FOOD POISONING ON RIG – 100 Oil Workers Struck By Food Borne Illness


The oil and energy sector where I currently ply my trade as a food technologist and a food safety expert places great emphasis on safety in everything that is done. And this is extended to the feeding of personnel, for justifiable reasons as you will see below.

The headline above “FOOD POISONING ON RIG – 100 Oil Workers Struck By Food Borne Illness” was reported in This Day Newspapers some years ago (dateline May 7, 2004) about an out break of food borne illness at one of the offshore locations of a well known global oil and gas company operating in this country (Nigeria). Almost a hundred people were affected and the incident actually threatened the start-up of crude oil production at that facility.

To better understand the damage food borne illness can unleash in the oil and gas sector check out this true to life story below:

An offshore oil platform of an international oil and gas company attained a milestone of working 2.5 million work hours with zero LTI (Lost Time Incident). As this was an unusual milestone achievement it was decided to celebrate the milestone achievement with a buffet dinner for the entire workforce.

The organizing committee agreed a menu that includes continental dishes and national dishes with the catering contractor. It was agreed that it would be a three-course executive buffet having starter, main course and dessert. The caterer suggested a special dish of Isi-Ewu (Goat’s Head Pepper Soup) to accompany the buffet as a special treat for the nationals and a selection of exotic salads as cold buffet for the expatriates in addition to the agreed menu.

The dinner commenced about 6 p.m. with opening speeches by the management representative from the company’s head office. Afterwards all the staff helped themselves to the lavish buffet and almost everyone found the Isi-Ewu and the cold buffet irresistible. Fresh juice, soft drinks and non-alcoholic wines were also served. Everyone had a nice time.

The celebration continued late into the evening.

Between 8-9 hours after the party commenced, 15 persons reported to the on-board medic with violent stomach-aches. Some were vomiting, almost all had diarrhoea. The next morning an additional 11 people were also suffering from serious stomach cramps and diarrhoea and nausea. By this time the onboard clinic had become overwhelmed with what was obviously becoming an outbreak of food borne illness on the platform. All affected persons had either eaten Isi-Ewu or part of the cold buffet or both.

A medivac (medical evacuation using helicopters) of all the affected personnel was ordered immediately.

This invariably led to a temporary shutdown of the facility, as there was not enough manpower to function safely, which in turn resulted in a major loss of production output for the company.


Number 1.

To prepare the Isi-Ewu special request, 10 kilos of raw goat head portions were issued from the cold room on the day of the party. Because they were frozen completely they were placed on a stainless steel work surface in the kitchen and left for sometime to defrost.

After an hour and some minutes the cook checked the goat head portions and saw that they had defrosted outwardly, but the core part of some were still hard frozen.

Due to time constraints i.e. to meet up with the party, the cook proceeded to use the portions without completely defrosting them believing that they will melt up during cooking.

However because of the ice present from the inadequate defrosting, during cooking the salmonella bacteria present in the raw goat head portions were not destroyed because the heat from the cooking which ought to have destroyed them was melting the ice and therefore didn’t raise the internal temperature of the goat head portions to the level required to destroy pathogenic bacteria.

When the Isi-Ewu was served, it was still contaminated with salmonella bacteria at harmful levels.

Number 2.

After the cook removed the partially defrosted goat head portions from the work surface, the continental chef proceeded to use the same work surface to prepare the exotic salads for the cold buffet.

He cleaned the work surface before starting with disposable paper towels however no sanitizer was used or applied to the work surface to clean it up.

During preparation, residual salmonella bacteria on the work surface from melted blood and water of the goat head portions cross-contaminated the salad.

After preparing several platters of exotic salads, there wasn’t enough space in the chiller to keep them so he kept some on a kitchen cabinet at room temperature, under this condition the salmonella bacteria multiplied to dangerous levels in the salads.

Just like the Isi-Ewu, the salads were heavily contaminated by the time they were served and consumed.


  1. Incorrect method of defrosting raw product – The frozen goat head portions should not have been defrosted by leaving them on a work surface at room temperature. This resulted in incomplete thawing and cross contamination. Defrosting should have been done by transferring the frozen the goat head from freezer into the chiller a day before the celebrations for it to defrost completely at safe temperature.
  2. Inadequate cleaning  – Even though the chef used a proper single use disposable towel to clean the work surface before starting work, applying sanitizers would have ensured the destruction of all bacteria on the work surface. By not applying sanitizers the salmonella survived on the work surface and resulted in cross contamination of the salad.
  3. Poor temperature storage control – By storing some platters of salad on a kitchen cabinet and not in a chiller, the salmonella from the work surface in the salad had ideal conditions and temperature to multiply to dangerous levels.

This is a true-to-life story which can easily become a true life incident whether at an offshore oil and gas facility or at the reception of a social party (wedding, birthday, housewarming etc).

This illustrates the potent consequences that can result from food borne illness if the right steps are not taken during food preparation.


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