Those who cater without proper training and licensing can pose a health risk. Plus, it's illegal. State law requires a permit from the Mississippi Department of Health for anyone who routinely prepares and serves food for pay, but there are caterers out there, doing so illegally, without a required food service permit or a tax identification number.
"We are trying to raise awareness to the public of the dangers," said Rick Beal, owner of Lagniappe's Bakery and a member of the Mississippi Restaurant Association.
According to Byron Tiller with the Mississippi Department of Health, preparing and selling food involves health, safety and economic concerns. And when done improperly, or under conditions without precise temperature controls, can quickly become a public health hazard. One mistake can lead to sickness or even death.
The Department of Health looks at:
1. How sanitary the equipment is
2. Are people washing their hands?
3. Is the food being cooked at the proper temperatures?
4. Is there cross contamination?
5. Is a separate kitchen being used?
All of these factors should be taken into consideration. Ignoring any one can mean the caterer is playing with fire. Some bacteria grow very quickly.
"This is our livelihood and we have to pay taxes," said C.J. Beal, co-owner of Lagniappe's. "It's not fair."
Although, "illegal catering" may sound silly to some, but for business owners it is no laughing matter.
"We have experienced illegal caterers and it harms us," Beal said. "The first step for us is raising the prices and dropping items or many times businesses like ours are driven out."
The Mississippi Restaurant Association has gone to the point of telling the public to go online and anonymously report someone who is catering illegally. For more information about this topic, log onto the Mississippi Restaurant Association's website at msra.org or the Mississippi State Health Department at www.msdh.state.ms.us.