The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 15, 2012

Protect oilfield workers by exposing unlicensed vendors


Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Would you like an order of norovirus with a side of salmonella?

No, you wouldn’t, and that’s what the Oklahoma State Department of Health is trying to prevent from happening.

The department and its county offices are cracking down on an increasing number of unlicensed food vendors catering to the booming oil and gas industry.

Some entrepreneurs are looking to cater at remote well sites in northwest Oklahoma, where oilfield crews either are too far from or exceed the capacity of local restaurants.

While oilfield workers need to eat, this situation can turn sour if the food vendor isn’t licensed by the Health Department and operating under proper health standards.

Improper food-handling practices, equipment or food-temperature management can cause bacterial growth in food, leading to serious food-borne illnesses. Even in the oil patch.

It makes sense to keep oilfield workers healthy. Energy companies don’t want to risk sick employees hampering productivity. That can cause serious economic losses.

Businesses following the rules shouldn’t be punished. Licensed mobile food vendors in Oklahoma almost doubled in the past year, growing from 383 in 2011 to more than 700.

These mobile food establishments meet the same health standards as their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Considering fines can add up for vendors caught selling food without a license, a $350 license fee is fairly minor in comparison.

Since officials don’t have the necessary staffing to implement the rules, the Health Department gets a considerable amount of help from properly licensed caterers in identifying unlicensed competition.

Unlicensed vendors cut into the business of legitimate competition. Caterers say it’s not uncommon for “fly-by-night” competition to show up at well sites and even public venues. That’s frustrating.

We’re realize this kind of crackdown is hard to enforce in the outskirts. Although enforcement is a big issue, that doesn’t mean health officials shouldn’t try.