Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown, Iowa learned Friday that in politics, biting the hand that feeds you is not all that unusual.
The iconic restaurant kicked off its campaign for a special waiver from part of the Iowa food code by feeding the Iowa General Assembly its popular Maid-Rite loose meat sandwiches during “Marshalltown Day” at the state capitol on March 4.
About a week later, the waiver was approved by a voice vote of the Iowa Senate as an amendment to the state appropriations bill. On Friday in the Iowa House, Taylor’s luck ran out.
The House voted 50-41 to remove the waiver from the state appropriations bill; an action Taylor’s has said will force the 82-year-old restaurant that one family has operated during the entire time out of business.
Rep. Ralph Watts, R-Adel, led the charge against the waiver saying the General Assembly does not have the expertise to be putting food safety exemptions for specific restaurants in state law.
Rep. Watts said he did not even want to use Taylor’s name on the floor of the House because to do so associates all Maid-Rites with a potentially unsafe cooking practice with all the other franchises that do not use it.
At issue is Taylor’s use of the original “Maid-Rite” cooker that both heats and stores the “loose meat” used to make the popular sandwiches. Food safety experts say the vessel is subject to both cross-contamination and under-cooking, actions that often play a role in spreading serious foodborne illnesses like E. coli O157:H7.
Marshalltown-area lawmakers argued that since Taylor’s has not poisoned any of their customers in the restaurant’s long history, it should not be required to comply with food safety regulations that are counter to its traditional cooking method in the future.
Watts countered those arguments by asking the House to consider the history of E. coli outbreaks in the United States. He specifically brought up the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box E. coli outbreak that killed four children. Watts said undercooked hamburger was directly implicated in the outbreak.
Before the House action Friday, Maid-Rite’s corporate headquarters offered to pay for the engineering and equipment to install new safe cooking equipment at Taylor’s, but Watts said the offer was rejected.
Since the new administration in Des Moines eliminated the administrative waiver that has allowed Taylor’s to continue using its “Maid-Rite” cooker, the Marshalltown restaurant owners were able to continue so long as the appeals process had not run its course.
When it lost the administrative appeal, it made this run at the General Assembly.