Restaurant inspection update: Des Moines eatery closed again for unsanitary kitchen

By: - June 14, 2023 2:54 pm

This KFC-Taco Bell restaurant, located at 2517 Hubbell Ave. in Des Moines, agreed recently to close, for the second time in 13 months, after being cited for recurring violations related to unsanitary conditions and insect infestations. The business has since reopened. (Photo via Google Earth)

State, city and county food inspectors have cited Iowa restaurants and stores for hundreds of food-safety violations during the past four weeks, including insects in customers’ food and filthy kitchens.

One fast-food restaurant in Des Moines agreed to close, for the second time in 13 months, after being cited for recurring violations related to unsanitary conditions and insect infestations.

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.

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) – Taco Bell, 2517 Hubbell Ave., Des Moines – As a result of this June 7 visit by a state inspector, the restaurant’s manager agreed – for the second time in 13 months — to voluntarily close the establishment until issues related to the restaurant’s cleanliness could be addressed.

During the June 7 visit, the inspector noted that ice dispensed from the ice machine was adulterated by being in direct contact with a “visibly soiled” utensil; fried chicken was sitting “uncovered in heavily soiled” hot-holding units; various food items throughout the restaurant had been placed in metal and plastic food containers that had not been “effectively washed or properly sanitized” by the staff and were contaminated by accumulated grease and debris; the interior basin of the ice machine was visibly soiled with debris, and a rear exterior door was in disrepair, allowing the intrusion of pests.

Multiple flies were observed throughout the restaurant and were concentrated under the Taco Bell food line, under the front fryers, throughout the chicken-frying area, throughout the dry-storage area and around the drive-through soda fountain.

The inspector said the violations concerning the sanitary condition of the facility were contributing to the proliferation of pests, with multiple dead flying insects observed on fly traps and alongside the walls. The inspector also made note of Taco Bell sauce packets that were stored in an unclean area with flies congregating on the packets.

In addition, cleaned equipment and utensils were being stored in an area populated by dead fruit flies, and carryout containers were stored in an area that was visibly soiled with accumulated food debris. The inspector also reported that equipment, utensils and food-contact surfaces throughout the restaurant were not being effectively washed and even after being cleaned were “still soiled with grease and other particulates.”

Also, ice buckets and seasoning buckets were visibly soiled with accumulated debris, as were the fryers, oil-filter hoses, and shelving. The trash bin in men’s restroom was overflowing, and there was trash accumulating on the floor. “Floors, walls and ceilings throughout the facility are heavily soiled with accumulated debris, food debris and grease,” the inspector reported. “The floor/wall junctions within the raw-meat walk-in cooler are soiled with what appear to be a mold-like substance.”

The visit was triggered by two complaints regarding general facility sanitation and poor personal hygiene. The facility-sanitation component of the complaints was verified, while the poor personal hygiene complaint was deemed unverifiable. The restaurant was temporarily closed.

On June 10, a state inspector returned and reported that the previously cited problems had been resolved “to a point where an imminent health hazard no longer exists. All remaining unresolved violations and long-term corrective actions will be verified with an additional physical recheck inspection. The firm is approved to reopen.”

In 2022, the restaurant was cited for many of the same issues that resulted in the June 2023 closing.

For example, in May 2022, due to violations concerning the backup of  floor drains and the overall sanitary condition of the restaurant, the manager agreed to voluntarily close the business. A few days later, after a deep cleaning, the restaurant was allowed to reopen – although, at the time, an inspector made note of flying gnats, a dead rodent and other issues.

Then, in July 2022, the inspector returned and reported “numerous flying insects,” including gnats and flies, throughout the restaurant and made note of violations concerning the cleanliness of food-contact surfaces, non-food contact surfaces and general facility sanitation issues that were resulting in the proliferation of pests. He also reported an accumulation of trash, grease, dead insects and food debris throughout the facility.

Also, soda fountain syrups were “stored directly on the floor in unknown standing water” next to a floor drain, and multiple “clean” pieces of equipment were stored away while soiled with food debris and insects. “Due to the repeated violations observed concerning cleaning and sanitizing, the firm did not successfully complete their risk-control plan,” the inspector reported.

In August 2022, the inspector returned and again cited violations related to general facility sanitation that were contributing to the proliferation of pests. While noting that the restaurant had “significantly reduced the amount of pests present,” the inspector reported seeing flying insects throughout the business and made note of multiple flying-insect traps that were “saturated with dead insects.”

The inspector reported that he discussed with the person in charge the need “to continue work on general facility sanitation and reducing harborage conditions for pests.”

More restaurant inspection reports

Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano, 320 Collins Dr., Cedar Rapids – On June 12, a Linn County inspector visited Biaggi’s in response to complaints from customers who alleged they were served food with insects in it. The complainants had provided a video to substantiate their concerns, the inspector reported. According to the inspector’s report, the restaurant manager agreed to retrain employees on “closer examination of food before serving.” The complaint was deemed verified.

During his visit, the inspector noted that kitchen workers were eating in the food-preparation area and were handling food with their bare hands. Also, raw meats were stored above ready-to-eat food in the coolers, creating a risk of cross contamination, and the dishwashing machines were not operating properly and had to be serviced. The inspector also noted that swordfish was being improperly thawed.

The Viking Drive-In, 3 S. Main St., Ventura – During a June 13 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for having no certified food protection manager on staff.  Also, the restaurant was serving raw cookie dough that, according to the manufacturer’s label, was not to be eaten raw. The uncooked dough was being served to customers with ice cream.

In addition, food stored in one of the eatery’s coolers was being held at around 56 degrees – far too warm to ensure safety – and the mix in one of the soft-serve machines was being held at 49 degrees, which was also too warm. The inspector also noted that the hot dogs, corn dogs and chili were not marked with the dates they were removed from their original packaging to ensure freshness and safety.

In addition, the cooked ground beef, some of which was dated May 27, and the barbecued pork were past their expiration dates and had to be discarded. The inspector reported that coolers, shelving and floors were soiled with food debris and dirt, and there were a large number of flies in the restaurant “likely due to the uncleanliness of the facility.”

The visit was in response to complaint about the lack of cleanliness. The complaint was deemed verified.

In early September 2022, a Cerro Gordo County inspector responded to a complaint about the restaurant. In his report, the inspector didn’t describe the nature of the complaint or say whether the compliant was verified. He wrote that he showed the complaint to the owner and then talked to the owner about cleanliness and the safe handling of food but didn’t cite The Viking Drive-In for any violations at that time.

Two weeks later, the same county inspector was back at the restaurant in response to another complaint. Again, the inspector didn’t state in his report the nature of the complaint or whether it was verified. The inspector wrote, “The floors, outside of machines/equipment, and other surfaces are visibly soiled. Garbage and items on the floor under the machines,” but he did not cite the restaurant for any violations at that time.

India Café, 50 W. Burlington St., Fairfield – On June 12, the restaurant underwent its third inspection in five weeks after significant issues were noted during the two previous visits. During the June 12 visit, the inspector reported the person in charge was not able to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of food safety including the time and temperature parameters for storing and reheating food. In addition, not all of the employees designated as the person in charge were certified food protection managers.

The inspector reported that two containers of onion soup in the walk-in cooler were being held at 46 to 49 degrees and had to be discarded, several pieces of hot chicken were being held 97 to 111 degrees and had to be discarded, and several food items – including soup, sauces, vegetables and house-made desserts — were not marked with dates to ensure freshness and safety.

During a May 9 visit, an inspector had cited the restaurant for 11 violations. At that time, due to the extent and severity of the violations found, the owner agreed to voluntarily close the restaurant until all of the violations could be corrected and the staff could be properly trained.

On that date, the inspector noted that bags of chicken were left to thaw in a sink and were contaminated by water from a drainpipe dripping into the sink; fried vegetables cooked the day before were stored on a tray at 78 degrees with no attempt made at refrigeration, and all of the cooked items throughout the restaurant had been stored without any date markings to ensure freshness and safety. The inspector also observed rodent droppings in food-storage areas throughout the kitchen, and he reported that food-preparation tables, kitchen equipment and certain areas of the kitchen were visibly soiled.

The inspector returned on May 12 and cited the restaurant for three more violations but found that the business had successfully eliminated the imminent health hazards previously noted and the restaurant was granted permission to reopen.

La Cantina Mexican Grill and Bar, 19 S. Main St., Denison – During a June 8 visit, a state inspector cited the restaurant for 11 risk-factor violations, an unusually high number. The inspector reported that raw meat was stored over salsa inside a cooler, and raw fish and bacon were stored over fruits and vegetables, creating a risk of cross-contamination.

The inspector also reported finding shellfish prepared on May 29, and salsa picosa prepared on May 28, each of which had to be discarded for being more than a week old.  In addition, the dishwasher had no measurable chemical concentration of sanitizing solution, and the inside of the ice machine had what appeared to be a mold-like substance on the surface.

The inspector also noted there were multiple flies throughout kitchen-preparation, ware-washing and food-storage areas and reported there was standing water, apparently from condensation, in four of the coolers.

Casa Tequila Authentic Mexican Grill, 1100 Andersen Place, Tiffin – During a June 2 visit, a Johnson County inspector cited the restaurant for 12 risk-factor violations, an unusually high number. Among the issues: The person in charge failed to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of food safety, including the time and temperature parameters for storing and reheating food; the restaurant failed to ensure that all supervisory employees were certified food protection managers, and employees were moving from the handling of dirty dishes to handling clean dishes without handwashing.

Also, raw eggs were stored above ready-to-eat items, creating a risk of cross-contamination; chicken was cooked to 155 degrees rather than the minimum of 165 degrees; numerous containers of house-made foods were not marked with their date of preparation to ensure freshness and safety;, and house-made red sauce prepared on May 22 had been held for more than seven-day maximum.

Red Oak Country Club, 2038 200th St., Red Oak – During a May 30 visit, an inspector cited the restaurant for using a handwashing station at the bar as a dump sink and noted that the soda-dispensing gun at the bar was heavily soiled. In addition, the kitchen’s walk-in cooler contained cooked green beans, cooked beef, cheese, fish and steaks – none of which had any date markings to ensure freshness and safety.

Also, salmon was improperly thawed while still in its original vacuum-sealed packaging, increasing the risk of undetected spoilage, and containers of fish were stored, without lids, underneath a leaking condenser unit inside the cooler. The inspector also reported that clean kitchen utensils were being “stored on a cart heavily soiled with a build-up of debris and food crumbs.” In addition, there were no test strips on hand to verify the levels of sanitizing solution being used and the kitchen’s handwashing sink was in disrepair and did not drain.

Le’s Restaurant, 113 Colorado Ave., Ames — During a May 26 visit, a state inspector cited the restaurant for storing raw chicken, raw beef, and raw shrimp above ready-to-eat foods, creating a risk of cross-contamination, and for using a residential-style dishwasher to clean glassware. In addition, the inspector found numerous foods stored above the maximum temperature of 41 degrees, including crab rangoon stored at 61 degrees; tofu at 58 degrees; cooked rice at 62 degrees, and raw egg mix stored at 54 degrees.

The manager agreed to discard the products. Also, cooked beef had no date markings on it ensure freshness and safety, employees’ medicine was stored on the same shelf as food, and the most recent inspection report was not where it could be read by customers. The visit was in response to a complaint pertaining to general facility sanitation and pest control. The complaint was deemed verified.

Economart, 103 W.  Walnut St., Columbus Junction – During a May 23 visit, a state inspector cited the store for storing raw ground beef above ready-to-eat ham. The inspector also reported that “dishes were unable to be properly sanitized due to not having any on site,” an apparent reference to a lack of sanitizing equipment or solution. Also, the staff handwashing sink was soiled with a buildup of debris, and the three-compartment sink used to clean utensils was soiled and clogged with standing water.

In addition, the front, sides and top of the fryer were soiled with a buildup of debris, as was the shelving in the kitchen area and the reach-in cooler in the kitchen area. “Floor in kitchen area soiled with a buildup of debris,” the inspector reported. “Large amount of litter on floors next to fryer in kitchen area.”

The visit was prompted by a non-illness complaint pertaining to pest control and general sanitation. The complaint was deemed verified. Management agreed to close the business “until discussed violations are resolved, and proper training and cleaning has occurred,” the inspector reported.

On May 24, state inspectors reported that they had verified, through photos provided by store management, the establishment had corrected enough problems so that it could be cleared to reopen.

On June 2, the inspector returned to the store for an on-site visit and noted several cartons of “adulterated” milk – the inspector’s report doesn’t elaborate – on the shelves for sale to customers, and also made note of flying insects in the kitchen area. The fryer was still soiled with a buildup of debris, as was the kitchen floor, the shelving in the kitchen and the reach-in cooler.

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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.