The Iowa House spent over half an hour debating the way meat is cooked at a Maid-Rite restaurant in Marshalltown and, in the end, decided legislators shouldn’t wade into the controversy.

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals has told Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown to change the way it cooks the hamburger for its loose-meat sandwiches. Food inspectors say raw meat is cooked in the same receptacle used to store the cooked meat before it’s served to customers. 

Last week, the Iowa Senate voted to give Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown a reprieve, but late today the House has voted to let state inspectors make the decision. Representative Ralph Watts of Adel argued legislators shouldn’t be deciding food safety issues and he warned of the financial risks to other Maid-Rite restaurants if a case of e-coli is confirmed.

“Let me refresh your memory.  In 1993, the Jack-in-the-Box chain had an instance with e-coli.  It was traced to under-cooked and under-processed meat.  Four children died because of e-coli in that instance,” Watts said.  “As a result of that, those people that owned those businesses in that chain lost millions of dollars, many of them including their life savings.”

Representative Lance Horbach of Tama suggested this was a feud between the person who owns the Maid-Rite franchise and the “little guy” who operates an independent Maid-Rite in Marshalltown. “This Jack-in-the-Box incident was in 1993.  We’ve been cooking our meat that way for over 70 years prior to that, with no incidents,” Horbach said.  “Don’t compare us to that!”

Repressentative Mark Smith of Marshalltown defended the Maid-Rite in his community, too.  “Consistently the country folks, the good people of Marshalltown have gone to this restaurant year after year after year and we haven’t had any litigation,” Smith said.  “We’ve always had good health inspection reports for this facility and there have been no incidents of e-coli, other kinds of food poisoning, other kinds of illnesses.”  

Watts said he’s not suggesting the Marshalltown Maid-Rite is endangering the health of Iowans. “What I’m suggesting is there are issues associated with the cooking of meat in a restaurant,” Watts says.  “And I don’t think it falls on individuals in the legislature to make that call.” 

The House sided with Watts, voting 50 to 41 to keep legislators out of the Maid-Rite cooking debate.