Joseph Wagner operates a funeral home in a small Minnesota town, so he believes it's not a big deal that he doesn't do all the legal paperwork before removing a body or embalming it as required by law.
He also had an explanation for storing jars of applesauce in the embalming room at the funeral home in Jordan, a town of about 6,100.
His brother owns a nearby apple orchard — Wagner Bros. Orchard — and was short of storage space. And, as he pointed out to a Minnesota administrative law judge, the jars were sealed and there was no raw food stored in the room at the Wagner Funeral Home.
The law judge, in a ruling made public on Wednesday, sided with the Minnesota Department of Health, which cited and fined Wagner last fall for a dozen violations, some of them repeat violations from past years.
Wagner, a former Scott County commissioner, couldn't be reached for comment.
The case stems from a routine Health Department inspection in September 2017. The inspector found the applesauce in crates stacked four high and three deep in five rows in the same room where hazardous chemicals are used to embalm bodies.
According to the inspection report, the crates had been there for about a year when Wagner embalmed about a half dozen bodies in the room.
A hazardous-waste container, where blood and other hazardous waste from the embalming process is disposed of sat in front of the crates, according to the inspector. The crates were under an emergency shower and made accessing an emergency eye wash difficult.
The Health Department cited Wagner for law violations and ordered him to remove the crates and clean the preparation and embalming room.
Under state law, embalming rooms are not to be used for other purposes, including storing food items. It also violated rules regarding blood-borne pathogens set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Corrective orders also were ordered for numerous other violations, including failing to:
• Complete and retain a certificate of removal for each human body before it's removed from the place of death.
• Obtain written authorization to embalm a body and retain it in funeral home.
• Create and maintain an accurate record of every embalming performed in the funeral home.
• Display his mortician license in the funeral home.
• Display a merchandise price list.
Initially, the Health Department fined Wagner $2,500 that would be forgiven if he corrected the violations and a $5,000 penalty that had to be paid.
Wagner "demonstrated compliance" by the time his appeal came before an administrative law judge in April.
But the law judge dismissed Wagner's argument that the $5,000 penalty was unreasonable.