For the first time in five years, the state restaurant inspection posted on the wall at Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown, IA does not contain an active “red” violation.  

In its most recent inspection on July 13, Taylor’s Maid-Rite was not written up for cross contamination in the cooking vessel it uses to make its popular “loose meat” sandwiches.

Taylor’s is scheduled to take on the Iowa Department of Inspections in a non-jury trial before District Court Judge Carl D. Baker in Marshalltown on Sept. 29 over the sloped cooking and holding vessel the restaurant has used for more than 80 years.

The state, in a final administrative appeal decided last Nov. 4  by former  Iowa Health Director Thomas Newton, ruled the vessel  was a vehicle for potential cross contamination and found it a critical (or red) violation of the food code.  

By keeping the case continually under some sort of appeal, Taylor’s has been able to stay in business with the red violation on its inspection reports for the past five years.  Prior to that, the Marshalltown restaurant operated under a waiver from the administration of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, now Secretary of Agriculture.

Since the Vilsack-era waiver was withdrawn by Gov. Chester J. Culver’s administration, Taylor’s began its current appeals strategy.  In 2010,  the Iowa Assembly narrowly rejected its request for permanent waivers.

Which makes the most recent inspection even more interesting.  Taylor’s infamous cooking vessel for cooking and holding raw beef did not merit a violation.  A partial explanation came in the inspection notes:

“When inspector arrived on-site, no divider or insert was being used in tilt cooker and all ground beef was fully cooked and holding above 135˚,” explained Boughton Addison, the inspector.  “During inspection, cooked ground beef was transferred into insert that was placed in high side of cooker. Raw ground beef was then placed in low side to be cooked. “Person in Charge (PIC) states that establishment uses both insert and divider to separate cooked meat from raw meat in tilt cooker.”

That’s a big chance from past inspections.  Taylor’s past annual inspection carried red “critical item” notices like this: “Inadequate protection from cross contamination 3-302,11, p 61. Raw animal foods not adequately seperated from precooked or ready-to-eat foods during storage/preparation /holding/ display.  One vessel is used to cook raw meat and hold cooked meat.”

Sometimes, Taylor’s inspection reports would note that the restaurant had the issue under appeal, and sometimes they would not.

In its current inspection, Taylor’s did have two red violations involving sanitation issues, but both were corrected at the time of the inspection. It was also given 90 days to correct four other non-critical items.

Food Safety News asked the Iowa Department of Inspection and Appeals for comment, both about the significance of the changes in Taylor’s cooking vessel and about whether officials believe the district court trial will proceed next week. Those available in Des Moines could not speak and those who could speak were not available.

Most Maid-Rite franchise restaurants followed the leadership of its Des Moines headquarters in replacing the original cooking vessels with one that does not pose cross contamination dangers, but Taylor’s did not go along. The fourth  generation of the original family that owned Maid-Rite, it is apparently also not bound by franchise rules.