Restaurant inspection update: Cockroaches, dead mice, rancid meat, moldy fruit

By: - July 13, 2022 5:45 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)

State and county food inspectors have cited Iowa restaurants and grocery stores for hundreds of food-safety violations this past month, including moldy fruit, rodent infestations and unsanitary conditions.

One restaurant agreed to halt food service while it underwent a deep cleaning, while others were cited for mouse poison scattered throughout the kitchen or a history that includes findings of rancid meat and weeks-old prime rib.

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.

Weitzel’s Restaurant and Bar, 1904 E. 7th St., Atlantic – After a June 17 visit by an inspector, the restaurant agreed to voluntarily halt all food service to perform a deep cleaning of the establishment.

During the visit, the inspector noted that the floors, walls and ceiling had a heavy buildup of dirt, dust and grease-like debris. In addition, the “restaurant back room” was serving as someone’s living quarters, “with personal laundry hanging from the ceiling,” the inspector reported.

Also, there were “multiple food items and containers” that were adulterated, with a “mold-like debris on them.” Inside the walk-in freezer, there were food items that were frozen in place, stuck in the ice buildup on the floor. The inspector also made note of multiple side salads stored in a cooler without any covers or lids to protect against environmental contamination.

In addition, multiple food items had no date markings on them, and multiple pieces of equipment in the kitchen were “heavily soiled” with an accumulation of food-like debris crusted to them. During the restaurant’s last routine inspection, on Nov. 12, 2020, it was cited for 15 risk-factor violations, including the presence of flying insects in the pour spouts of several bottles of alcoholic beverages; rancid and discolored meat inside the walk-in cooler; and outdated foods including prime rib, refried beans and chili that had been prepared the previous month.

Burger King, 4801 NE 14th St., Des Moines – During a July 8 visit, an inspector noted that while the restaurant had “successfully reduced the severity of temperature control violations” found during an inspection in May, violations remained. The May visit had resulted in citations for 12 risk-factor violations – the same number found during the July 8 visit.

The people in charge of the restaurant were not all certified food protection managers and were not fulfilling their duties as evidenced by the extent of the violations found, the inspector reported. The restaurant was cited for an uncovered tray of raw bacon that was stored above a box of ready-to-eat cheese slices. The inspector also noted that the condenser inside the walk-in cooler was leaking water, and directly underneath the leak were multiple foods that were not completely sealed. Those foods included onions, tomatoes, sliced cheese and bacon.

During the inspection, the staff moved the food out from under the leaking water. The inspector also noted that raw chicken was sitting out at 53 degrees and had to be discarded. Shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and sliced cheese that should have been discarded after sitting out for four hours was mistakenly marked to be discarded after five hours.

Also, the interior of metal food containers were still visibly soiled with accumulated food debris, as was the interior of the microwave and the interior of an oven. The inspector reported that the business “did not have any type of sanitizer at the time of inspection.”

Also, ready-to-eat, frozen fried foods were stored in a freezer were not being kept frozen solid. “All freezers — except for the walk-in freezer and the chest freezer adjacent to the broiler — are not functional,” the inspector reported. “The refrigeration unit at the cash register area is maintaining at borderline temperatures of 41 to 42 degrees and may not be functioning to manufacturer specifications.”

Subway, 1407 Buchanan St., Des Moines – During a June 13 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for a failure to have all persons in charge certified as food protection managers, and for the person in charge not demonstrating sufficient knowledge of food safety.

The inspector observed employees failing to wash their hands properly and noted that the food in the sandwich preparation line was not being held at a safe temperature. Sliced turkey was measured at 48 degrees; meatballs at 46 degrees; eggs at 46 degrees; and cheese at almost 49 degrees. All of that food — along with chicken, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes and spinach — had to be discarded.

In addition, trays of meatballs inside a walk-in cooler were not dated or were incorrectly dated. Also, the vegetable slicer, cutting boards, bread tray liners and cookie trays were visibly soiled with accumulated debris, and knives were being rinsed without washing or sanitizing.

The inspector also reported that chicken was being thawed in standing water; there were multiple flies throughout the rear kitchen area; a large bag of onions was stored directly on the floor; metal food containers were stacked while wet and could not properly air dry; cleaned utensils were stored on a visibly soiled drying rack; the walk-in freezer was leaking water; utensils and cookie trays were not being washed effectively and were visibly soiled after washing and drying; and the handwashing sink behind the sandwich line had a “severe” leak.

The inspection prompted by a non-illness complaint concerning personal hygiene. The complaint was deemed verified.

Mini Super La Victoria, 1638 E. University Ave., Des Moines – During a June 15 visit, an inspector cited the store for 18 risk-factor violations – an unusually high number – and concluded the person in charge did not have adequate knowledge of food safety and food-borne illness prevention.

Multiple containers of sliced-fruit cups and strawberries were visibly adulterated with a mold-like substance, and multiple meats inside a freezer were stored uncovered with no lids to protect against environmental contamination.

The inspector found tamales in a back room that had been made at 1 p.m., and at 3:17 p.m., they were still sitting out and measured 98 degrees. The inspector spoke to the person in charge about the tamales and it was agreed that they would be discarded. Later during the inspection, the inspector discovered the same tamales had been moved to walk-in cooler instead of being thrown away. At that point, the inspector watched as the owner discarded the tamales.

Also, cooked tamales were seen in the retail-purchase area of the establishment and were measured at 110 degrees with no food-preparation time documented. The person in charge voluntarily removed those tamales and set them aside to take home. Cooked steak that was holding at 93 degrees and cooked flautas holding at 104 degrees had to be discarded.

The inspector also made note of multiple foods, such as cut watermelon, cut cantaloupe, cooked meats, sauces, and cut lettuce that were not marked with their preparation dates. To correct that violation, an employee placed date stickers on each item so they could continue to be offered for sale.

The inspector reported finding two containers of cooked meat that were dated as having been prepared on May 4 – five weeks earlier. The owner told the inspector the dates on the containers were incorrect and that the food had been prepared the previous day. The owner placed new date stickers on each container so the meat could be offered for sale.

The inspector also made note of a meat saw and meat slicer that were visibly soiled with an accumulation of dried food debris, as well as two cutting boards that were soiled with accumulated condensation from a leaking heating-and-cooling unit directly overhead.

The inspector also reported that a cooked meat soup and other foods were stored without any temperature control and were left to sit out at room temperature. A cooked pot of rice was cooled in a residential-style cooler that didn’t appear to be effective in cooling cooked products, the inspector said.

In addition, repackaged foods – including various nuts and spices – were not properly labeled; an office in the store’s back room was gated, with dog bowls for water and food on the floor; and single-use lids, straws, and to-go containers were stored under an “actively leaking” heating-and-cooling unit.

Over the past year, the store has been cited for a total of 58 risk-factor violations.

El Rancho Alegre, 3308 Indianola Ave., Des Moines – During a July 11 visit, an inspector observed workers failing to wash their hands between tasks that involved raw and ready-to-eat food, and workers were using their bare hands to handle cheese and vegetable toppings that were used to garnish customers’ plates.

Also, raw beef and cooked octopus were stored above raw bell peppers inside a refrigerator; cooked chicken was sitting on a counter at 130 degrees and had to discarded; there was no hand soap at the handwashing sink; and workers’ medication was stored above the food-preparation table.

The inspector also noted a glue trap with multiple dead insects in it and discussed with management the need to post restaurant-inspection reports where customers can see them.

Los Portales 2, 1012 E. Kimberly Road, Davenport – During a July 11 visit, an inspector noted that the person in charge was not a certified food protection manager and was not enforcing regulations related to date markings on food, the proper cooling of food, and sanitation practices.

The inspector cited the restaurant for storing raw fish over salsa, storing raw seafood over bushels of cilantro, and storing raw ground beef over whole cuts of meat. In addition, rice cooked the previous night was holding at 55 degrees and had to be discarded; salsa stored in large plastic buckets was holding at 70 degrees; and an assortment of foods were being held in a cooler at 45 to 47 degrees and had to be discarded.

The inspector also made note of “several prepared foods” that had no date markings on them, and several knives that were stored with a buildup of old food on them. The business “has multiple violations that could cause a foodborne illness,” the inspector reported. “Several of these violations were found on previous inspection reports … Facility was also dealing with excessive amounts of water coming from plumbing fixtures.”

Hy-Vee, 3800 W. Lincoln Way, Ames – During a July 7 visit, an inspector noted that the most recent “shell tags” – documents that are used to trace the source of food in the event of a food-borne illness or outbreak – were from April 2022.

Also, raw ground beef patties were stored above whole cuts of pork inside a walk-in cooler, and whole cuts of beef were stored above ready-to-eat food such as potato salad. The inspector also examined the store’s grab-and-go cooler and found two packages of cooked chicken and noodles that were prepared two days prior and were holding at 45.5 degrees – too warm to ensure their safety.

Also, there were containers of “freshly squeezed orange juice” on a shelf that either had an expiration date of July 6 (the previous day) or had no expiration date on them. In addition, the three-compartment sink used to clean utensils was not properly sanitizing and had no measurable amount of sanitizing solution in it.

Also, the ice machine in the Starbucks area was visibly soiled; the handwashing sink near the seafood area was not operable; and there was no soap at the handwashing sink in the bar area.

La Feria, 4450 University Ave., Pleasant Hill – During a June 30 visit, an inspector noted that not all employees designated as persons in charge were certified food protection managers.

The inspector observed workers moving between stations and handling raw foods without washing their hands. One front-line cook was seen topping a bowl of food with shredded cheese using their bare hands.

Raw chicken was being cut and processed over mesh bags of onions that were being used as uncooked food toppings; cooked pork was sitting on a counter at 79 degrees and had to be discarded; and chicken, beans, tamales and tomatoes prepared the previous day were in a cooler holding at 43 to 50 degrees and had to be discarded. Also, detergent buckets were being used for food storage.

Chux, 1600 Court Ave., Chariton – During a June 29 visit, an inspector reported the person in charge was “not knowledgeable of food safety” and the restaurant was cited for having no certified food protection manager on staff.

Additional citations were issued for the manager handling buns with their bare hands; for unrefrigerated lettuce that was sitting out at 46 degrees; for chili that was holding at 90 degrees and had to be reheated to 165 degrees; for undated hot dogs; and for cleaning the ice cream machine only once per week.

Also, hamburger was being thawed in standing water; not all of the coolers had thermometers to ensure proper operation; and there was no thermometer on hand to verify the cooking temperature of hamburgers, chicken patties and tenderloins.

Tantra Asian Bistro, 589 E. 53rd St., Davenport – During a June 29 visit, an inspector concluded that while the restaurant manager had a food-safety certificate, the individual was not enforcing good food-storage and cleaning practices. The inspector reported that there was hardly any hot water available from the handwashing sink and one food container was being held together with duct tape and could not be properly sanitized.

Also, the inspector reported, “muscles” – an apparent reference to mussels — were stored in a container marked with a date from three months earlier, and the “manager agreed the container was unlikely to have been washed since the date on the label of three months ago.”

In addition, a container of house-made sauce, which included coconut milk, was being stored at room temperature; there was cooked chicken stored with no date markings; there were fly strips hanging above the food and food-preparation areas; and there was a buildup of grime and food debris in the kitchen and in the walk-in cooler.

Golden Corral, 5230 Sergeant Road, Sioux City – During a June 28 visit, an inspector noted that the brisket stored in the walk-in cooler had been cooked the day before but was still measuring 52 degrees — too warm to ensure safety. Also, the temperature inside the pizza-preparation cooler was 80 degrees, which resulted in all of the pizza-prep food items being discarded.

In addition, food items were improperly labeled as needing to be discarded in five hours, rather than four hours. The meat grinder, the mixer and other utensils in the meat room were visibly soiled. Also, the roof was leaking in the dishwashing area and the vent filters and vent screens were visibly soiled.

Lunardi’s, 102 E. Kimberly Road, Davenport – During a June 28 visit, an inspector noted that the restaurant did not currently have a certified food protection manager on staff.

The inspector found a tray holding several individual-portion pans of lasagna that was stored on a shelf underneath an oven in the kitchen, with the lasagna measured at 57 degrees. Also, pans of lasagna had been pulled from the cooler and had been sitting out for roughly an hour to expedite their cooking time – a violation that had been noted in a previous inspection.

In addition, pans of beef and “cooked links” were observed inside the reach-in cooler with a date of June 21 on them, indicating both products had been held beyond the allowable seven days, which was a repeat violation.

Azteca 4, 3566 N. Brady St., Davenport – During a June 27 visit, an inspector noted that the restaurant did not currently have a certified food protection manager on staff. This was a repeat violation.

Also, a pan of raw pork was stored above diced tomatoes, onions and cilantro, which was a repeat violation; a pan of cooked rice was holding at 108 degrees on a steam table, and a pan of queso was holding at 89 degrees, which was a repeat violation; and several products – sliced tomatoes, raw beef, raw shrimp and beef patties – were in cold holding but measured 46 to 50 degrees, which was too warm to ensure safety.

In addition, six pans of refried beans and five pans of cooked shredded chicken and peppers were stored in a walk-in cooler with no date markings. A container of red salsa that was dated June 16 and two containers of cooked shredded beef dated June 20 were discarded as being more than seven days old.

Also, the inspector noted “two baby cockroach-like insects” crawling on the wall above the handwashing sink and one crawling on a cardboard box that held single-service items.

The restaurant had no chlorine test kit available for checking the concentration of their sanitizing solution; and several shelves and food-prep tables in the kitchen had a buildup of grease, crumbs, and food debris on them.

La Victoria, 2600 Myrtle St., Sioux City – During a June 27 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for storing cooked chicken and rice inside a walk-in cooler at 45 and 48 degrees. All of the food was discarded.

The restaurant was also holding rice and french fries at 77 degrees, resulting in that food being discarded. In addition, the walk-in cooler used to store raw meats, cooked meats and sauces was holding food at 43 to 45 degrees, which was too warm to ensure their safety.

Some of the sauces and meat in the cooler were dated June 17 and June 18 and had to be discarded as outdated. Seasoning shakers, tongs and spatulas were visibly soiled with food debris, and medicines were stored throughout the facility on counters and on top of a cooler.

Hy-Vee Foods, 905 Highway 30, Carroll – During a June 23 visit, an inspector cited the store for failing to employ a certified food protection manager. The inspector also noted “multiple food items inside the hot-holding unit in the Wahlburger department,” such as chicken breasts, green beans and brown gravy that were measured at 128 degrees and had to be discarded.

The inspector also reported milk that was stored inside a walk-in milk cooler that was maintaining an ambient temperature of more than 50 degrees, and sliced watermelon was stored inside a reach-in retail case was holding the fruit at 50 degrees. The store agreed to temporarily halt the sale of milk and watermelon, the inspector reported.

The inspector also found prepared salad with a use-by date of June 22, the day prior to the inspection. Also, the inside of a mixing bowl used the previous day still had food debris crusted to the surface, and the handwashing sink near the Wahlburger area was not capable of producing hot water.

In addition, the pH meter necessary to ensure the safe production of sushi was not working properly during the inspection and there were no pH test strips available, although the store had already made several containers of sushi that day. The sushi was discarded, and the store agreed not to prepare any more sushi until a working pH meter was acquired.

Also, clean utensils were seen air drying on a board that had a “black, mold-like substance on the surface,” and there was an accumulation of what appeared to be food debris throughout the floors of the bakery.

Arianna’s Kitchen, 1826 1st St., Independence – During a June 22 visit, an inspector cited the establishment for 13 risk-factor violations.

Among the problems: multiple instances of workers failing to wash their hands when necessary; bacon that was cooked and then placed on “a dirty cloth towel” to absorb grease before being served to customers; multiple instances of “bare-hand contact” with food, including an employee who handled a customer’s waffle with their bare hands.

Also, soup that was cooked in the morning and then put into a warming unit that was not switched on; pancake batter that was stored in a bucket with an incorrect date marking; and pasta and meatloaf that had no date markings. The inspector also noted there was only one handwashing sink in the kitchen and it was not in an accessible location.

Mouse poison inside a broken, open package had been set on the cook line above the plates and near the bread. The inspector reported that poison pellets were being used throughout the establishment to control the mouse population, with some of the packages chewed open and poison pellets scattered nearby. Multiple mouse droppings were spotted by the inspector, as was one dead mouse.

The inspector also made note of the fact that the cook had a dirty towel tucked into his pants and was using it to wipe his hands before and after touching food.

Appanoose County Girls’ Softball, 721 N. 1st St., Centerville – During a June 20 visit, an inspector noted that hot dogs were being held at 130 degrees, which was not sufficiently hot to ensure safety; shredded lettuce and shredded cheese were measured at 45 degrees, which was too warm to ensure safety; and the shredded cheese was dated June 3 and had to be discarded.

Christopher’s, 2816 Beaver Ave., Des Moines – During a June 10 inspection, the restaurant was cited for failing to employ a certified food protection manager; for staffers failing to wash their hands while moving between tasks; for storing raw beef over raw fish inside a cooler; and for cooking a chicken breast to only 135 degrees. At 4 p.m. an inspector measured pasta, made that morning, at almost 60 degrees. The pasta was then discarded.

The Buffalo Tavern, 2016 S. Main St., Burlington – During a June 8 visit, an inspector noted a mold-like substance on the cilantro that was stored in a walk-in cooler. Also, mashed potatoes were holding at 111 degrees, and country gravy at 124 degrees – too cool to ensure food safety.

In addition, there were no date markings on containers of homemade ranch dressing or on the cooked prime rib and taco meat in the walk-in cooler. A container of homemade buffalo sauce was dated May 28; the slicer in the kitchen was visibly soiled with food debris; the dishwashing machine did not have an adequate concentration of chlorine sanitizing solution; and a can of Raid insecticide was store inside a container of clean dishes on a storage shelf.

Also, glasses were stacked wet so they could not properly air dry; the inside of the microwave oven was soiled with “food debris and splatter;” the shelving for clean dishes was visibly soiled; there was “general cleaning” needed for the kitchen walls, shelves, floors, ceiling and equipment; there were shoes stored “stored on top of spaghetti” in the kitchen; and the most recent inspection report was not posted for consumers to view.

Los Amigos, 2322 Spruce Hills Drive, Bettendorf – During a June 6 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for employees failing to wash their hands as they moved from handling dirty dishes to cooking.

The inspector noted a large metal pan of ground beef located in a walk-in cooler that was prepared the previous day but was still holding at close to 55 degrees and had to be discarded. In addition, the restaurant was holding a pan of shredded beef at 117 degrees, which meant that it had to be reheated to 165 degrees.

Also, several items in the walk-in cooler had no date markings, and two pans of carnitas in the cooler were dated May 28. The inspector also reported that the large plastic containers used to store tortilla chips were soiled with a buildup of dust and grime and there was no hot water at some of the sinks.

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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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