Restaurant inspection update: Complaints of mice, insects in kitchens and a Band-Aid in the food

By: - December 30, 2021 9:00 am

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

In the past four weeks, state and county food inspectors have cited Iowa restaurants and grocery stores for hundreds of food-safety violations, including spoiled celery, outdated ham, filthy kitchens with standing water on the floor, mouse droppings and insect-infested fruit. One restaurant patron complained of finding a Band-Aid in his meal.

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.

Tommy’s Café, 916 W. 3rd St., Davenport – After a Dec. 20 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for having no certified food protection manager on staff; for having no hot water available at the handwashing sink by the grill; for storing raw ground-beef patties above cooked food inside a kitchen cooler; for the repeated violation of an ice maker with a buildup of mold; for leaving hashbrown potatoes sitting out on a counter at 64 degrees for one hour, and for keeping cooked ham, chicken, and other foods beyond the allowable seven days. The inspector noted the “heavy presence of rodent droppings” on the floor of the bakery area, and the storage of single-use, to-go containers on the floor. The inspector also made note of “a buildup of a black, mold-like substance” above the sink.

Fore Seasons Golf Bar, 6232 Highway S74, Newton – After a Dec. 17 visit, the inspector cited the restaurant for 14 violations, including failure to demonstrate knowledge of food safety protocols due to the type and number of violations observed. The establishment was cited for having no certified food protection manager; for having no date-marking system in place to ensure food was still safe to serve; for cross-contamination of food; for chemical-storage violations; for contaminated kitchen equipment; for handwashing sinks that were inaccessible to the staff; for food storage issues, and for a general lack of sanitation.

The inspector noted a large package of celery with “visible spoilage” was stored on top of food containers on the food-preparation  table; a bag of cut celery had “visible spoilage;” an unwrapped head of lettuce that had been cut open was stored on top of packages of ready-to-eat meat; a box of raw chicken breasts was stored over ready-to-drink piña colada mix in the cooler, and raw sausage was stored in the same container with ready-to-eat salad dressing.

Also, items such as Canadian bacon, cut tomatoes, cooked taco meat, ground beef, shredded chicken, house-made dressing, pulled pork, potato soup, sour cream and pizza toppings had no date markings; the mechanical dishwashing machine had no measurable level of sanitizing solution in it; the interior of the ice machine had a black and brown “mildew-like buildup” within the ice bin; the nozzles of soda-dispensing guns had a “brown mildew-like buildup;” the interior of the microwave over had a buildup of food debris and a dead insect adhered to the door frame; multiple chemical cleaners were stored on top of, or adjacent to, food equipment, utensils and dry goods, and the restaurant had no  food thermometer.

The inspector also noted that the interiors of the refrigeration units, the countertops, the top of hot-holding unit, and various drawers and cooking equipment were all “soiled with food debris, spills and dust buildup.” Kitchen shelving units, countertops, storage rooms, and cooking equipment were “cluttered with product, utensils, equipment, bulk boxes of paper goods, and other miscellaneous items.”

The visit was triggered by a complaint but was classified as a routine inspection. The elements of the complaint dealing with sanitation and contaminated equipment were verified, while the elements dealing with improper food-holding temperatures was deemed not verified.

Bo James, 118 E. Washington St., Iowa City – After a Dec. 13 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for having no certified food protection manager on staff; for a kitchen employee who did not wash his or her  hands or change gloves after handling raw ground beef and then working with utensils and ready-to-eat foods; for bacon strips that were not adequately cooked and were being held at 100 degrees, and for cooked pasta and mashed potatoes that had been held beyond the allowable seven days.

Also, for a meat tenderizer and a knife with dried food debris on the blades after they had been cleaned; for “excessive mold buildup on the inside” of the ice machine; for failure to adopt an adequate cleaning schedule for the commercial meat slicer; for using a handwashing sink as a dump sink for utensils and food; and for keeping a cockroach-killing product and chemicals above the sink used for washing vegetables.

The inspector also noted that a kitchen freezer had a water leak that was spilling water onto food and then freezing. Also, the sink that was used for washing vegetables was doubling as the mop sink since the establishment had no sink dedicated to cleaning mops. Also, the floor in the kitchen and the walls in the dish room had visible debris adhered to them, and building-maintenance tools were being stored in a drawer along with eating and cooking utensils.  The inspector noted that Bo James’ previous inspection report, from August 2019, had not been posted in an area accessible to the public.

Red Ginger, 793 Middle Road, Bettendorf – After a Dec. 22 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for blocked handwashing sinks; the repeated violation of storing raw chicken strips in contact with raw fish; mixing packages of raw chicken and raw beef on a pan with a large amount of raw meat juices in it; the repeated violation of storing the tip of the pastry funnel that was filled with wasabi so that it was in contact with “raw-fish water;” the repeated violation of storing raw fish directly over thawing soybeans; holding sushi rice at 95 degrees; the repeated violation of holding sushi ingredients inside a cooler at too-warm temperatures of up to 48 degrees; and the failure to track the time that foods were prepared and needed to be discarded.

Mineral City Mill & Grill, 2621 5th Ave., Fort Dodge — After a Dec. 20 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for an employee who was observed handling dirty dishes without washing their hands afterward; for house-made alfredo sauce that was holding below the minimum of 135 degrees and had to be reheated, and for house-made lemon vodka asiago, alfredo sauce and marinara sauce that were all stored in a cooler at too-warm temperatures and had to be discarded.

The restaurant was also cited for the ice machine interior that was visibly soiled; for utensils that were visibly soiled after being stored in the “clean utensils” area; for storing utensils in the staff’s handwashing sinks; for house-made sauces and soups stored in deep, lidded pans, inhibiting their cooling, and were discarded; for storing on the floor boxes of napkins, towels, and cups; and for the walls and ceiling around the food-preparation area that were visibly soiled. The visit was triggered by a complaint but classified as a routine inspection.

The complaint alleged contaminated kitchen equipment and cross-contamination of food, as well as improper holding temperatures, inadequate cooking and poor personal hygiene among the staff. “The only part of the complaint that was verified was contaminated equipment,” the state inspector wrote in his report.

Fiesta Jalapeño, 1975 N. Ankeny Blvd., Ankeny – After a Dec. 13 inspection, the establishment was cited for holding salsa at 62 to 64 degrees, and for keeping cooked carnitas for more than the allowable seven days. The inspector wrote in his report that the visit was a routine inspection conducted as the result of an illness complaint received by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. The inspector did not disclose the nature of the complaint but stated in his report that the complaint was unverifiable. The restaurant was also cited for failing to post its most recent inspection report.

The Vine Tavern & Eatery, 39 2nd St., Coralville – After a Dec. 13 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for storing raw shell eggs above raw ground beef; for holding bacon at 113 degrees rather than the minimum 135 degrees; for house-made sauces that were not properly chilled and were lacking any date markings, and for holding cocktail sauce and sliced ham that were dated Nov. 27 and were well beyond the seven-day limit.

Also, for a dishwashing machine that had no measurable level of sanitizing solution; and for the lack of a thin-tipped thermometer that could be used to check the temperature of food. Also, only the first page of most recent inspection report had been posted for public viewing. The inspector noted that his visit was in response to a complaint concerning facility sanitation. The inspector deemed the complaint unverifiable.

Express Halal Market & Deli, 1016 University Ave., Suite A, Des Moines – After a Dec. 10 visit, a state inspector cited the market for failing to have a certified food protection manager on staff. The inspector observed packages of imported natural Khudri dates that were “adulterated with various insects within its clear, plastic packaging.”

Also, cooked rice in the kitchen’s hot-holding unit had been sourced from someone’s private residence; a flat of raw eggs was stored above bottled beverages in a retail display cooler; a pan of samosas was observed at 53 degrees; cooked meat strips were holding at 53 degrees; milk was stored at 52 degrees; cooked beef in liquid was holding at 56 degrees, and bottled yogurt drinks were being stored at 45 degrees.

The inspector reported that there were “no foods throughout the facility that were marked with their preparation or opening dates.” Cooked spinach, cooked rice and cooked meat all had to be discarded. Frozen fish, chicken, and beef were observed thawing at room temperature and all of the coolers were in disrepair.

La Cuscatleca South, 2580 Fleur Drive, Des Moines – After a Dec. 10 visit, the restaurant was cited for not having a certified food protection manager; for storing raw eggs in a cooler above produce; for holding cabbage salad that had been prepared the day before at 77 degrees; and for two cans of Raid pest control in the kitchen.

The inspector reported that his visit was conducted in response to a complaint regarding a Band-Aid found in a customer’s food. The inspector said the complaint could not be verified, but the procedure for employees with bandaged hands was discussed and the incident was treated as a “a training opportunity for employees.”

Davis County Community School District, elementary and middle School, 500 E.  North St., Bloomfield – An inspector visited the school kitchen on Dec. 9 in response to a complaint related to pest control. The complainant had alleged there were mice throughout the facility. The school’s food service coordinator confirmed there were two mice seen a few days earlier in a trap.

The inspector treated the complaint as verified and also cited the school for keeping chopped ham at 44 degrees and chopped turkey at 45 degrees; for storing undated sliced cheese in the refrigerator, and for “sanitizer in the bucket (that) was toxic.”

Hy-Vee Food Store, 3301 Gordon Drive, Sioux City – After a Dec. 9 visit, inspectors cited the store for selling meat that “did not meat (sic) their labels for weight — loin chops, sirloin strip and tube steaks.”  The inspector reported that he discussed with the meat department manager “that if the meat unit is sold by a certain weight it needs to conform to that identity.”

The inspector also noted there “were some packaged turkey and chicken being stored above packaged raw beef and pork in the meat display case,” and the dishwashing machine in the bakery and the kitchen were not adequately sanitizing dishes. A meat grinder in the meat department and several baking dishes in the bakery area were visibly soiled, he reported.

Century Bar, 120 Main St., Alta – After a Dec. 7 visit, the establishment was cited for 14 violations, including having no certified food protection manager on staff and no one with “active managerial control” working. The inspector noted that inside one refrigerator, he found “home-canned items,” and observed that the staff was “having bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food.”

Sauces that were used to dip chicken wings the night before were still sitting on the counter and had to be discarded; several items in the cooler were “well past the dates on the containers,” and the countertop that the staff used to make food patties was not sanitized before or after raw food was placed upon it. Food-contact surfaces were visibly soiled, and the ice machine had “black substance” on the sides. The handwashing sink was being used to store items.

The inspector wrote in his report: “Observation: Cleaning of the establishment,” without elaborating.

New East China, 309 W. Bremer Ave., Waverly – After a Dec. 2 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for workers failing to use the handwashing sink and instead rinsing their hands in a dish sink and drying their hands on their aprons. The inspector discovered “numerous items” that were not from any approved food source, although the restaurant operator said those items were for the personal use of the staff.

Citations were issued for storing raw beef with raw broccoli; storing seafood under poultry; storing chicken above other raw meats; storing cold-hold food items above the maximum temperature of 41 degrees; storing raw eggs at room temperature, and having no date-marking procedures in place at the time of the inspection.

“Operators are not sanitizing properly,” the inspector wrote. “Observed unmeasured amount of bleach being poured in with detergent and rinsing off.” Food-preparation coolers, cutting boards and other surfaces were “very soiled with old food, greasy buildup and debris … Cleaning frequency is not being maintained, as evidenced by the amount of old food noted in and around food-contact surfaces.” Even the test strips used to measure the level of sanitizing solution for dishwashing were “coated in greasy buildup.”

The inspector wrote, “Excessive food buildup and debris noted around and under equipment. Walls are dirty, as well.” The cold-water spigot at the handwashing sink did not shut off, forcing the staff to either let the water run or cut the supply using a valve underneath the sink. The inspector noted difficulty in communicating with the manager, and reported she had to use “drawings, posters and Google Translate” to express concerns about food safety during her visit.

The Great Wall Chinese Restaurant, 2125 College St., Cedar Falls – After a Dec. 4 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for workers not washing their hands; for using the kitchen handwashing sinks for storage and keeping them in a “heavily soiled” state; for storing raw beef over prepared sauces; for storing raw poultry next to produce, and for failing to hold numerous hot foods, including egg drop soup, at a safe temperature.

Also, for failing to have any stem thermometers on hand to check the temperature of hot and cold foods; for equipment and areas that were heavily soiled with food debris, and for floors and walls throughout the entire facility that were reported to be heavily soiled.

The visit was triggered by a complaint of an unspecified nature, though the inspector reported the complaint was deemed to be founded as both the dining area and back kitchen area were heavily soiled “and in need of deep cleaning.”

Azteca 4, 3566 N. Brady St., Davenport – After a Nov. 23 visit, inspectors cited the restaurant for having no certified food protection manager on staff; for storing raw chicken breasts above raw beef in the refrigerator; for holding queso at 78 degrees; for “a large accumulation of dried food debris” on a food dicer, and for a reach-in cooler that had no thermometer.

The inspector noted “mouse-like droppings” in several areas throughout the kitchen, including the shelves that held utensil trays. “All areas require additional cleaning,” the inspector reported. Several pans on the “clean dish rack” were observed with leftover sticky residue, and standing water was observed along the floor in one corner of the kitchen.

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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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