It was reported by the Bismark Tribune this weekend that the North Dakota Department of Health will not file charges against Aggie Jennings, an unlicensed caterer whose food was linked to more than 180 Salmonella Montevideo infections.

The illnesses occurred over the course of three separate events that Ms. Jennings catered.  Three days prior to the last event, the health department issued a cease order for Ms. Jennings’s operation due to lack of a license.  Despite the order, Ms. Jennings went ahead and catered the final event, a large wedding reception, leading to additional infections.

Strangely, the health department that oversees enforcement of regulations for catering operations decided that Ms. Jennings will not be charged with operating an unlicensed catering business, a Class B Misdemeanor.  According to Lisa Clute, executive officer for the First District Health Unit of Minot, there is a two-year period in which charges can be filed, but the board that voted against it felt "there was no need to do that at this point."  Ms. Clute said occasionally there are cases of unlicensed caterers, and in her 15 years as executive officer for First District, no charges have ever been filed.

Let me see if I understand this correctly.  An unlicensed caterer ran a catering business that injured more than 180 innocent folks, including 10 who were hospitalized with severe Salmonella infections.  Further, that caterer was ORDERED by the health department to cease operations, yet she deliberately disregarded the order leading to additional illness.  This, of course, begs the question: if those actions do not warrant a charge, what does?  It seems to me that where there are no consequences for operating an unlicensed business, a person in Ms. Jennings’s position would simply not spend the money and effort to obtain a license in the first place.

Would a catering license have prevented the Salmonella outbreak?  Who knows.  But a licensed catering business would have been inspected regularly and required to follow basic food preparation regulations.  Those requirements would certainly have at least reduced the likelihood of a source outbreak such as this one.