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Restaurant inspectors find mold, sketchy sushi and even a baby’s crib in Iowa kitchens
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Restaurant inspectors find mold, sketchy sushi and even a baby’s crib in Iowa kitchens

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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.

Across Iowa in recent weeks, state and county inspectors have discovered potentially dangerous sushi, moldy fruit and cheese, seven-month-old eggs and even a baby’s crib inside the kitchens of Iowa restaurants.

Their findings are reported by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, which handles food-establishment inspections at the state level.

The Cedar Falls Hy-Vee store at College Square is among a number of Iowa establishments cited by health inspectors for unsafe food practices.

A story first reported by the Iowa Capital Dispatch showed that a Jan. 12 county inspection of the University Avenue store resulted in citations for seven violations. Inspectors said “multiple opportunities were missed for staff to wash hands.” The inspectors said staff at the sushi prep area told inspectors they used hand sanitizer, but did not wash their hands. Food items were held at 50 degrees; sausage links, Canadian bacon, cheese and con queso were discarded due to “being in the danger zone for an unknown duration;” food slicers were contaminated with “old debris on them;” the staff’s stem thermometers and holders had “old food stuck on them,” the tables and prep coolers had “build-up” on handles and around openings; the back produce area had “significant murky, stagnant water build up;” several of the handwashing sinks did not provide the minimum 15 seconds of water flow, with one of them running “only run a few seconds” and with no hot water produced; no hand soap was available in the sushi preparation area; and the store was not in full compliance with Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plans.

Listed below are some of the more serious findings that stem from restaurant inspections conducted throughout Iowa since the first of January.

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.

El Salvadoreno Restaurant, 1234 E. Euclid Ave., Des Moines — A Jan. 8 inspection by the state resulted in a finding that due to the number and type of critical violations observed, the restaurant did not demonstrate that anyone was in charge of the establishment. Included among the 13 violations cited by inspectors: A playpen and crib were set up inside the kitchen; a made-from-scratch pineapple vinegar drink “was adulterated with a visible mold-like substance” in it; raw beef was observed stored on top of a container of cooked beans and other vegetables; shredded cheese was kept at 74 degrees; food items throughout the restaurant lacked any date markings; the three-compartment sink used to clean dishes had zero measurable sanitizing solution; the hand-washing sink had various objects, as well as thawing meat, sitting in it; a bag of rice in the dry food-storage area was observed “on top of a pest sticky trap;” and employees’ medicine was stored above food preparation areas and dishware. The inspection was triggered by a complaint that was ruled unverified.

Okoboji View Golf Course, 1665 Highway 86, Spirit Lake — A Feb. 25 inspection by the Siouxland District Health Department resulted in 13 violations being cited, including: Peaches dated from 20 days prior appeared to have mold growing on them; raw beef steaks were stored directly above ready-to-eat foods inside a cooler; baked potatoes were still in the oven from four days prior and were being held at 90 degrees; stored alfredo sauce, cooked pork, cheeses, sauces, gravy and cooked pasta were not date marked; detergent was not dispensing into the dishwasher; slicer blades and can-opener blades were visibly soiled; spray bottles were not labeled with the name of the chemicals stored inside them; and someone’s sunscreen was stored on a kitchen shelf above the food slicer.

Century Bar, 120 Main St., Alta — A Feb. 22 inspection by Buena Vista County resulted in 10 violations being cited, including: Eggs that were dated July 2020 — seven months prior — were stored in the cooler; raw food product was stored next to vegetables and other items that do not require cooking; several items in the cooler were not properly date marked; multiple food-contact surfaces and utensils were visibly unclean; and chemicals were stored on top of the food cooler. Because of repeated violations, inspectors noted that “the responsibility of the person in charge is marked out of compliance.” (In January 2020, the Century Bar was cited for a lack of soap at the employees’ hand-washing sink; eggs and Cool Whip that were more than a year past their expiration date; workers did not wear gloves when handling and buttering buns; the staff had “no knowledge of hand-washing” protocols; and salads in the cooler were not kept covered.)

Bluebird Diner, 330 E. Market St., Iowa City — A Feb. 24 inspection by Johnson County resulted in 12 violations being cited, including: Employees on the cookline used their bare, unwashed hands to prepare ready-to-eat food items; large containers of chili prepared two days earlier were stored in a walk-in cooler at 52 degrees; house-made Hollandaise sauce was kept in a warmer at 99 degrees; multiple containers of food did not have any date markings; multiple sauces, cooked items, and house-made cream cheeses were kept for longer than the allowed seven days; a vegetable dicer had excessive food debris on it; and the employee hand sink was used to fill water containers for cooking.

Randhawas Travel Center, 1659 Marshalltown Blvd., Melbourne – A Feb. 23 inspection by the state resulted in 11 violations being cited, including: The establishment did not employ a certified food-protection manager; no verifiable employee health-reporting training had occurred; sliced deli ham was not marked with a date; house-made sausage gravy produced seven days prior was not date marked; there was no sanitizer solution used in the three-compartment sink; a meat slicer was contaminated with dried food debris; and scoops used for retrieving ice for drinks were stored in a hand-washing sink.

Claxon’s Smokehouse & Grill, 3131 8th St., Altoona — A Feb. 22 inspection by the state resulted in 10 violations being cited, including: None of the people designated as “in charge” were certified food-protection managers; the person in charge did not have “active managerial control of food service operations;” the establishment was unable to provide a verifiable employee health policy; prime rib was being held at 108 degrees, pork was holding at 130 degrees, and both had to be discarded; cooked potatoes were being held at 51 degrees on a food-preparation table; house-made Thousand Island dressing, cooked ham and cooked turkey were all being held past the allowable seven days; a meat thermometer was soiled; and the dishwasher was not properly sanitizing dishes.

Beef ‘n Brew, 418 Main St., Mapleton — A Feb. 18 inspection by the state resulted in 10 violations being cited, including: People “unnecessary to the food establishment operation” were found in the food-preparation area, as were multiple open beverage containers; multiple jars of non-commercially prepared canned salsa were stored in the basement; workers handled ready-to-eat hamburger with their bare hands; a bucket containing raw chicken was stored over ready-to-eat pickles; a roast that was cooked overnight was being held at 114 degrees and had to be discarded; and multiple food items in the cooler, including mashed potatoes and diced tomatoes, were not marked with a date.

Los Portales 2, 1012 E. Kimberly Road, Davenport — A Feb. 18 inspection by Scott County resulted in 10 violations being cited, including: Raw, intact whole cuts of beef were being stored alongside raw ground beef in the walk-in cooler; two pans of cooked chorizo were seen sitting out, beside the grill, rather than in the cooler and they were measured at 111 degrees and 98 degrees; the walk-in cooler was holding the majority of foods at temperatures ranging from 42 degrees to 45 degrees; corndogs kept in a cooler had no proper date markings; a pan of refried beans prepared on Feb. 10 — eight days prior to inspection — was still being held and had to be discarded; several knives in the kitchen knife rack were crusted with dried food debris; in the front bar area, no sanitizing solution was being used to clean patrons’ glasses and bar ware; a hand-washing sink was littered with food debris; and cleaning chemicals were stored alongside single-service food items. Many of these were repeat violations.

Costa Del Mar, 3852 N. Brady St., Davenport — A Jan. 5 inspection by Scott County resulted in seven violations being cited, including: Pans of raw shrimp and chicken were stored above ready-to-eat peppers, onions, and mushrooms; four large containers of queso made the previous day were held in a cooler at roughly 53 degrees rather than the required 41 degrees; inside the cooler, raw beef, carnitas and other raw items were held at temperatures ranging from 43 degrees to 47 degrees; four knives contaminated with leftover food debris were stored in the knife rack; a dishwasher was not properly sanitizing dishes; and the employee hand-washing sink was used to store dirty pots and pans.

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Phoenix Asian Restaurant, 15700 Hickman Road, Clive — A Jan. 5 inspection by the state resulted in 11 violations being cited, including: No one in charge was present at the restaurant, and no one with assumed responsibility; hand-washing sinks not set up for proper handwashing or sanitation; visibly soiled linens were used to cover dishes of food and were in direct contact with food-prep surfaces; cooked chicken was held at 50 degrees; rice and sauces on a shelf were measured at almost 63 degrees; pans stored in the “clean” storage area were visibly soiled with food debris; the dishwasher was operating with no detectable level of sanitizing chlorine; and soap was not available at the employee hand sink.

A & M Café, 4th Ave., Grinnell — A Jan. 4 inspection by the state resulted in eight violations being cited, including: The establishment did not employ a currently certified food-protection manager; verifiable employee health training had not taken place for all employees; staff was observed handling toast and cinnamon rolls with their bare hands; raw hamburger was stored over ready-to-eat leaf lettuce in the refrigerator; containers of chili soup, sausage gravy and pancake mix were not marked with a date; and vegetable soup was not discarded seven days after preparation.

Manawa La Mesa, 3036 S. Expressway St., Council Bluffs — A Jan. 4th inspection by the state resulted in 11 violations being cited. The inspectors said that due to violations related date markings, food holding and a cross-contamination of food, the person in charge was not performing their duties as assigned by food-code requirements. Other violations included: An employee was drinking beverages while preparing sliced beef and using the same cutting board that was used for slicing raw chicken 10 minutes prior; cheese was “stored directly on raw ground beef” patties, and the ground beef patties were stored above jalapeno peppers; raw chicken was stored in the same pan as raw beef; and cooked jalapeno peppers, cooked meat and diced tomatoes were stored in the refrigerator at 45 to 47 degrees.

Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, 1414 W. Locust St., Davenport — A Jan. 14 inspection by Scott County resulted in nine violations being cited, including: The person in charge was unaware of regulations pertaining to cooking temperatures and food-holding temperatures; raw beef was stored above ready-to-eat vegetables in a cooler; raw beef and raw chicken were stored above ready-to-eat salsa and cheese; a large pot of beans was sitting “in the middle of the kitchen on the floor without a lid;” a large pan of pork was holding at 110 degrees and had been sitting out for four hours; food throughout the coolers had no date markings; and the dishwasher was operating without any detectable amount of sanitizing chlorine.

Hy-Vee Foods, 1501 1st Ave., Newton — A Jan. 12 inspection by the state resulted in eight violations being cited, including: Raw egg yolks and whites were stored above cooked noodles in a cooler; raw ground beef was stored above raw, whole-muscle beef on a meat cart; packages of raw chicken were stored above racks of ribs in a retail display cooler; shredded lettuce, cooked beef, cooked chicken, various sauces and diced tomatoes were not marked with their preparation or opening dates; fried chicken from Jan. 5 — seven days prior — was stored in a walk-in cooler; the slicer behind the deli-salad case was visibly soiled with dried, accumulated debris; the interior of a microwave oven was visibly soiled with accumulated debris; a hand-washing sink in the bakery section was non-functional; and the store was not following all of the specified procedures in their sushi-related Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan.

Supermarket Villachuato, 107 N. Center St., Marshalltown — A Jan. 12 inspection by the state resulted in eight violations being cited: A bucket of raw, whole fish was stored over ready-to-eat items in the walk-in cooler; raw shell eggs were stored over ready-to-eat sauces and tortillas; although the restaurant served raw tilapia, it lacked proof of parasite destruction; food was not date marked; multiple sauces and containers of salsa were not date marked; sliced watermelon was not date marked; the meat grinder was soiled with dried meat and debris; and cleaning chemicals were stored with the food flavorings in a food-preparation area.

Hy-Vee Foods, 640 Lincoln Way, Ames — A Jan. 20 inspection by the state resulted in six violations being cited: Raw shrimp was stored above ready-to-eat food products; prepared sushi in the display case measured warmer than the maximum 41 degrees, with some sushi products measured at 49 degrees; the hand-washing sink was not dispensing water above 63 degrees; the staff was cooling the sushi by using a reach-in cooler and not the walk-in freezer as specified in the store’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan.

Sunrise Catering, 201 Main St., Readlyn — A Jan. 20 inspection by Black Hawk County resulted in 13 violations being cited: Bagged shredded cheese had mold on it; onions were sitting on the floor of a walk-in cooler; a leaking pipe had been worked on over a dry-food storage area, resulting in dust and insulation debris on the food; there was food stored in the walk-in cooler that had been held beyond 24 hours and had no date markings; food drawers had “old food” inside them; the walk-in cooler had a “fuzzy build up” on the fan covers; drawer handles were soiled; the dishwasher showed only a “faint” sign of sanitizing chemicals; and non-food-grade WD-40 was being used to lubricate a meat slicer.

The Koi Sushi Steakhouse, 1790 Hamilton Blvd., Sioux City — A Jan. 19 inspection by the Siouxland District Health Department resulted in a finding of “continued risk factor violations.” Among the 11 violations cited: The employee hand-washing sink in the kitchen was out of service; crab rangoon, California rolls and fried shrimp were being stored at room temperature; meats, lettuce, rice, noodles, crab rangoon and sauces were not dated; knives, can openers, cutting boards and knife magnets were all reported as “heavily soiled with food debris;” the dishwashing machine had no detectable level of sanitizing chlorine; and the hand sink at the sushi bar had food sitting it after being dumped there.

Mongolian Buffet, 1620 S Kellogg Ave., Ames — A Jan. 28 inspection by the state resulted in 11 violations being cited: The person in charge did not meet the regulatory requirements of a person in charge; fried shrimp, cooked fish and rice were all being held in a cooler at temperatures ranging from 56 degrees to 101 degrees and had to be discarded; sushi was held at 45 to 53 degrees and was discarded; cooked noodles, cooked mussels, sauces and cooked chicken were not marked with dates; and the dishwasher was not properly sanitizing dishes.

Cactus Mexican Grill & Cantina, 245 S. Gilbert St., Iowa City — A Jan. 25 inspection by Johnson County resulted in 10 violations being cited: Rice was being held at 120 degrees; refried beans from the previous evening had to be discarded after inspectors found them in the walk-in cooler at 44 degrees; raw fish, beef, chicken, cut tomatoes and shredded cheese from the previous evening were stored inside a Pepsi cooler at 48 degrees and were discarded; a handwashing sink was not able to produce water of at least 100 degrees; multiple dishwashing-detergent buckets were being used to store salsa inside the walk-in cooler; and “multiple personal body sprays” were stored with dry goods the kitchen.

Hy-Vee Foods, 1201 12th SW Ave., Le Mars — A Feb. 1 inspection by the Siouxland District Health Department resulted in eight violations being cited: The person in charge was not performing their duties as required by the food code; the person in charge was not familiar with norovirus clean-up procedures or where the written procedures were kept at the store; raw eggs in the reach-in coolers were not separated from ready-to-eat foods; cold foods holding for customer pick-up orders were stored at 45 degrees; pulled chicken that had been cooked, cooled and placed in a container inside the customer reach-in cooler was not date marked based on when the chicken was made; foods held in the hot holding unit were not time-marked as to when they were placed there; containers that store ready-to-eat breakfast sandwiches in a walk in cooler were visibly unclean; the microwave in the bakery was visibly unclean, as was a cappuccino machine; and the storage containers that hold ready-to-eat breakfast sandwiches were not being cleaned at the frequency required by the food code.

Cool Basil, 1250 86th St., Clive — A Feb. 8 inspection by the state resulted in 10 violations being cited: Shell eggs were stored above produce inside a walk-in cooler; rice in a warmer was measured at 80 degrees; tofu was measured at 53 degrees; no written procedures were on hand for sushi rice preparation; there was no discard-time marked on the sushi rice; food preparation surfaces were cleaned daily rather than the minimum of every four hours; and the faucet on the handwashing sink was broken.

The Capital Dispatch, www.iowacapitaldispatch.com, is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers.

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