Check, Please

Okay, so it's a furniture store. But one of the most popular items for sale at IKEA is its two-and-a-half-pound bag of frozen Swedish meatballs, the very same meatballs that customers line up for at the store's indoor cafes around the globe. But county health inspectors are busy trying to ensure that furniture fans don't also go home with forgiftet, which sounds like IKEA-speak for just another beech-veneered end table but is actually a Norwegian word meaning "food poisoning."

For the record, no one at the county is saying anyone has gotten food poisoning at IKEA, which is nice since you can feed a family of four for less than $5, if you split the plates right.

But the Maricopa County Environmental Services Web site lists 12 health-code violations against IKEA's upstairs cafe since it opened last November. Routine health inspections are required of all restaurants, and according to the county's site, the eatery has had repeat violations, specifically "raw salmon [stored] over cooked shrimp in the walk-in cooler and raw chicken [stored] over cooked chicken in the walk-in freezer." The restaurant was also cited for matters of less concern, like not keeping garbage cans within easy reach of employees, post-hand-washing (seems easy enough to fix that one, given the supply of cheap garbage cans at IKEA).

IKEA manager Lars Meyer says this is the first he's heard about the health-code violations. "Really?" he asks when told about them. "I will have to check into that. But I suppose it's possible that my food service manager had the county [Environmental Services] people out to make sure we are doing everything right."

Meyer may make a health-code inspection sound like an invitation-only tea party, but Johnny Dilone, a spokesman for the county's Environmental Services Department, takes it more seriously.

"They seem to be having problems with their repeat violations," Dilone says of IKEA. "It might be unusual for a restaurant to have this many violations, especially a new one. But what's more important is the corrective action taken on those violations." IKEA, Dilone reports, has corrected each of its violations, but they're not out of hot water yet.

"There was a complaint from a citizen," Dilone says, "and IKEA has been advised that if there are any repeat violations in their next inspection, they'll be put on probation. Another violation during that time could result in their license being revoked."

That recent complaint was found to be without merit, according to the county's Web site. And the good news for IKEA shoppers is that while the larger cafe upstairs has never received above a silver rating from the county, the Check-Out Cafe downstairs has two gold stars.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela