Restaurant inspection update: rodent urine, moldy corn, uncooked chicken

By: - February 22, 2022 5:15 pm

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 food tainted with rodent urine, moldy sweet corn and chicken that wasn’t fully cooked. One establishment where cockroaches and 10 dead mice were found agreed to voluntarily close in an effort to conduct a thorough cleaning.

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.

Family Dollar, 1251 University Ave., Des Moines — During a Feb. 14 visit, a state inspector reported that “several foods throughout the facility were adulterated from what appear to be rodents biting through packaging and with what appear to be rodent droppings and evidence of rodent urine either on or around, or located on the shelf adjacent, to the product.” The rodent-damaged foods included packages of Zebra Cakes, chocolate-coated almonds, Planters nuts, cheddar fries, hot fries, multi-packs of chips, Club Crisps, and Munchies’ Salted Peanuts. All of the products were discarded.

In addition, the inspector reported “what appeared to be a live rodent” in the warehouse area and pointed to conditions that could contribute to a pest infestation. Those included damaged ceilings, visibly soiled floors and walls, multiple damaged packages that exposed human and pet food, and multiple surfaces throughout the warehouse and retail area that were “heavily soiled with what appeared to be rodent droppings” and food spillage.

Five dead rodents were spotted by the inspector, and dead roaches were observed under a shelf in the snack aisle, the maintenance closet, and behind the front cash register. During the inspection, a professional pest-control serviceman arrived at the store and found 10 dead rodents. Rodent droppings were also observed on the bottom shelf inside the milk cooler and in the aisles for pet food, cookies and snacks.

The visit was in response to a non-illness complaint alleging rodent activity.  The complaint was verified, and the store agreed to voluntarily close. The store manager also agreed to a “full facility clean-up” that would include the elimination of areas that might harbor pests and improvements to the general facility sanitation to eliminate conditions that contribute to the proliferation of pests. The store had last been inspected in 2018.

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China Inn, 1401 1st Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids — During a Feb. 18 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for storing food in commercial plastic bags that were not food-grade quality; for storing sauces, soups, butter and other food products in uncovered buckets; for holding tempura chicken at 57 degrees inside a cooler; for keeping ready-to-eat foods inside plastic bags with no date markings (a repeat violation); failing to monitor the internal temperature of food; thawing frozen chicken in standing water; failing to clean the “excessive buildup of food debris” on the floor of a walk-in freezer; and failing to post the most recent inspection report for customers for customers to review.

Cozy Café, 8385 Birchwood Ct., Johnston — During a Feb. 18 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for kitchen employees changing gloves without washing hands after handling raw meat; for storing chopped onions under raw tenderloins; for holding pork sausage links in a hot-holding vessel at 107 degrees; for holding an egg mixture, alfredo sauce and hollandaise sauce at 44 degrees and for storing raw eggs at room temperature.

The restaurant also was cited for failing to properly date-mark the deli meats, cheeses and pies; for keeping cooked and deli meats beyond the allowable seven days; for failing to clean a buildup of food debris from the kitchen cutting board, meat slicer and shake machine; for using the staff handwashing sink to store pans; for storing various chemicals directly above single-use food items; and for operating with a food license that had expired seven months earlier in July 2021.

RJ’s Lounge, 109 N. Main St., Conrad — During a Feb. 18 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for “not maintaining this facility to provide safe food.” The inspector noted that the required certification for the food-safety protection manager had expired in 2020.

He also noted the kitchen grill was “very heavily soiled with old food and grease;” there were open bottles of Miracle Whip, tartar sauce, salad dressing, and mayonnaise that were sitting out at 64 degrees and had to be discarded; the “clean” crockpots and other cooking vessels were stored in “a very heavily soiled area” of the kitchen; there was “a large amount of food splashes” in the kitchen on the side the freezer, along with “heavy soil” on the outside of the flat grill and the deep fryers; and returnable beverage cans that were stored in a “very cluttered and soiled area” next to repair equipment, a truck hitch, outdoor furniture, chemical bottles and ice-melt pellets.

The inspector also reported that the front kitchen, back kitchen, and food storage areas were “all very heavily soiled” on both the walls and floors, and a “strong odor was present in the back of the facility.”

The inspector noted that RJ’s had been “closed for over a month to deep clean after a freezer went down … The front kitchen and back kitchen are still very soiled and littered with unnecessary equipment and items.”

Wells Fargo Arena, 233 Center St., Des Moines — State inspectors visited the arena on Feb. 18 during the arena’s hosting of the high school wrestling tournament. The arena sometimes has 30 food stands or booths operating, but only eight were open at the time of the visit.

The inspector cited the arena for containers of fresh, cut melons and containers of salad with leafy greens that were held more than 24 hours and were not date marked. In another booth, the inspector observed a “buildup of what appears to be fruit flies” inside a beverage drip tray; boxes of single-use food items were stored directly on the floor in two booths; the flooring of the walk-in cooler in another booth was buckling upward in multiple areas, making cleaning difficult; and there was a buildup of what appeared to be “mold from beer” on the ceiling of one walk-in cooler.

Bread Garden Market & Bakery, 225 S. Linn St., Iowa City — During a Feb. 17 visit by a Johnson County Public Health inspector, the market was cited for having no certified food protection manager on staff.

Also, employees were reporting for work and immediately handling clean dishes or raw meats without first washing their hands (a repeat violation); minestrone made two days prior was being held in a cooler at 45 degrees and had to be discarded; multiple pre-packaged containers of salmon cake were not being held at a cool enough temperature and had to be discarded; the employee handwashing sink was blocked by a tub of salad mix and a garbage can; and a sanitizing bucket was stored in the basin of a handwashing sink (a repeat violation).

Also, there were multiple containers of snacks on the retail-sales shelves that were missing ingredient lists, and the most recent inspection report was not posted for customers to read.

The inspection was performed as a result of an illness complaint but was classified by the inspector as routine. The public report states that the complaint was considered unverifiable, but it also makes reference to unpublished “internal notes” that include “details on follow-up related to illness complaint.” The establishment was issued a warning by the county for repeat violations over three consecutive inspections.

Cheng’s Garden, 1246 E. 14th St., Des Moines — During a Feb. 17 visit, a state inspector reported that due to the severity of the violations regarding employee handwashing, sanitizing of food contact surfaces, monitoring of food temperatures, and the cross-contact of allergens and cross-contamination of foods, it was determined the person in charge was incapable of fulfilling their duties. The inspector cited the restaurant for 18 violations.

On the food-preparation table, pans that were touching raw scallop juice were placed directly on top of uncovered containers of barbecued pork, and a container of raw chicken was stored above an uncovered container of cooked shrimp. In a walk-in cooler, a bowl of raw beef was stored above an open box of broccoli, and a container of raw chicken skewers were stored above a container of ready-to-eat onions and fried chicken, and a container of raw ground meat was stored above a container of fried rice. Employees discarded all of the ready-to-eat products that had been visibly cross-contaminated.

In the cooler, a package of raw poultry and a package of raw ribs were stored in the same bowl, and multiple containers of food had no lids or coverings to protect them from environmental contamination. Also, equipment and utensils that had been cleaned and sanitized were placed into a metal container that was visibly soiled with accumulated food debris.

In addition, fried chicken that employees stated had been cooked 30 minutes earlier was sitting out at 80 degrees “and was not fully cooked.”  The inspector also reported finding several containers of food that had to be discarded, including fried chicken measured at 53 degrees, barbecued pork measured at 49 degrees, and fried rice measured at 78 degrees. Food throughout the restaurant was not properly marked with date markings and had to be discarded.

A container of meat-slicing utensils and peelers was heavily soiled with accumulated, dried food debris, and the microwave oven was heavily soiled with accumulated food debris on the interior.

The inspector also made note of “what appeared to be rodent droppings” inside the dining room, as well as in the dry-storage area, and the flour-and-sugar storage areas. Also, the floor under the stove had water pooling on it, and the floors underneath kitchen equipment and shelving were visibly soiled with accumulated debris.

The visit was in response to a non-illness complaint alleging the potential adulteration of foods with metal particulates and shavings. The inspector noted the restaurant used steel wool for cleaning and maintaining equipment, and the inspector discussed with management the proper storage of steel wool and other products that could lead to contamination. Because no food was observed as adulterated with metal particulates or shavings, the complaint was considered unverifiable.

During the last routine inspection, in 2020, the restaurant was cited for 20 violations, many of which were repeated during the most recent inspection.

IHOP, 2402 S.E. Delaware Ave., Ankeny — During a Feb. 16 visit, a state inspector reported that an employee failed to wash his or her hands between handling soiled utensils and clean utensils; cooked sausage links were holding in a pan on the flat top grill at 123 degrees and had to be discarded; cooked chopped sausage, roast beef and ham in the cooler were not date-marked to ensure safety;  the employee handwashing sink was being used to store plastic containers and paper towels were not available at the main food-line handwashing sink.

The inspector reported that the visit was in response to a complaint about poor personal hygiene. Despite the findings related to handwashing, the state inspector closed the complaint as unverifiable, noting that management “was not aware of the complaint and has had no other recent complaints.”

Lot One, 100 Main St., Dubuque — During a Feb. 16 visit, an inspector reported the restaurant had no certified food protection manager; food throughout the kitchen was not properly marked with dates; the bar-area dishwasher had no measurable level of sanitizing solution; an ice machine had a “buildup of residue;” the hot water at an employee handwashing sink could not reach 100 degrees; and a sanitizing bucket was stored next to tortilla wraps.

The inspector also noted that one cooler had no thermometer; the microwave ovens were unclean and soiled with food residue; the ceiling was “leaking” in the basement area; the upstairs bar area needed “a more thorough cleaning; and the most recent inspection report was not posted where customers could easily view it.

Hy-Vee Foods, 3600 Highway 151, Marion — During a Feb. 15 visit, an inspector reported citations for “several high-risk” violations, including inadequate hot-holding temperatures; cold holding; date labeling of food; food-cooling practices; and the lack of employee access to a handwashing sink, all of which indicated the staff had not been properly trained by management.

Raw eggs, some of which were broken, were stored over ready-to-eat foods in a cooler; several items, including cooked pasta and fried chicken, were stored uncovered in the walk-in cooler; one pan of fried chicken had a bag of boil-in-the-bag hot wings sitting directly on top of it; chunks of chicken in the Chinese food serving line were measured at 108 to 117 degrees, which was too cool to ensure their safety, and gravy in a hot-holding cabinet was measured at a too-cool 127 degrees.

Also, a large container of egg yolks used for cooking in the Chinese cafe were sitting out at room temperature and was measured at 58 degrees. Several items in the walk-in cooler — including pans of fried chicken, smoked pork and cooked pasta — were not date labeled, and the handwashing sinks in the Starbucks area, the hot-meals area and the sushi area all were blocked.

Panda Express, 436 S. Duff Ave., Ames — During a Feb. 15 visit, an inspector reported that fried rice was being held at a too-cool 120 degrees and noted that there was cut cabbage on hand that was dated Feb. 3 and Feb. 7. Also, the interior of the chute on the ice machine used for drive-through service was visibly soiled.

Best Western Plus / Pioneer Inn & Suites, 2210 West St. S., Grinnell — During a Feb. 11 visit to review the inn’s continental-breakfast service, an inspector cited the establishment for the lack of a certified food protection manager. A four-pack of sweet corn in the storeroom’s refrigerator had visible mold and spoilage; waffle batter on the buffet line was holding at 78 degrees and had to be discarded; and the handwashing sink had no soap or towels.

Also, refrigerators in the kitchen and storage room had no thermometers, and rodent droppings were observed on a towel near the drying rack in the kitchen. A jar of peanut butter in the cupboard was labeled “mouse feed” and rodent traps were located in the kitchen. Management acknowledged that rodents had been seen in both the kitchen and the breakfast-dining area. The inspector saw wiping cloths in the kitchen that were “soiled with a mold-like substance and rodent droppings.”

Rainbow Café, 105 W. Market Road, Red Oak — During a Feb. 9 visit, an inspector noted that the rolls made for made for lunch and dinner service had been prepared in a private residence and had to be discarded. Raw shell eggs were stored above ready-to-eat foods and the dishwashing machine was not dispensing sanitizer solution at the recommended level. Also, the kitchen’s vegetable dicer was contaminated with dried food-like debris.

VFW Post 3388, 314 S. 1st St., Estherville — During a Feb. 8 visit, an inspector observed an employee handling raw bacon and then, without changing gloves, buttering a customer’s toast. The restaurant was cited for storing raw chicken above raw ground beef and for keeping food past the allowable seven days, including chicken dated Jan. 20, tomato juice dated Jan. 8, chicken salad dated Jan. 28, and soup dated Jan. 27.

Hy-Vee Foods, 3285 Crosspark Road, Coralville — During a Feb. 8 visit, an inspector cited the store for selling in-house packaged raw meats and fish with none of the required safe-handling instructions.

The inspector also made note of caramelized onions that were holding at 118 degrees and had to be heated to 165 degrees before being placed back into hot holding; cut watermelon that was packaged for retail sale the previous day but was holding at 50 degrees and had to be discarded; spicy mayo and eel sauce that lacked any date marking; and food at the hibachi stations and retail “grab ’n go” items in a hot display case that were not properly labeled with the discard date and time to ensure safety.

Also, equipment in the meat department was soiled with debris buildup, though the equipment hadn’t been used that day. Violations related to equipment and labeling of sushi were also noted. The visit was in response to a non-illness complaint alleging unsafe food handling. The inspector closed the complaint as unverifiable.

Baqara Skate, 1611 1st St., Newton – During a Feb. 4 visit, the establishment was cited for failing to employ a certified food protection equipment manager. The inspector noted the presence of “multiple jars of caramel and curd that require refrigeration” but were sitting out at room temperature and which had “visible signs of spoilage.”

The establishment had no sanitizer on hand for use on food-contact surfaces, indicating none of the surfaces were being sanitized. The visit was in response to a non-illness complaint but was categorized as a routine inspection. The published report indicates the complaint alleged the establishment had exceeded its allowable scope of operation.

Although the inspector reported that the establishment had expanded its menu offerings and had added alcohol service, and did so with the approval of regulators, he closed the complaint as verified. The inspector noted that the business was operating without a valid license.

Himalayan Asian Grocery, 3300 S.W. 9th St., Des Moines — During a Feb. 4 visit, the establishment was cited for failing to employ a certified food protection equipment manager. The inspector noted the presence of yogurt for sale on store shelves that had a sell-by date of Dec. 28, 2021. The store also had about 40 whole frozen chickens that bore no verifiable marks of inspection and had to be discarded.

Raw shell eggs were stored above vegetables in a display cooler, and there were cooked potatoes and beans being held at 81 degrees to 98 degrees that had to be discarded. The inspector noted that the store was offering a hot and cold menu, with food made to order, though it was approved only to repackage dry goods, whole fruit, whole vegetables, packaged salads and nuts. The store agreed to cease all production, processing or repackaging that requires a food-service license.

McDonald’s 4400 S 22nd Ave., Newton — During a Feb. 4 visit, an inspector observed an employee handling raw food product, then failing to wash their hands before donning gloves to handle cooked food product. Another employee was filling french-fry boxes while allowing the cooked fries to fall on their bare hands and into the holding bin.

Also, hamburgers in the cooler at the end of the cook line were measured at 45 degrees and the air temperature of the unit was 46 to 47 degrees — too warm to ensure safety. As a result, hamburgers, sliced cheese, pancakes, butter, and bacon slices that had been stored in the unit were relocated and efforts to repair the cooler were initiated.

In addition, the interior of one ice machine was reported as having a “brown, mildew-like buildup,” as did the ice chute attached to the drive-through window’s soda machine. The visit was in response to a complaint alleging the use of food from unsafe sources or the use of adulterated food. The complaint was closed as unverifiable.

Aranda’s Buffet, 500 N. 2nd St., Fairfield — During a Feb. 2 visit, an inspector reported that due to violations tied to employee training, hand washing practices, cross contamination, employee health reporting procedures, cooling times and temperatures, and date marking, the person in charge had not demonstrated an ability to fulfill their duties.

The inspector reported finding beans holding at 55 degrees and chicken holding at 48, with both products discarded. Chicken wings that were holding at 96 degrees also were discarded. The inspector also determined that there was no procedure in place to mark food with dates to ensure they were safe to serve.

Wolfey’s Wapsi Outback, 101 Water St., Quasqueton – During a Feb. 2 visit, an inspector observed a worker using a cell phone then initiating food preparation without first washing their hands. Also, dishes were being improperly washed, and the diced tomatoes and onions were not date marked. The thermometer in the walk-in cooler was broken, there was food on the floor in the freezer, and there was “dirt and debris throughout the kitchen.”

Fireside Bistro, 1700 West 2nd Ave., Indianola — During a Jan. 31 visit, an inspector noted the lack of temperature control and foods that were left sitting out at room temperature, such as shredded cheese at 64 degrees, cooked sausage at 63 degrees, and ham at 68 degrees. The food was not discarded but was instead put on ice for rapid cooling. The restaurant also was cited for cooked pork loin and coleslaw that were not date marked and had to be discarded, and for a soiled slicer and soiled ice machine.

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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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