Oil field workers warned about unlicensed food vendor illnesses

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The oil and gas industry in Oklahoma is booming.

So is the industry that feeds all those employees who work long shifts in the oil fields.

But the Oklahoma State Department of Health is warning them about the food dangers coming from unlicensed vendors who cater to them.

Food vendor licenses have nearly doubled in the last year, from 383 in 2011 to 701 in 2012.

The popularity of this business, however, leads to many vendors who don't bother to get a license.

The Health Department said those vendors can cause employees to miss a lot of time at work while recovering from a serious illness.

Tom Morrow oversees his employees at a busy oil field in northern Oklahoma.

They bring their lunch to work.

"We're out here 24 hours a day," he said. "We don't have time to shut down and go into town and go eat."

But Morrow has worked at oil fields where food vendors showed up and no one really cared whether they were licensed.

"We were so happy to get food we really didn't ask," he said.

Lacey Jones operates Girls Gone Catering in Enid.

She paid $350 to get a vending license this year and she sold a lot of food in the oil fields.

"There was one point, we were going non-stop," she said. "Couldn't even keep up."

Her meals are always cooked on location from her trailer.

She uses commercial equipment to keep the food temperature perfect, all in an effort to serve bacteria-free meals.

But her company is in limbo now because she said a competitor, who is not licensed, stole her business with cheaper prices.

"It was like a (feeding) frenzy," she remembered one employee saying. "They just drop the food off and let the guys all go for it, and this guy personally told me he got very, very sick. Ended up in the hospital and almost died."

Tina Alemao, the Director of Consumer Protection at the Health Department, said it happens often.

"You're looking at Hepatitis A, possible Shigella," she said. "You're looking at all sorts of bacteria that can be transmitted through the hands."

Alemao said those food-borne illnesses often develop in food that is cooked at home from unlicensed vendors who don't follow health standards.

Licensed vendors must have fresh water capacity, a sewage disposal tank and, like Girls Gone Catering, a hand washing sink.

"They're no different than a dine-in restaurant," Alemao said.

"If you're bringing food out here, it would be nice to have somebody that is licensed, yes," Morrow said.

Alemao said the fine for vendors caught selling food without a license is a lot higher than the annual fee of $350.

Oil companies could invite legal trouble from insurance companies as well, if they use unlicensed vendors.

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