Brian Gehring of the Bismarck Tribune confirmed today that the South Dakota Health Department says it will not seek charges against a rural Washburn woman for operating an unlicensed catering business linked to sickening 180 people last summer.
Aggie Jennings of rural McLean County catered three events (2 weddings, 1 reunion) in mid-June that led to three separate outbreaks of Salmonella Montevideo. Ms. Jennings’ catering operation was not licensed. Salmonella Montevideo is a strain that is associated with baby chickens, and Ms. Jennings raised chickens. The Salmonella strain matched a strain associated with a chicken hatchery in Iowa. At one catered event, consumption of the potato salad was associated with illness, however no food samples tested positive for salmonella. At another event, ground beef that had been served as taco meat was associated with illness and tested positive for the presence of Salmonella Montevideo. At the third event, shredded beef and noodle salad tested positive for Salmonella.
According to a recent State report, the health department issued an order to Jennings to stop catering June 17, three days prior to the McClusky event. The report also found there were four dishes that tested positive for salmonella and all had some type of preparation, storage or handling at Jennings’ residence. It said several people assisting in food preparation at her home might have provided a source of cross contamination.
Brian Gehring reported that any formal charges would be brought through the local state’s attorney’s office, which, in this case, is Sheridan County. McLean County State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson said he asked Sheridan County State’s Attorney Walter Lipp to handle the case because of a possible conflict of interest. Erickson said he is a neighbor of Jennings’ son and while they don’t farm together, they do share some equipment at times.
Brian Gehring also reported that the Tribune called Jennings for comment and a message left on an answering machine was not returned. The Tribune has left numerous messages for Jennings since June and she’s never responded.