The Iowa restaurant that wants the state legislature to exempt it from important food safety rules says its way of making loose meat sandwiches has never made anyone sick.

cooking-ground-beef1-featured.jpgTaylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown, however, is not without safety blemishes on its record.   Putting aside the red or critical violations it has been carrying for using the old fashioned “Maid-Rite Cooker” with its potential for both under-cooking and cross contamination, Taylor’s has had to correct other safety problems found by state inspectors.

Going back five years, Food Safety News found four other distinct red or critical violations of the Iowa Food Code by Taylor’s Maid Rite.   Those red or critical violations including not keeping milk, pie, and raw meat cold, using food contact surfaces that were not clean to the sight or touch; failure to practice good hygienic practices, and failing to maintain mechanical washing and sanitizing equipment.

Except for its continued defense of its Maid-Rite cooker, however, Taylor’s did make timely corrections for its other violations.  In one instance, for example, it changed its policy to prohibit employees from chewing gum while working.

Most of Taylor’s Maid-Rite’s recent inspections, which must be posted in the restaurant for the public to see under Iowa law, have carried this red or critical violation:

“Raw animal foods not adequately separated from precooked or ready-to-eat foods during storage/preparation /holding/display.  Raw beef is cooked and held in one unit. Raw beef is cooked on one side of tilted unit and moved up the unit for hot holding.  Process is under appeal with DIA.”

DIA is the Iowa Department of Inspections & Appeals. 

Taylor’s lost that appeal, which upholds the decision by DIA Director Dean Lerner to end a waiver the former administration had used to allow a handful of Maid-Rite franchises to continue to use the outdated cooker.  Taylor’s Maid-Rite has rallied its local state lawmakers to put the waiver in the state budget bill.

The Maid-Rite waiver was approved by the Senate, and should be taken up by the Iowa House this week.

Taylor’s Maid-Rite is clearly a very popular local restaurant.  More than 9,000 people have signed up to register their support for the waiver on a Facebook page.  The Marshalltown Times-Republican wrote: “The future of Marshalltown’s historic icon Taylor’s Maid-Rite appears to be in the hands of the state.”

The local newspaper praised local lawmakers for addressing “public outrage” and doing the “right thing.”  While its corporate headquarters is on record saying the “traditional” cooker can be fixed for $50, franchise owners Don and Sandra Taylor Short told the Times-Republican, new cookers would cost $7,000 each.

Iowa’s most influential newspaper, the Des Moines Register, tried talking some sense to its lawmakers in an editorial Monday.  “Maid-Rites are in Iowa tradition dating back to a butcher in Muscatine in 1926,” the Register wrote.  “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 are not–like a food safety expert.”

The local hero at this point is State Sen. Steven Sodders, D-State Center, who got the waiver inserted by the Iowa Senate into the budget bill.    He reckons it will be difficult to impossible for the Iowa House to get the waiver removed.

However, some Iowa lawmakers say Gov. Chester J. Culver can take it out with a line-item veto, an action that would support what his man, Dean Lerner, has been trying to do since 2007.