Restaurant update: Bad sushi, unlicensed eateries and ‘excessive’ cockroaches

By: - March 17, 2022 6:23 pm

During a recent visit, a food-safety inspector cited Cantaritos in Pella for “preparing food on top of a trash can” in the kitchen. The restaurant inspection was one of hundreds conducted in Iowa during the past month. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals)

In the past month, state and county food inspectors have cited Iowa restaurants and grocery stores for hundreds of food-safety violations, including excessive amounts of cockroaches, moldy cauliflower, bugs inside bottles of liquor and the lack of a restaurant license.

One Iowa restaurant was cited for preparing diners’ food on top of a trash can inside the kitchen. Two others were cited for selling sushi that was deemed unsafe by the inspectors.

The findings are 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 inspections at Iowa restaurants, stores, schools, hospitals and other businesses over the past four 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.

Super Saver Liquor of Des Moines, 1829 6th Ave., Des Moines – On March 14, an inspector visited the establishment, described as a convenience store with a kitchen, for what he believed would be a pre-opening inspection. Upon realizing the business had already begun food service and retail food operations prior to the necessary pre-opening inspection and license approval, the inspector recategorized the visit as a routine inspection.

The owner of the store was informed he had until March 21 to apply for a food-service license and to pay all associated penalties and fees or the business would be ordered closed. The owner agreed to voluntarily stop all food service operations. While on site, the inspector cited the establishment for 17 violations.

Among the alleged problems: The person in charge did not demonstrate knowledge of food-safety requirements as evidenced by the number of serious risk-factor violations concerning unapproved sources for food, the inability of the staff to properly wash their hands due to the lack of accessible sinks, the lack of protection from cross-contamination of food and environmental contamination of food, and the lack of temperature monitoring and sanitizing.

The inspector also noted that workers who were handling raw chicken as well as unpackaged, ready-to-eat foods were not washing their hands. He also reported an open package of doughnuts on a dish-drying rack above the clean utensils; herbs in the kitchen display cooler that were directly touching raw, shell eggs; and a container of sour cream that was stored in direct contact with a leaking bag of meat.

The store was unable to verify the source for multiple food products on hand, including packages of raw liver, various bags filled with unpackaged chicken, unpackaged raw pork legs, packages of sour cream, and cups of salsa.

The inspector also reported seeing raw ground beef stored in a bag with packages of cheese; a grocery sack of unpackaged raw chicken that was stored on top of cooked tamales; and various cuts of raw pork legs and raw chicken that were stored unpackaged in a freezer chest.

Cooked beans that were in a hot-holding unit and which measured 69 degrees had to be discarded, and there were no food items on the premises, except for one container of cooked taco meat, that were properly marked with their preparation or opening dates.

The unmarked food included beans, sour cream, lettuce, meat, salsa, stew, lamb and sauces. All of the unmarked food had to be discarded.

A meat slicer blade was visibly soiled with dried, accumulated debris; the nozzles of the cappuccino dispenser were visibly soiled with debris; the interior of microwave oven was heavily soiled with accumulated food debris, and the establishment did not have bleach on hand or any method of sanitizing anything in the food-service area.

Also, raw chicken was seen thawing without any temperature control next to a sink; there were no thin-tipped food thermometers on hand to check the temperature of cooked meat; the bottom of one display cooler had collected “an accumulation of leaked liquids from raw meat,” and one wall was visibly soiled with debris. Also, there were several missing ceiling tiles in the kitchen area, and a section of the ceiling in the storage area had fallen.

There were several pieces of unnecessary or unused equipment throughout the premises, including a mattress. The inspector informed the owner that the business may not change or expand its food service or retail operations, or conduct an extensive remodeling project, without obtaining advance approval. At the time of the visit, the store was barred from operating the food-service establishment component of the business until all of the unresolved violations were corrected and verified by inspection.

India Café, 227 E. Washington St., Iowa City – During a March 14 visit, an inspector noted the person in charge of the restaurant was not able to answer questions related to the cooking temperature of meat; was unable to explain the correct concentration of sanitizing solution for dishes and other equipment; and could not demonstrate adequate knowledge of proper chemical storage.

The establishment was cited for having no certified food protection manager on staff; for employees failing to wash their hands while preparing food and handling soiled dishware; for storing raw shell eggs stored above ready-to-eat sauces; for a blender that had a buildup of mold on the underside of the lid; for having no water service supplied to the kitchen’s handwashing sink; and for storing various bottles of pesticides and cleaning products above carry-out containers for customer orders. There was no thermometer available for checking food temperatures.

Also, “sticky traps” under a sink were not being replaced at a frequency that would ensure “excessive amounts of deceased cockroaches” were removed and numerous dead cockroaches were seen in the kitchen on the walls, shelves and floor.

The inspector also reported that numerous spices were stored without lids, even during hours when the business was closed; numerous soiled wiping cloths were stored on countertops throughout the kitchen; a rice scoop  was being stored in room-temperature water between uses; the mop sink and handwashing sink in the front of the kitchen did not drain; there was a buildup of dust on the ceiling of one cooler; and there was a buildup of debris on various surfaces as well as under and behind the cooking equipment. Also, the previous inspection report was not posted where customers could see it.

The Irish Democrat, 32017 1st SE Ave., Cedar Rapids – A Linn County Public Health inspector visited the restaurant on March 14. The inspector made note of the fact that there was no certified food protection manager employed by the establishment, and reported that the “bartender is taking the sliced lemon and lime with bare hands,” and the staff was using the bar’s handwashing sink to dump items.

Also, the kitchen’s handwashing sinks were soiled; there was no hand soap at one handwashing sink; there were boiled eggs sitting uncovered in brine with “tomato particle debris” inside the container; and “all equipment for storage, food and cold units, handles, cooking (and) food contact surfaces” were reported to be dirty with a visible buildup of debris.

Also, there were many containers of ready-to-eat food items that were not date marked (a repeat violation); one cook was reported to “have no outer clothing clean;” there were wet wiping cloths stored on cutting boards and on food-prep tables rather than in sanitizing solution; there were no testing kits on hand to measure the concentration of the sanitizing solution in buckets and the dishwasher; all of the cooking equipment – including the cold-holding units, ovens, shelving and tables – were soiled with a buildup of debris.

The inspector reported food debris and other garbage was discarded in the basement under the elevator used to lift food from the first floor to the basement; the “pizza place wall is dusty;” and the ventilation hood and filters were reported to be dusty, soiled and greasy.

Miss Phay Café, 512 Brady St., Davenport – During a March 14 visit, an inspector noted there was no certified food protection manager on staff; raw beef was being stored above ready-to-eat foods; raw pork was stored above raw shrimp; a large pot of bean sprouts and a container of noodles were sitting out at roughly 60 degrees; food throughout the facility had no date labels on them to ensure safety; veggie and seafood wraps were left sitting out at room temperature; and a handwashing sink was being used to store a bucket.

The Sports Page Bar & Grill, 2707 N. 15th St., Fort Dodge – During a March 14 visit, an inspector noted there was no certified food protection manager on staff; the restaurant was holding taco meat at 116 degrees and the meat had to be discarded; lettuce was holding at 49 degrees and had to be discarded; the inside of the ice machine was visibly soiled, as were the soda dispenser nozzles; and the staff’s handwashing sink did not have soap  or paper towels.

The visit was classified a routine inspection in conjunction with a non-illness complaint. The nature of the complaint was not described by the inspector who ruled that it was unverifiable. The restaurant was last inspected in early 2018.

Cantaritos, 1205 Washington St., Pella – During a March 11 visit, an inspector photographed the staff “preparing food on top of a trash can.” That practice didn’t result in the establishment being cited for a risk-factor violation, but was one of several items listed in the inspector’s report as not in keeping with “good retail practices.”

Among the other issues cited by the inspector: food handlers were not wearing hair nets; the flooring was in bad repair, with missing and broken tiles; the overhead lights were missing shields or were not working; and workers’ coats were left hanging on kitchen storage racks.

The inspector also noted that she did not “observe any hand washing during this visit,” even when workers switched from handling dirty dishes to clean dishes, and added that the handwashing sink in the kitchen was non-operational and had pans stored in it.

Ichiban Hibachi Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, 3187 University Ave., Dubuque – During a March 11 visit, an inspector noted that the sushi case behind the sushi bar contained several foods that required strict temperature control to ensure their safety. The sushi was measured at 46 to 52 degrees and all of it had to be discarded. The sushi case was rechecked at the end of the inspection and the temperature was reading an acceptable 39 degrees.  The inspector noted that the sushi case and the food-prep cooler in the kitchen did not have any temperature-measuring devices.

Mezcal 2, 1841 Lincoln Way, Clinton – During a March 11 visit, a state inspector noted the absence of a certified food protection manager on staff. He also reported that kitchen employees were not washing their hands after handling raw meat prior to handling other food; jars of salsa prepared at an employee’s home were being displayed for sale at the front of the restaurant; raw bacon was being stored over cheese sauce and vegetables; raw steak was stored over sliced jalapenos and butter; and cheese sauce that was prepared on site was measured at 56 degrees.

Also, tomatoes, pico de gallo and lettuce were holding at 44 degrees on a food-prep table. The inspector said that situation was corrected by adjusting the temperature of the table to 40 degrees and then the food was discarded after the lunch service was completed. The inspector also made note of raw, frozen shrimp that was left to thaw in standing water and stated that “sheets of grease-soaked cardboard” were being used to line the kitchen shelves.

In addition, the establishment’s license was expired. The visit was classified a routine inspection performed in conjunction with a complaint investigation. The complaint pertained to cleanliness and the temperature of food that was being served to consumers. The state inspector, Courtney Thomas, closed the investigation and labeled the complaint unverified.

House of China, 170 John F. Kennedy Road, Dubuque – During a March 10 visit, an inspector noted that beef and chicken stored in a cooler were holding at 44 degrees – too warm to ensure safety – even after one hour in the cooler. The ambient air temperature in the cooler was reported to be 45 degrees. The inspector said the violation was corrected by having workers take the food to the cook line and use it in preparation for the upcoming lunch service.

The inspector also noted that a bottle of scotch behind the bar had “several gnats or drain flies present” in it. Food throughout the kitchen was not properly date-marked but it was not disposed of as the person in charge stated all the food had been made the day before.

There was no certified food protection manager on staff, there was no temperature-measuring device in two of the coolers; there were no food thermometers on hand for thin foods; and bulk containers of sugar, flour, and corn starch were not properly labeled. The establishment was last inspected in 2017.

Hy-Vee Foods, 2453 N. Court St., Ottumwa – During a March 10 visit, an inspector noted that raw chicken was stored over imitation crab dip inside a walk-in cooler; food items were not properly date marked; food that needed to be maintained at 41 degrees or colder to ensure safety were too warm, including sliced tomatoes that were 48 degrees; raw shell eggs that were 72 degrees, and cooked fried chicken that was holding at 67 degrees. All of the products were thrown away.

Rotisserie chicken in a hot cooking unit was measured at 124 degrees, and the inspector reported the situation was corrected by turning the unit on and reheating the chicken. The inspector also noted that buckets of frosting used by the store bakery were stored underneath a handwashing sink.

Chuck’s Restaurant,  3608 6th Ave., Des Moines – During a March 9 visit, an inspector reported that  there were food items throughout the establishment that had no markings as to their preparation or opening dates. The undated foods included cooked ground meat, sliced tomatoes, sliced ham, house-made sauces and cut lettuce. All of the items whose preparation or opening dates could be verified were then marked, while the others were discarded.

Also, the sanitizing solution used in the three-compartment sink had no measurable amount of chlorine sanitizer in it. Sliced ham and diced ham had to be discarded when it was found that they were holding at 46 to 64 degrees, and the interior of the microwave oven was visibly soiled with accumulated debris. Rodent droppings were observed under the shelf adjacent to the mop sink, and additional rodent droppings were observed on the spice preparation table.

The visit was in response to a non-illness complaint concerning inadequate cooking, adulterated food, the reservicing of food, and poor personal hygiene. The visit was categorized a routine inspection. The inspector, Samuel Pang of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, concluded that all elements of the complaint were unverifiable.

Mongolian Buffet, 1620 S. Kellogg Ave., Ames – During a March 8 visit, inspectors noted that raw chicken and raw fish were stored above soy sauce and ready-to-eat foods.

Also, food on the dining room’s buffet line was held at an unsafe temperature, with noodles held at 44 degrees, tomatoes and sprouts at 48 degrees, and carrots at 52 degrees. The food that had been prepared within the previous four hours was moved to a freezer to get the temperature down to 41 degrees or below, and the food that was prepared more than four hours before the inspection was discarded.

Also, numerous foods — including cooked noodles, cooked chicken, cabbage and sauces — had no preparation-date markings, and the sushi was not properly time- and temperature-controlled. All of the sushi was discarded.

In the kitchen, the handwashing sink was not operational; a live cockroach and several dead cockroaches were seen on the floor; food was stored on the floor inside the walk-in cooler; the trays used for dishwashing were visibly soiled; and there was a severe buildup of debris in several areas. The visit was a routine inspection performed in conjunction with a non-illness complaint about pest control. The complaint was verified.

Szechuan House, 320 E. Burlington St., Iowa City – During a March 4 visit, an inspector cited the establishment for 17 serious risk-factor violations and noted there was no certified food protection manager on staff and that the person in charge at the restaurant was unable to answer questions related to proper cooking and holding temperatures, handwashing and sanitizing.

Employees were observed working with raw meat and then, without washing their hands, proceeding to work on other tasks. Employees were eating in the kitchen; there was mold “on multiple heads of cauliflower” inside the walk-in cooler, and raw meat was stored in multiple locations above ready-to-eat foods.

Also, fried duck and spring rolls were sitting in a fryer basket at 95 degrees and had to be discarded; sprouts, cracked eggs, house-made soups, cooked chicken and other high-risk foods were not being held at cold enough temperatures to ensure safety; racks of ribs and pork belly were discovered hanging from hooks inside the “mechanical room” of the business; raw shell eggs were stored on a cart at 74 degrees and had to be discarded; and none of the food products in the coolers were marked with a date, with the person in charge indicating they were cooked “a number of days ago.”

Also, the dishwashing machine was not able to produce water at an adequately hot temperature; numerous “clean” knives, peelers, and slicers were that were stored throughout the kitchen had excessive food buildup on them; the meat grinder had debris inside it, even after cleaning; one handwashing sink was being used to rinse knives used for raw meats and vegetables, and another handwashing sink had a bag of items and a strainer sitting in the basin.

The inspector also reported that beef was being thawed at room temperature in a tray that sat atop a garbage can; there were no thin-tipped thermometers available for checking food temperature, and there were multiple “sticky traps” used for pest control seen throughout the kitchen.

Also, food items were stored on the floor in the dry goods storage area; there was no chlorine sanitizing solution set up at the time of the  inspection; multiple knives were stored in crevices between the coolers and the walls, with one knife wedged between a drain line and the wall; one cooler that was set at its coldest possible temperature was unable to cool below 48 degrees;  and multiple cutting boards had excessive scoring and staining, making cleaning impossible.

Random items unrelated to the restaurant business, including the trunk door to an Audi automobile, were stored in the server area and dry goods room; there was a buildup of food debris on the floor and walls; multiple missing ceiling tiles had been replaced with cardboard; and the establishment’s most recent inspection report was not posted.

Wendy’s, 604 A Ave., Oskaloosa – During a March 4 visit, an inspector noted there was no certified food protection manager on staff. The inspector cited the restaurant for the staff failing to wash their hands; for tomatoes, lettuce and cheddar mix that were not held at a safe temperature and had to be discarded; for lettuce that was sitting in the basin of the handwashing sink; and for a buildup of debris under one of the other sinks. It was also noted that the food-prep cooler was not keeping food at the required 41 degrees or below. The restaurant was last inspected in March 2018.

Whispering Pines Discount Groceries, 2717 220th Ave., Delhi – During a March 4 visit to this discount retail store with a recently added bakery, an inspector noted that the establishment “does not meet the minimum requirements for bakery production,” and wrote that the owner had agreed to stop the production and sale of all bakery items until minimum food-safety requirements could be met.

Among the violations noted by the inspector: home-canned food products that were sealed in canning jars were being offered for sale and had to be removed; eggs were being stored at room temperature in a back room; “clean” dishes and utensils were being dried and then stored in the utility sink used to rinse floor mops; dishware and other items were not being sanitized.

Also, there was no handwashing sink in the food-prep area of the bakery; the business’ water had not been tested for safety in the previous 12 months; there was no refrigerator or cooler on hand to properly store eggs; the bakery products did not have any ingredients listed on their labels; and there was no adequate dishwashing equipment on site.

Pho 888, 1521 2nd Ave., Des Moines – During a March 3 visit, an inspector noted multiple cans of pineapple, broth, and coconut cream that were visibly and severely dented at the seams; slices of raw beef were stored in bags on top of cooked beef in the same large bowl; cooked barbecued pork was being held at 52 degrees; cooked noodles were held 60 degrees; sprouts were held at 61 degrees; and spring rolls were held at 67 degrees.

On the salad-preparation line, bean sprouts were sitting out at 60 degrees, mixed green salad was holding at 57 degrees; and raw shell eggs were stored at temperatures of up to 78 degrees. All of the out-of-temperature items had to be discarded.

Also, the interior of the ice machine was visibly soiled with accumulated debris; multiple knives and their holsters, as well as peelers and knives that were stored away in the utensil drawer, were visibly soiled with dried food debris; and large containers of broth were cooling at room temperature with no lids or other means to protect them from environmental contamination.

Also, the handwashing sink was being used as a dump sink and to fill buckets; aerosol cans of disinfectant and antibiotic ointment were stored directly above to-go containers; and items throughout the restaurant — including soups, broths, sauces, cooked shrimp, cooked noodles, barbecued pork, cream cheese mixtures, bags of fried chicken, bags of cooked chicken wings and cut lettuce — were not marked with their dates of preparation or opening.

The inspector watched as one employee handled a cooked eggroll and placed it on a dish with their bare hands, and reported that while no live pests were observed, there were multiple pest-harboring conditions that could contribute to their proliferation, such as “visibly and severely soiled” floors and walls.

Also, multiple foods were stored directly on the floor of the walk-in freezer and an opened bag of rice was sitting directly under soiled shoes and clothes hanging on a rack. In addition, the kitchen’s ventilation hood was heavily soiled with accumulated grease, dust and debris. State inspector Samuel Pang noted that his visit was in response to a non-illness complaint concerning pest control and classified the visit as a routine inspection. Pang closed the investigation and listed the complaint as unverifiable.

Tony’s La Pizzeria, 407 Main St., Cedar Falls – During a Feb. 25 visit, an inspector concluded that due to the many violations present, the owner was not ensuring that basic requirements of the food code were being met.

Bugs were found in an unspecified number of bottles of alcohol bottles; the salad cooler was holding food at temperatures above 60 degrees; cutting boards used in the food-prep area were not being sanitized at least once every four hours; food coolers displayed a buildup of mold-type growth, and bug spray that was being used on the premises was not approved for restaurants.

Also, there was no certified food protection manager on staff (a repeat violation); multiple food containers were left open and were unprotected from environmental contamination; there was an accumulation of debris, food and dust; and the inspector found remnants of eaten food in the kitchen.

“I did not see anyone wash hands during the whole visit,” the inspector wrote. He directed the owner to go through all of the alcohol bottles and discard any that had bugs in them.

Felix & Oscar’s, 4050 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines – During a March 14 visit, an inspector watched as a cook topped an order of nachos and peppers with their bare hands and while using ingredients that were not fully cooked. The dish was discarded.

The inspector also noted a slicer that was soiled with visible debris, though it had not been used since the previous day. The restaurant was cited for one violation that was described by the inspector as “onions wrapped in foil in pans above oven, stated to be changed every couple of days, used to balance hoagies on when toasting.”

Also, clean pans were being stored under the food-prep counter where spilling of food product could occur, and there was a buildup of grease above the fryer. The visit was classified a “routine inspection conducted with an illness complaint.” The complaint investigation was closed with the complaint determined to be unverifiable. A salad cooler had been out of service, the inspector noted, but that was more than two weeks after the complaint was filed.

La Premium Michoacana Paleteria Ice Cream, 1434 Des Moines St., Des Moines – During a Feb. 24 visit, an inspector concluded that the establishment had no person in charge and no certified food protection manager. One employee was observed handling ready-to-eat cake with their bare hands and none of the food items in the restaurant — including cream, pancake batter, diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce — had the required date of preparation or opening marked on them.

The inspector also noted there were bottles of toilet bowl cleaner, glass cleaner and stainless-steel polish stored directly above watermelon and pineapple in the kitchen. The inspector reported that his visit was in response to a non-illness complaint concerning poor personal hygiene, which he considered verified.

The restaurant’s food-service license had expired three months earlier, and the owner was told to renew the license and pay all of the associated late fees by March 3, or the business would be ordered closed.

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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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