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Letter From The Editor: Loose Meat

Tomorrow Food Safety News will report in detail on the highly likely possibility that the Iowa Legislature is going to make it legal to recklessly cook loose meat in the Hawkeye State.


The Iowa Senate has by voice vote already approved an amendment to the state appropriations bill that allows Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown to cook and store beef in the same container.


The Iowa House expects to take up the measure later this week.


Let’s get some terminology straight before proceeding.   There are three common names for a sandwich made on a bun with loose, unseasoned ground beef and served with various combinations of onions, pickles, mustard, and maybe ketchup.


Those names are: loose meat, taverns, and Maid-Rites.  The later name dominates eastern Iowa, where many of the Des Moines-based Maid-Rite Corporation has many of its 70 outlets.


Where I lived in western Iowa during my high school years, these delicacies are called either loose meats or taverns.  For the past 60 years, Bob’s Drive-In, located at the intersection of Highways 3 and 75 in LeMars, Iowa, has sold loose meats to rave reviews from around the globe. 


You cannot live in Iowa for three years without coming upon many occasions where someone is going to offer you a loose meat or tavern.   Individual recipes abound from groups and individuals.  In small towns, everyone goes to everyone else’s church dinners, and loose meats are everywhere.


Like LeMars, each small town has a local “loose meat shop” where there are not many other menu choices.  During high school, I worked at a general store in a small town.  We had a local lady who came in and cooked specials for the lunch crowd.


She had a great tavern recipe and seemed to know the history.  I remember her telling me that her grandmother said the boys brought it back to Iowa when they returned from the Civil War.


Loose meats and taverns went commercial in the 1920s and 30s, once Iowans were traveling about by automobile.  Maid-Rite began in 1926 and Sioux City’s Ye Olde Tavern Shop opened in 1934.


Part of this history of course is the demise of the “Maid-Rite” cooker, with its inherent risks of both under-cooking meat and cross-contamination.  Maid-Rite Corporation has worked with food safety agencies to get its franchises to cease using the cooker and came up with a $50 fix in the form of a Roster Oven for serving.


But the selfish owners of Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown, Don and Sandy Short, want to go on selling the myth that only a risky loose meat is a good loose meat. 


Lawmakers, especially the ones from Iowa, should know better.

© Food Safety News
  • From the Des Moines Register
    Make sure Maid-Rites aren’t made wrong
    Maid-Rites are an Iowa tradition dating back to a butcher in Muscatine in 1926. The loose-meat sandwiches are tasty and filling. But they won’t strip you of your common sense or make you think you’re something you’re not – like a food safety expert.
    Unless you’re an Iowa lawmaker.
    When Iowa lawmakers eat a free Maid-Rite at the Capitol, something strange may happen. They say things like, “Maid-Rites are very important to me,” and support an amendment to exempt the sandwich from basic safety standards.
    That is what happened. Now it’s time for lawmakers to come to their senses and kill the amendment.
    This tale began when state regulators told Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown to alter its preparation process to ensure cooked hamburger did not mingle with raw meat. That can make customers sick.
    But Taylor’s didn’t want to change its ways. The restaurant handed out sandwiches to lawmakers and asked them to help preserve its “traditional cooker” method.
    State Sen. Steven Sodders bit. The State Center Democrat introduced an amendment to the bill that funds the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, the agency responsible for food safety. It enables Taylor’s to use the old cooking method and disregards widespread food safety recommendations about food preparation.
    It also disregards direct advice from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
    In a March 10 letter to the Iowa Legislature, the agency stated it was “very concerned” about undercooked meat contaminating cooked meat. E. coli “causes a very serious disease in which survivors (especially children) can suffer lifelong health consequences including loss of kidney functions, blindness and other health problems,” according to the letter.
    Those are the survivors. Some people die.
    Bradley Burt, CEO of Maid-Rite Corp., says the old way of cooking the meat is unsafe. A safer method of cooking requires “a very simple conversion process” that some restaurants have done for as little as $50. And it doesn’t change the taste of the sandwich, he said. In fact, Burt said if lawmakers were given a taste test – one sandwich cooked with the old method and one with the new – they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
    But Sodders and others are siding with “tradition.”
    They apparently think a practice is OK just because it’s been around for many years. But that’s a fallacy. It’s why people wear seat belts and doctors don’t “bleed” patients to cure diseases and employees aren’t smoking in the office now. When we realize there are safer ways of doing things to protect lives, we do them.
    When Iowa lawmakers cook at home, they can do whatever they want. They don’t have to wash their hands. They can lick the spatula or eat hamburger raw, if they so desire.
    But Iowa businesses serving customers need to implement basic practices to ensure food is safe. That should be this state’s “tradition.”