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First Class Bacteria

By Beacon Staff

I’ve blogged and ranted about airline food before, usually about quality and quantity, but this time it’s an even more serious matter. Not that my rumbling belly on a three-plus hour flight isn’t serious, but now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is involved.

FDA inspectors recently uncovered some shocking conditions in the airline catering services facilities at a number of airports around the country. So if it has been your bent to use your frequent flyer miles to upgrade to first class, or even pay the premium rate to sit up front, partially because you want to be fed without additional charge, there’s something important you should know.

According to news reports published in USA Today, FDA inspectors found live roaches and dead roach carcasses “too numerous to count” in the Denver facility of LSG SkyChefs, the world’s largest airline caterer. Same thing at the Minneapolis facility.

The USA Today report also said, “(The FDA inspectors) also reported finding ants, flies and debris, and employees handling food with bare hands.” Moreover, listeria, bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in children, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women, was found in the facility.

So how does that extra leg room and wider seat seem now?

This sort of report was not confined to SkyChefs. Gate Gourmet and Flying Food Group, the next two largest catering companies, were also cited for serious health violations.

Some of the other violations include not keeping meat, seafood and fish at proper temperatures. The “danger zone” for these products is between 40 degrees and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s Culinary 101. When an FDA inspector pointed this out, the employees did not dispose of the products.

I’ve been thinking about that speech we passengers get every time we have to sit through the imbecilic demonstration of how to fasten a seat belt. “We’re here primarily for your safety” or some variation of that phrase is usually what the flight attendant says. And frequently, you’ll hear the pilot say the same thing. Now I know the flight attendants and the cockpit crew are not responsible for the preparation of the food, but…

…all of that stuff that comes down the aisle in their service carts – cups, ice, soft drink cans – all of it comes from the catering services.

It makes me wonder if the catering services are getting squeezed by the airlines to cut their costs, too. There are ways to cut food costs, but not by short-cutting common-sense food safety measures.

Supervisory personnel in those catering kitchens are not doing their jobs – or maybe they don’t know how to do their jobs. How complex is it to remind food handlers to wear gloves?

What’s the big deal about keeping meat and fish refrigerated?

How hard is it to disinfect work surfaces or wash the floors of the kitchens where this food is prepared?

The USA Today report quotes a public health expert thusly: “In spite of the best efforts by the FDA and (airline) industry, the situation with in-flight catered foods is disturbing (and) getting worse and now poses a real risk of illness and injury to tens of thousands of airline passengers on a daily basis.”

As the airlines continue to nickel and dime us to death with all of their ridiculous charges for things that ought to be free, one thing I will not do – and I recommend that you don’t either – is accept food or buy food from them. Bring your own. Then buy something to drink once you pass through security.

I leave you with this reminder: If you do choose to eat food served by the airline you fly, remember there’s a little something in the seat pocket in front of you that you might need.

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