Chicken Tikka – the hidden danger

By on 18/02/2010 in News
A poorly maintained tandoor

A poorly maintained tandoor

A curry crackdown is underway in Birmingham following a spate of injuries as a result of poorly maintained tandoori ovens.

A tandoori oven, known as a tandoor, is cylindrical in shape and primarily used for cooking meat dishes such as the nation's favourite chicken tikka and tandoori chicken, as well as breads like nan and roti. Traditional ovens are made with clay and use a charcoal or wood fire source, but stainless steel ovens that use a gas or electricity fire source have become increasingly popular in curry houses.

Following a number of accidents involving employees at different curry houses in the city being seriously burnt when they lit tandoors, Environmental Health at Birmingham City Council launched a series of safety inspections. Targeting 27 different restaurants and takeaways across the city, officers inspected tandoors and questioned the owners about maintenance, taking enforcement action where necessary. Two ovens involved in accidents were seized and sent away for examination and both were found to be defective. 

One oven owned by Sukdhevs Catering Services Ltd, owner of Chandni Chowks Restaurants and Sweets, in Handsworth, was found to have never been maintained after being installed by a chef, rather than a qualified engineer. Another oven from a different premises was being maintained, but by an engineer who was not authorised to work on catering appliances. The inspections also revealed that only a small percentage of ovens had working ignition systems and that employees were routinely using the unsafe practice of lighting ovens with burning serviettes. In addition, over half of the ovens showed poor flame quality due to incomplete combustion, putting employees at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.  Ventilation within three quarters of the kitchens was found to be poor, as they did not have interlocking ventilation canopies, and some of the worst ovens appeared to be home made.

Sukdhev's Catering Services Ltd pleaded guilty at Birmingham Magistrates Court on 22nd January 2010 to breaching Regulation 35 of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, were fined £3,500 and were ordered to pay costs of £2,500, for failing to maintain their tandoor. The oven exploded while being lit by an employee, causing him serious burns to his hands, face and eyes.

The explosion occurred in November 2008 because the tandoori oven had a gas leak on the main supply pipe into the oven. Consequently, when the gas was turned on at the mains, it was able to build up in the clay pot of the oven. The unsuspecting employee used a burning serviette to light the oven, which then exploded in his face, throwing him backwards. Upon inspection, health and safety officers from Birmingham City Council's Environmental Health investigated the accident and discovered that there were a number of serious defects on the oven, and that due to a faulty ignition switch, the use of a burning serviette to light the oven became common practice. 

Councillor Neil Eustace, Chair of the Public Protection Committee, says:

“The results of our inspection were shocking, only 3 of the 27 premises inspected were getting an engineer to examine

Chandni Chowk's defective oven

Chandni Chowk's defective oven

their ovens, and only 2 of those engineers were found to be competent to work on catering appliances.  Only 14 premises were using a safe method for lighting the oven. The cylindrical design of the tandoor with an ignition source at the bottom, means that when gas builds up inside and an employee leans in to light it, the oven effectively becomes like a cannon. The potential for injuries is high and that is why we have served a number of enforcement notices”.

Oven maintenance is required by law. The maximum fine has subsequently been increased to £20,000 and can also result in a prison sentence of up to 12 months.

Food business owners are being advised to ensure their employees are using a safe method to light gas appliances and to have their ovens examined by an engineer who is listed on the Gas Safe Register and competent to carry out work on catering appliances.  Failure to do so may result in enforcement action being taken. Owners can check a gas engineer's credentials at


For more information please contact Hayley Meachin on 0121 303 1271/ 07920 750007

Notes to Editors

Images available on request.

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