishwashing machine and the inspector reported that when he opened the vegetable dicer, “a large number of flies was observed.”

He also reported an excessive buildup of food and debris under equipment, in coolers and on the walls, and said grease and oil was dripping from the main vent hood in the kitchen. Also, the restaurant’s last inspection report was not posted for the public to see.

The inspector reported his visit was routine but was conducted in conjunction with a complaint investigation. In his published report, he wrote: “See internal notes for follow-up related to multiple issues stated in the non-illness complaint.” The inspector did not state whether the complaint was considered verified.

Floor is greasy throughout the kitchen and (there is) food debris everywhere.

– Iowa restaurant inspector's report on Burger King, Blairs Ferry Road in Cedar Rapids

Azteca, 3566 N. Brady St., Davenport — During a Nov. 23 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for failing to have a certified food protection manager on staff. The inspector also reported that a bartender placed lemon slices in a customer’s drink with his bare hands; raw chicken breasts were being stored above raw beef in the refrigerator; a vegetable dicer had a large accumulation of dried food debris; and a pan of queso was kept holding at 78 degrees, well below the recommended 165 degrees. “Mouse-like droppings” were observed in several areas throughout the kitchen, including the shelves that held eating-utensil trays, and standing water was observed along the floor in one corner of the kitchen.

Panchero’s Mexican Grill, 32 S. Clinton St., Iowa City — During a Nov. 23 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for failing to have a certified food protection manager on staff. The inspector also reported the kitchen’s dough cutter had “debris inside the machine,” there was a build-up of material inside the nozzles of the pop-dispensing machine; there was no measurable amount of sanitizer being used in the three-compartment sink used to clean customer’s glassware; the restaurant did not have a thermometer to checking the temperatures of food being chilled, cooked or held at warm temperatures;  and there were “numerous dead cockroaches” in the basement where dry goods were stored.

Mizu Hibachi Sushi, 1111 N. Quincy Ave., Ottumwa — During a Nov. 22 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for failing to have any soap or hot water available at the handwashing sink in the sushi preparation area; for storing raw beef inside the same container as raw salmon; for storing raw chicken over raw shrimp inside a walk-in cooler; for a buildup of debris inside a soiled ice machine; for having no date-marking system in place to ensure food was still safe to consume; for partially thawed food items that were found inside a broken freezer that couldn’t get colder than 46 degrees; for using fly strips in the kitchen above food-preparation areas; for reusing multiple large soy sauce buckets to store lettuce and sauces; and for kitchen floors and food-preparation racks that were soiled with a buildup of debris. The restaurant also was cited for failing to publicly post the results of its last inspection.

Wellman’s Pub, 2920 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines — During a Nov. 22 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for the kitchen manager indicating he “was not knowledgeable” in the set-up of the three-well sink used to sanitize glassware; for a handwashing sink that appeared to be used for dishwashing instead, and for an ice machine that was soiled with a buildup of debris.

Also, for employees washing dishes and utensils in a sink and returning them to service for use by customers before any sanitizing had been done; for uneven flooring and broken tile that didn’t lend themselves to thorough cleaning; and for vent hoods that had a buildup of some kind that appeared to have dripped to the floor below, creating additional buildup there.

The inspector noted that his visit was prompted by a complaint, through the visit was categorized as a routine inspection. The inspector wrote in his report: “Manager was aware of a similar complaint, stating wings as the complaint item … Complaint closed, unverified.”

Natalia’s Bakery, 2025 Court St., Sioux City — During a Nov. 19 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for having several whole, processed chickens that were labeled “Not for sale.” The chickens were removed from the shelves.

The inspector also noted that refrigerators, equipment and carts were not clean; pork was being stored above ready-to-eat foods; several “clean” baking dishes in the food-prep area were visibly soiled; several food-contact surfaces were visibly soiled, included utensils and dishes; hot pork was being held at 121 degrees and had to be reheated to 165 degrees; and the tamales in the walk-in cooler were not marked with dates of preparation or disposal.

The inspector also found “several packaged foods that were not labeled with ingredients, net weight, name of the product, and address where they were made.”

The kitchen is quite soiled — greasy buildup and debris, especially between and around equipment, walls, floors and ceilings.

– Iowa restaurant inspector's report on Horny Toad in Cedar Falls

Amigo’s Mexican Restaurant, 1415 E. San Marnan Drive, Waterloo — During a Nov. 15 visit, an inspector  cited the restaurant for having no one on site who was in charge and familiar with food-safety regulations;  for “several missed opportunities” by the staff to wash their hands; for having a heavily soiled handwashing sink that offered only “a small trickle of water” that couldn’t reach 100 degrees, and for keeping a large pot of cooling queso sitting uncovered on the floor of the kitchen, open to possible contamination.

The restaurant was also cited for having no sanitizer readily available in the food-prep area to wipe down cutting boards and utensils; for an ice machine that was heavily soiled inside with visible mold growth; for holding an extra-large pot of queso at roughly 80 degrees; for food products in the walk-in cooler that had no preparation or discard dates, and for keeping some foods beyond the seven-day limit for consumption.

Also, for thawing several 10-pound packages of ground beef in a sink at room temperature; for thawing two large metal pans of raw beef and chicken at room temperature on a countertop; for storing clean dishes on the same table directly alongside soiled dishes and utensils; for floors and walls that were heavily soiled; and for the many unused or broken pieces of equipment and furniture that were stored outside along the back of the building, providing a potential home for vermin.

Burgie’s at Mary Greeley Medical Center, 1111 Duff Ave., Ames — During a Nov. 15 visit, inspectors cited the establishment for staff who were unable to describe the symptoms associated with diseases that are transmissible through food. The inspector also noted that the handwashing sink in the kitchen was blocked and inaccessible to employees; the inside of the ice machine was visibly soiled; the bucket of solution used to sanitize surfaces had no measurable amount of sanitizing solution; corned beef and tuna salad were being held at 43 to 46 degrees and had to be discarded; and house-made syrups that should have been discarded after seven days were still in the kitchen three to five weeks later.

Caddy’s Kitchen & Cocktails, 115 W. Broadway, Council Bluffs — During a Nov. 15 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for failing to ensure dishwashing machines were working properly; for failing to employ a certified food protection manager; for having no soap or hand-drying supplies at the handwashing sink; for having french fries sitting out at room temperature 90 minutes after being cooked; and for thawing shrimp in a bucket of standing water.

The inspector reported he was there in response to a complaint, but categorized the inspection as routine. The complaint pertained to concerns over contaminated equipment; cross-contamination of food; the use of food from unsafe sources; improper holding temperatures; and poor personal hygiene. “The complaint was verified through a discussion with the person in charge,” the inspector reported.

Burger King, 1201 Blairs Ferry Road NE, Cedar Rapids — During a Nov. 10 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for dirty handwashing sinks, and for storing hamburger in a chest freezer that was kept open, exposing the hamburgers to contamination.

“All food equipment are greasy and have debris inside and outside of the equipment,” the inspector wrote in his report. “Soiled utensils and cups are being stored everywhere …  The veggie sink is being used as a soaking bin for dirty trays and dishes that are overfilled with the soiled water.”

The inspector also wrote that surfaces around the fryers, prep tables, glass coolers and a hot-holding unit had debris buildup and other equipment was dusty or greasy. “Floor is greasy throughout the kitchen and (there is) food debris everywhere,” the inspector wrote, adding that the restaurant’s most recent inspection report had not been posted for consumers to read.

Horny Toad American Bar & Grill, 204 Main St., Cedar Falls — During a Nov. 10 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for a handwashing sink that was blocked and inaccessible to the staff and was being used to store mushrooms; for storing raw chicken and fish above ready-to-eat foods; for food-preparation boards that had fresh blood, old blood, food debris and other forms of contamination, and were emitting a foul odor; for partially cooked bacon that was sitting out at 68 to 70 degrees; for onions that were stored on the floor; for employees’ personal clothing lying on top of food in the dry-storage area; and for “significant, greasy drips” around the ventilation equipment.

“The kitchen is quite soiled — greasy build up and debris, especially between and around equipment, walls, floors and ceilings,” the inspector reported.

The Other Place, 3904 Lafayette Road, Evansdale — During a Nov. 10 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for having no one on staff with a current food protection certification; for slicers and dicers that had dried food debris on them; for an ice machine with “some dark buildup” on it; for storing taco meat in a large plastic tub at 52 degrees; for turkey and green onions that were held past the maximum of seven days; for kitchen shelves with excessive debris on them; for table sides and legs that were dirty; for floors littered with excessive debris underneath tables; for stained ceiling tiles and kitchen walls stained with splatter marks.

Quite a number of violations today. Operator is not following food safety requirements.

– Iowa restaurant inspector's on Tata Yaya in Cedar Falls

Viva Mexican Restaurant, 4531 86th St., Urbandale — During a Nov. 10 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for operating under a license that had expired 12 months earlier; for having no one in charge that is a certified food protection manager; for storing raw, sliced chicken next to raw, sliced tomatoes; for a frozen-drink dispenser with a heavily soiled nozzle; for holding salsa made the previous day at 48 degrees; for implementing no verifiable system for the date-marking of foods; for having no thermometer to verify the temperature of foods being cooked, chilled or held at warm temperatures; for having no chlorine test strips on hand to test the strength of sanitizing solution; and for inadequate water pressure at the handwashing sink.

Jack Trice Stadium, 1800 4th St., Ames – During the Nov. 6 game between Iowa State University and the Texas Longhorns, an inspector visited the stadium and cited the facility for a number of violations at various locations within the stadium. Among the violations: the handwashing sink in the bar area of the Jack Trice Club had no hot water;  Chucky’s and Brandmeyer Kettle Corn, both temporary vendors, had no handwashing sinks set up; the handwashing sink near the southeast Victory Bell was blocked; the handwashing sink in an area described as “Catering Storage, End Zone,” contained cut fruit and a beer can, and the handwashing sink in the area described as the “Upper East Beer End Zone” was used to rinse bottles.

Also, the inside of the ice machine in the Jack Trice Club was visibly soiled; hot dogs in the area described as “State Fair South” were measured at 128 degrees and had to be discarded; chicken strips in the Jack Trice Club were being held at 129 degrees and were discarded; bratwurst at the northeast Victory Bell were holding at 130 degrees and were discarded; salad in the Jack Trice Club was measured at 62 degrees and was discarded; hot dogs at the southwest Victory Bell were thawing in standing water; and utensils used in the Jack Trice Club’s bar area were stored in standing water.

Casey’s General Store, 1207 State St., Tama — During a Nov. 4 visit, inspectors cited the establishment for failing to employ a certified food protection manager; for a handwashing sink in the pizza-preparation area that did not reach 100 degrees; for an ice chute on the soda-fountain machine that had a “brown, mildew-like buildup;” for holding pizza slices in the self-service warmer at 123 to 125 degrees; for holding nacho cheese sauce, refried beans, sausage gravy, grilled chicken strips and diced tomatoes at roughly 45 degrees; and for holding certain food items past the allowable seven days.

Tata Yaya, 111 Main St., Cedar Falls – During a Nov. 4 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for not employing a certified food protection manager; for failing to sanitize dishes and glassware; for storing items in a faulty refrigerator that was holding food at 52 degrees to 65 degrees, within the so-called “danger zone” for consumption; for storing waffle batter and eggs at room temperature; and for numerous foods that had no dates as to when they were prepared or were to be discarded. “Quite a number of violations today,” the inspector wrote in his report. “Operator is not following food safety requirements nor ensuring staff is.”

El Cerrito of Tama, 115 W. 3rd St., Tama — During a Nov. 1 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for 19 serious risk-factor violations. “Although an imminent health hazard did not exist, due to the number and nature of risk-factor violations observed during this inspection, the establishment has agreed to a voluntarily closure,” the inspector reported.

Among the violations: lack of a certified food protection manager; multiple instances of employees handling raw meat, then ready-to-eat products, without washing their hands or changing gloves; using the handwashing sinks in the bar and kitchen to store equipment and utensils; placing used paper towels, trash and soiled aprons in a large plastic container for onions and peppers; storing raw chorizo over ready-to-eat vegetables inside a cooler; storing thawed fish, raw steaks and uncooked chorizo in a common pan alongside ready-to-eat carrots and bacon; and storing raw chicken pieces in a bucket that was placed over a bucket of raw beef pieces.

The inspector also noted a cutting board, a microwave oven, knives, cooking utensils, plates, bowls and multiple food-storage containers and pieces of equipment that were “soiled with food debris and buildup.” Queso, chicken, pork and other food items that were held at unsafe temperatures were discarded. Many food items were not marked with a production date or a discard date, including beans, queso dip, tamales, cooked chicken and cooked pork.

The inspector also noted flying insects in a large bulk container of onions and dried peppers, dead insects near a bulk container of chips, and a fly strip hanging over a food-preparation sink, with “many insects” attached to it. Bulk packages of meat were observed sitting on the floor of a storage room where they remained throughout the inspection. Rice, beans and chips were stored in bulk in uncovered containers throughout the establishment. Kitchen shelving and the area behind the bar were “soiled with food debris, buildup and garbage.”

The sink used to prepare food had cloudy, soiled water standing in the basin, and a box that had previously held frozen meat contained a “residue of blood-like fluid and soiled plastic overwrap” and was left in the food-preparation sink. “An objectionable odor is noted,” the inspector reported. The storage room was littered with empty boxes, empty drink bottles and garbage.

Graceland University, University Place, Lamoni — During an Oct. 28 visit, an inspector cited the institution for failing to hold self-service foods at a safe temperature, including chicken breasts, hamburgers and shredded chicken, all of which were discarded. Items inside a walk-in cooler, such as crushed tomatoes, cooked patties and enchilada sauce that were dated Oct. 19 had been kept past the allowable date and had to be discarded. Mouse droppings were found inside cabinets in a storage area.

Truman’s KC Pizza Tavern, 400 SE 6t St., Des Moines — During an Oct. 27 visit, the restaurant was cited for not having a certified food protection manager; for storing raw ground pork directly over ready-to-eat deli meat on a cart in the walk-in cooler; for visibly soiled equipment – including a meat slicer, a dicer, a can opener and an ice machine – that were encrusted with food debris or mold-like buildup; for cold breakfast items that were measured at 47 degrees to 55 degrees; for made-from-scratch cheeseballs that had been held for two full weeks, well past the allowable seven days; and for food items that were not properly date marked.

The inspector noted that there were “small flies observed in the basement prep area” and “what appeared to be a live cockroach” on the floor near the bar. The visit was in response to a complaint but was categorized as a routine inspection. The complaint pertained to concerns with pest control. “Complaint closed and verified,” the inspector reported.

Q Casino, 1855 Greyhound Park Road, Dubuque — During an Oct. 25 visit, an  inspector cited the establishment for a handwashing sink that couldn’t reach 100 degrees; for tequila behind the bar that had a “drain fly” — a term typically used to describe a small moth — in the bottle; for a potato slicer and creamer dispenser that were visibly soiled; for a glassware washer that had no measurable amount of sanitizing solution; for hot fried chicken that was being held at 125 degrees; for a refrigerator that was running warm and keeping eggs and cheese at 57 degrees; for soup and chicken that was not properly date marked; and for several containers of chipotle cheese that were seen cooling in five-gallon plastic buckets inside a walk-in freezer.

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