Restaurant inspection update: moldy roast, dead mice and ‘an imminent health hazard’

By: - January 27, 2022 12:17 pm

(Photo 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 moldy roasted food, dead mice and corned beef that was more than three weeks old. One eatery agreed to halt all food service after the inspector determined it posed “an imminent health hazard” to the public.

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.

Jose’s Tacos, 2720 Holcomb Ave., Des Moines – During a Dec. 27 visit, an inspector cited this mobile food unit for failing to have a certified food protection manager on staff. He noted that employees of the restaurant “could not effectively wash their hands due to having their water shut off, and when it was turned back on there was very little pressure.”

Due to “several holding temperature violations,” and the lack of cleaning and sanitizing of utensils, it was determined that the person in charge had not demonstrated the proper level of competence.

Cooked rice was being held at 71 degrees, and baked potatoes were holding at temperatures as low as 100 degrees. Bacon was held at 52 degrees, smoked meat at 46 degrees, cheese slices at 50 degrees and mayonnaise at 49 degrees. All of those items, as well as sliced tomatoes and shredded lettuce, were discarded.

The restaurant also had large, five-gallon buckets filled with salsa that were not date marked. Food-contact surfaces were only being cleaned at the end of the day, rather than every four hours, and due to the lack of hot water, the restaurant could not sanitize dishes.

The business “did not fulfill the responsibilities of the permit holder as they did not discontinue food-service operations when they did not have water available for handwashing and sanitizing,” the inspector reported. The restaurant was also cited for failing to have its previous inspection report posted and available for public viewing.

In his report, the inspector stated that due to the lack of water and other risk-factor violations, the manager “agreed to voluntarily close” until hot, pressurized water could be provided. “This was a non-illness complaint investigation concerning food from unsafe sources and the adulteration of food,” the inspector reported. “Complaint is closed and unverifiable.”

Popeye’s, 3906 N. Marquette St., Davenport – During a Jan. 19 visit, a Scott County inspector noted that there were several pieces of fried chicken being held at 114 degrees to 124 degrees, which was not hot enough to ensure safety. The chicken was discarded.

Also, one pan of raw chicken was observed sitting out on a food-prep table at 46 degrees. The chicken had been seasoned and then left out, the inspector reported, adding that this was a repeat violation for the restaurant. The inspector also noted the cooked fried chicken that was on hand was supposed to be discarded if not served within 30 minutes, but no timers or labels were being used to indicate how long the chicken had been holding.

Also, the interior of the sandwich-making station had a visible amount food debris and built-up grime; the shelving inside the biscuit warmer had a buildup of food debris; the interior of an ice bin had visible debris inside it; the food storage bins for holding flour, sugar, and rice had a buildup of dirt, grime and food debris on them; several lids to pans inside the walk-in cooler were smeared with food debris, and several bins holding clean utensils had a buildup of crumbs and food debris inside of them.

“All areas require additional cleaning,” the inspector wrote in his report. “This is a repeat violation.”

Also, two handwashing sinks were being used instead to store objects, which was another repeat violation; and a bottle of restroom-cleaning spray was stored on top of the food-preparation table.

The inspector also made note of utensils that were stored in standing water; bulk-food storage containers that had cracked and broken lids; food-prep tables and handles of cooking equipment that had a buildup of food debris and grime on them; a microwave oven that had a buildup of dried food debris inside of it; and kitchen walls that were splattered with food and a buildup of dirt.

The county inspector categorized the inspection as routine, but stated that he was there to follow up on a complaint regarding the cleanliness of the establishment. The inspector didn’t state in his report whether he considered the complaint to have been verified.

Lifestyle Inn Lounge, 5826 University Ave., Cedar Falls – During a Jan. 11 visit to this eatery that’s affiliated with the Lifestyle Inn Hotel and Conference Center, a Black Hawk County Health Department inspector deemed the establishment an “an imminent health hazard” and all food service was halted.

Inspector Sandra Heinen reported the staff had not demonstrated the minimum level of knowledge related to food safety as evidenced by the “many violations to the food code.” Her public report, however, provides few details of those violations.

She noted that “multiple food items are adulterated” and stated “there are a number of food items out in the kitchen; there is a roaster pan with molded food in it on the counter; lasagna and what appears to be sausage gravy (are) also sitting out in the open air. Additionally, there is a large accumulation of dirty dishes and unprotected food.”

Heinen’s report also noted that “food items are not properly protected,” and made reference to unspecified “open packages” and “cluttered storage.” An unspecified number of food items had no date markings on them, and there was a large amount of food debris and soiling on food-contact surfaces in the kitchen.

Heinen wrote in her report: “Facility is in disrepair. Walls, ceilings in the back of the house are not maintained. Leaking roof is being addressed.” As a result of the visit and the violations uncovered, the inspector wrote that food service at the establishment would be halted until corrections were made.

Heinen also cited evidence that kitchen wares were not being properly washed, rinsed and sanitized. “Unable to access walk-in cooler due to padlock on door,” Heinen wrote in her report.  “Kitchen area and food-related storage are in disrepair and cluttered.”

Heinen returned three days later and reported: “The kitchen has been cleaned and food has been discarded. The dish machine is out of detergent and is missing correct test strips. If any food is prepared for the public, general manager agrees to manual ware washing … Therefore, they begin food operation if ensuring all food safety steps.”

After a February 2020 visit, Heinen had written in her inspection report: “We discussed providing a thorough clean-out of the kitchen that does include discarding unnecessary foods and/or outdated food products. Due to the minimal activity with the food operation, we also discussed the importance of date marking and discard dates … Additionally, there is also a strong gas smell near the stove and it appears some of the pilot lights are out. Facility is in disrepair. Walls, floors and ceilings are all damaged and no longer smooth and easy to clean.”

C Fresh Markets, 801 University Ave., Des Moines – During a Jan. 21 visit, a state inspector cited the market for storing raw, whole chickens above cooked pork, and for dehydrating pork without obtaining the necessary variance for specialized food-preparation processes.

Also, the interior of a microwave was visibly soiled with accumulated debris, the handwashing sink in the meat department was blocked by a trash bin, and the basin of the sink was filled with multiple objects, rendering it unusable for handwashing. In addition, various types of fish were being thawed in a pool of stagnant water, and the walk-in coolers were visibly soiled with debris.

The visit was prompted by a complaint but was categorized by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals as a routine inspection. The complaint concerned the adulteration of food, pest control, the shelf-life of foods, and the use of unapproved sources for food. The inspector examined pest-control records and invoices for meats and closed the case with a finding that all elements of the complaint were unverifiable.

Sigourney Café, 619 E. Jackson St., Sigourney – During a Jan. 21 visit, a state inspector cited the restaurant for failing to employ a certified food protection manager; for having no verifiable health-reporting procedures; for staff members failing to wash their hands; for keeping moldy strawberries in the cooler; for handling customers’ ready-to-eat food with their bare hands; for improperly storing raw eggs and ground beef in the cooler; for storing uncovered foods inside the freezer; for failing to clean the ice machine, which was visibly soiled with a buildup of a debris; and for storing dishes in the sink that was meant for handwashing. Also, a cardboard box was being reused to hold fried taco shells.

Sporty’s Bar & Grill, 117 S. Story St., Rock Rapids – During a Jan. 21 visit, an inspector cited the establishment for having no one on staff with a current, valid certification for food protection management; for failing to train employees in food-safety risk factors; for staffers handling ready-to-eat food with their bare hands; for failing to sanitize kitchen equipment and utensils; and for failing to properly mix the kitchen’s bleach sanitizing solution.

Monterrey Mexican Restaurant, 3138 Singing Hills Blvd., Sioux City – During a Jan. 19 inspection, the establishment was cited for removing meat from a cooler at around 1:30 p.m. and then allowing it to sit on the side of the grill, waiting to be cooked, until the inspector intervened at 3:15 p.m. The cook told the inspector he intended to cook the meat around 4 p.m. or 5 p.m.

The inspector also noted undated, cooked peppers in the cooler, and a plate full of raw chicken that was stored above vegetables. Also, most of the meat in the kitchen was left to thaw underneath a food-preparation table, and the carts and racks in the food-prep area were visibly soiled.

Ballard Middle School, 509 N. Main Ave., Huxley – During a Jan. 18 visit, an inspector noted one severely dented can of food that was then removed from the kitchen; some food items were being held at temperatures too warm to ensure safety; and a container of pizza sausage that was opened nine days prior had to be discarded.

Dairy Queen, 2107 S. Center St., Marshalltown – During a Jan. 18 visit, an inspector observed two employees leaving the establishment wearing gloves and then reentering the kitchen area without discarding the gloves or washing their hands.

Cans of pizza sauce had large dents in them and had to be removed from the kitchen; soup was reheated in the microwave to only 112 degrees rather than the required temperature of 165 degrees; and the ice chute in the dining room had a “brown, mildew-like buildup” inside of it.

Also, the blender wand, metal Blizzard cups, Blizzard cup collars, and soup ladles were only being cleaned once per day, rather than every four hours. Also, the lone handwashing sink in the kitchen was being used to store a jar of pickle juice and various wiping cloths.

In addition, pre-cooked chicken strips were left to cool inside a large plastic container that was tightly packed with chicken pieces; there was no thin-tipped thermometer on the premises for obtaining the temperatures of burgers and tenderloins; and several food-storage containers were broken or in poor repair.

Chilito’s Mexican Bar & Grill, 1704 W. 1st St., Cedar Falls – During a Jan. 11 visit, an inspector noted the person in charge of the establishment was not ensuring that food-safety requirements were being met. The inspector reported that raw meat was being prepared on the same table where ready-to-eat foods were stored, and raw fish was stored in same container as a pre-cooked dish of crab meat.

Also, numerous time-  and temperature-controlled foods – which can include meat, fish, eggs, sliced tomatoes, sprouts and dairy products – were stored inside a nonfunctional cooler at 50 degrees to 70 degrees and had to be discarded. Also, the food-prep boards were being washed and sanitized only once at the end of the day rather than every four hours.

The inspector made other observations for which no violation was noted, such as three house-made sauces and two pans of shredded cheese that were holding at above 60 degrees and had to be discarded, and two fish filets that had to be discarded due to temperature violations. He also noted that the dishwashing machine did not have any detergent hooked up to it, and the maximum temperature on the rinse cycle was only 116 degrees.

Dairy Queen, 1204 Lincoln St. Knoxville — During a Jan. 11 visit, a state inspector noted that the food protection manager’s certificate had expired 10 months prior.

A container in the kitchen’s hot-holding unit was holding chili at only 111 degrees, which was not hot enough to ensure safety. The chili was then discarded. Also, sliced tomatoes were being held at 46 degrees and sliced cheese at 48 degrees, which was too warm to ensure safety and the items were discarded.

In addition, the restaurant was only cleaning and sanitizing the utensils and food-contact surfaces twice a day, rather than every four hours. The inspector also made note of fly-catching ribbons, with multiple dead flying insects attached to them, hanging above syrup bottles in the kitchen, and reported that one kitchen wall and the entire kitchen ceiling were heavily soiled with accumulated debris.

The inspector was there in response to an illness complaint, but categorized the visit as routine. The report does not indicate the nature of the complaint but states that the person in charge of the restaurant said there had been no fire, and no interruption in power or water, and no sewage backup that had occurred in the timeframe specified by the complainant. The inspector closed the case with a finding that the complaint was unverifiable.

Asian Buffet, 4349 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines – During a Jan. 6 visit, a state inspector noted there was no certified food protection manager on staff and stated that due to the number of risk factors and the number of repeat violations, the person in charge was not knowledgeable in food safety.

Raw beef was stored above cooked eggs, and food on the hot buffet was measured as too cool to ensure food safety. Mushroom chicken was being held at 70 degrees, pork at 96 degrees and cooked shrimp at 76 degrees, and all of those items had to be discarded. The state inspector also found unspecified items that had no date markings. In addition, the only thermometer on the premises was judged to be roughly 20 degrees off in its temperature readings.

Also, what the inspector called “open food sticky bait traps” were observed on food-storage shelves, suggesting some form of improper pest control. The inspector also noted that various supplies and equipment were stored in an employee restroom and that pieces of cardboard were being used in place of lids for saucepans.

Red’s Pub, 618 Church St., Ottumwa – During a Jan. 5 visit, an inspector found a dead mouse in a trap inside the kitchen and reported that single-use plastic silverware was “stored directly on the ground in the bar area.”

The establishment had no sanitizer test strips on hand to ensure that glasses and dishes were properly sanitized, and the area under the grill was soiled with a buildup of food debris. Also, the shelving under the grill was marked by what appeared to be pest droppings.

The walls under the sinks, behind the fryer and the grill were soiled with a buildup of food debris, the floor tile in the bar area was broken and was exposing a porous, uncleanable material as flooring.

The pub’s previous inspection report was not posted for the public to read, the handwashing sink had dirty dishes in it, raw eggs were stored above ready-to-eat cheese, and cooked hamburger in the cooler had no date markings.

This inspection was prompted by a complaint but was categorized as a routine inspection. The complaint pertained to pest control and overall sanitation. It was deemed verified.

All Pho You, 4129 University Ave., Des Moines – During a Jan. 4 visit, a state inspector reported watching as employees washed their hands with their gloves still on and with no soap or towels at the sink. Also, linen towels were being used to cover food products as they cooked.

The dishwashing machine had zero measurable levels of chlorine, and it was discovered that the establishment had no chlorine on hand to help sanitize dishes.

Cooked, breaded chicken was held in a walk-in cooler and was not date marked; employee medicines were stored in the food-preparation area above food-prep table; beef was observed thawing in a tub of standing water; and there was a buildup of debris observed around racks used for storage.

EJ African Market, 2355 E. University Ave., Des Moines – During a Jan. 4 visit, an inspector cited the establishment for raw, uncut peppers that had been washed and packaged at a private residence. The peppers were removed from the market and the manager agreed to refrain from selling products from private homes.

The inspector also noted several, unspecified products “that were repackaged (and) were not labeled properly.” In response to that violation, the manager agreed to only sell food products that have come from an approved source such as a licensed facility.

The manager also agreed not to repackage any products until she could install a handwashing sink and the market was reinspected. The visit was part of a pre-opening inspection.

“License is not approved at the time of this inspection,” the inspector reported.

Benchwarmers, 705 S. Ankeny Blvd., Ankeny – During a Dec. 29 visit, a state inspector found spicy queso sauce holding at 106 degrees, taco meat at 118 degrees and marinara sauce at 112 degrees. All of the food items were discarded. The inspector also noted that cooked ground beef, which was stored on the pizza-prep table and was holding at 47 degrees, had to be discarded.

Popcorn was stored on the floor in the server station area; plastic cups and pizza boxes were stored on the floor of a storage room; and a “general cleaning was needed throughout the kitchen, especially under and around cooking equipment.” The walls of one cooler were soiled, as was the floor of another.

The visit was considered a “pre-opening/routine/illness-complaint inspection” that was tied to a recent change in ownership. The state inspector’s public report gives no indication as to the nature of the complaint or whether it was verified. The inspector approved the new owner’s license application.

Las Herradura Mexican Grill, 540 N. Cody Road, Le Claire – During a Dec. 29 visit, an inspector noted that there was no manager and none of the employees knew who was in charge.

The inspector reported that chicken was stored in a walk-in cooler above whole cuts of beef and pork, and shredded chicken, prepared the day before, was cold-holding at 47 degrees. Several pans of queso, prepared two days earlier, were holding at 46-48 degrees The chicken and queso were discarded.

Also, several pans of vegetables in the walk-in cooler had no date markings, and several buckets of house-made salsa had the wrong dates marked on them. The vegetables were discarded, and the salsa was relabeled. In addition, several large buckets of house-made salsa were date marked Dec. 16, almost two full weeks prior to the inspection, and were discarded.

Several items in the walk-in cooler were being cooled incorrectly, having been poured into deep metal pans that could not be cooled in the required time. Also, an employee was observed putting a pan of raw chicken on the floor of the kitchen.

The Frontier Again, 2300 Lincoln Way, Clinton – During a Dec. 29 visit, an inspector noted raw beef and pork was being stored over cooked meat items inside the walk-in cooler. Also, there was raw ground beef “sitting directly on top” of whole pork inside the cooler.

Several food items had been held longer than 24 hours but were not date marked, such as cut tomatoes, cut melon, pastas and cooked eggs. The inspector also found multiple food items that exceeded the allowable time period for having been kept. There were cooked chicken wings dated Dec. 11; pulled pork dated Dec. 16; sausage links dated Dec. 19; sliced beef dated Dec. 11; ham dated Dec. 3; and corned beef dated Dec. 3. All of the food had to be discarded.

Also, the inside of the microwave oven was “soiled with caked-on food debris.” In addition, the restaurant’s cold-holding arrangement at the salad bar was deemed to be insufficient to maintain proper temperature requirements, with ice levels too low to keep the food at a cool enough temperature to ensure safety.

There was a “large accumulation of dead insects on ceiling-mounted fly traps” in the kitchen; food items at the salad bar were not covered to protect from contamination by customers; cases of food were stored directly on the floor of one cooler; the shelves in one cooler were soiled; water was accumulating in the bottom of another cooler; and the interior of the buckets used to store clean utensils were soiled with food debris.

The inspector also made note of a “grease accumulation on the walls, floor, and vent-hood filters by the cooking equipment,” as well as a “large accumulation of greasy residue” around the floor drain.

The inspector categorized the visit as a “routine inspection done in conjunction with an illness-complaint investigation. “No other complaints have been noted,” the inspector reported. “Complaint was unverifiable.”

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