Health officials say nearly two dozen salmonella cases possibly linked to Tacoma caterer

TACOMA -- Health experts say undercooked chicken is behind a salmonella outbreak that made people sick at a wedding in Snohomish County.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department says it’s Mr. Rick’s Catering that got people sick. From the rave reviews online, you may not realize Mr. Rick’s is an unlicensed company.

“We’ve informed him as far back as 2012 to cease operating without a permit,” Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department's Edie Jeffers said.

The department says the catering company continued to operate under the radar and last month prepared food at a friend’s home not in a commercial kitchen with the proper equipment.

“He partially cooked the chicken on an outdoor barbecue and it was a home kitchen,” Jeffers said.

Jeffers added that the owner took the chicken from the barbecue and finished them off in an oven.

About 175 people attended last month’s wedding at a barn. Now there are three confirmed salmonella cases and up to 20 other people who have similar symptoms. The three confirmed cases are in Kitsap County but health officials say the people affected live all across the state.

“The symptoms are diarrhea and vomiting; foodborne illness is nasty stuff,” Jeffers said.

The health department says it’s hard to know how many caterers are operating without a license.

“We are complaint-driven so we know when people complain to us,” Jeffers said.

But even if people complain, besides issuing a fee, there is little the health department can do if a caterer continues to operate without a license.

That's why the health department is asking customers to vet potential caterers before hiring them.

Picasso Catering had to go through an extensive application and inspection process to get licensed.

That’s why they are warning the public to be wary of any business that can’t show you a permit.

"There are people who do catering in their homes that don’t have permits," Picasso Catering director Debra Nozawa said.

Mr. Rick's will now have to pay a $710 fee for breaking the rules.

The owner says he does not plan to get a permit because last month's wedding was his last event.