In the last year, Taylor’s Maid-Rite has gone from being a popular cause in the Iowa Assembly to being an appellant in its hometown district court in Marshalltown.   

While ultimately losing the Iowa House, and losing the highest administrative appeal, the iconic Marshalltown eatery has continued to turn out its loose meat sandwiches under a red violation of the Iowa food code.

Last year at about this time, after serving up its famous Maid-Rites sandwiches at “Marshalltown Day”  in Des Moines, Taylor’s sought a legislative exemption from the food code for the offending cooking vessel it uses. 

It won a voice vote in the Senate, but lost by nine votes in the Iowa House after food safety advocates rallied against the usual exemption.

At issue is Taylor’s use of the original Maid-Rite cooking vessel, which is used to both heat and store loose beef. Food safety experts have long said it is a design for cross contamination.

The Des Moines-based Maid-Rite chain of about 70 restaurants has dropped the old cooking vessel and used its franchise controls and persuasion to bring about the change.  But Taylor’s Maid-Rite, which has been operated by the same family for three generations, pre-dates the franchise and is not bound by its rules.

After Taylor’s lost out in the Iowa Assembly last March, Democratic Gov. Chester J. Culver appointed Health Director Thomas Newton to be the decider for Taylor’s final administrative appeal.  Oral arguments and final submissions came last June.

Newton did not allow Taylor’s to present new evidence “with respect to the presence, use and safety of a divider in the cooker.”  The divider had not been in use during the 2007 inspection, which was the subject of the appeal.

The Taylor’s Maid-Rite decision could easily have become an issue in the 2010 gubernatorial race between Culver and Republican Terry Branstad, but Newton opted not to make a decision until the election was over. On Nov. 5, he ruled against Taylor’s, upholding the original Department of Investigations and Appeals decision.

It was Culver’s administration that decided to take away the administrative exemption from the cross contamination language in the food code that Taylor’ enjoyed when Tom Vilsack was governor of Iowa.

The appeal record shows Iowa officials heard from experts and the surrounding states of Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Missouri, which have all ruled that Maid-Rite’s original sloped cooking and holding griddle poses the potential for cross contamination and its use is a critical violation of the food code.

Newton’s ruling goes into some detail about the changes in DIA’s approach toward Maid-Rite from one administration to another.  

“The shift in the Department’s position in this matter appears not be a change in interpretation regarding whether a violation of the Food Code exists, but rather a divergence in opinion as to how best enforce such a violation,” Newton wrote. “The Department’s current position–that Taylor Maid-Rite’s manner of cooking and holding meat presents a risk of cross contamination—is not inconsistent with the 2006 determination of then-Director Steven Young.”

Newton said Young recognized the risk and ordered all new Maid-Rite franchises to use a different cooking and holding method. Existing users were warned about the potential for cross contamination. Newton said Young was not acting in an unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious manner.

Newton’s order gave Taylor’s 30 days to correct the red violation that’s been on its inspection reports since 2007, but the popular Marshalltown business opted to file another–this one in Second District Court in Marshalltown.