Biological hazards

Food safety

Poor food safety controls on offshore installations can lead to cases of food poisoning. Food poisoning is a common, usually mild, but sometimes deadly illness. Typical symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea after eating contaminated food or drink. Harmful bacteria are the most common cause of food poisoning, but other contaminants include viruses, parasites and toxins. The symptoms and severity of food poisoning vary, depending on which bacteria or virus has contaminated the food.

Viruses account for most food poisoning cases where a specific contaminant is found. Noroviruses are the most common viral cause of food poisoning and can be transmitted from water, shellfish, vegetables contaminated by faeces as well as person to person contact. Outbreaks are more common in densely populated areas and present a significant risk to offshore installations.

Bacteria can cause food poisoning in two different ways. Some bacteria infect the intestines, causing inflammation and difficulty in absorbing nutrients and water, leading to diarrhoea. Other bacteria produce chemicals in foods (known as toxins) that are poisonous to the human digestive system. When eaten, these chemicals can lead to nausea and vomiting, kidney failure, and even death.

Guidance on good practice to ensure the management, control and monitoring of all aspects of food safety and hygiene is given in Food safety and Hygiene.


Potable water is used on offshore installations for drinking, cooking, laundry, medical, personal hygiene, and other purposes. Health concerns regarding potable water quality may include physical, chemical, and bacteriological parameters. All potable water for consumption offshore has to be disinfected, but even then, risks to health can arise from a failure in the disinfection process, or through post disinfection contamination. Failures can be attributed mainly to human error or inadequate operating systems.

Updated 2018-06-15