FDA report reveals airline food could pose health threat
By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY
Many meals served to passengers on major airlines are prepared in unsanitary and unsafe conditions that could lead to illness, government documents examined by USA TODAY show.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors have cited numerous catering facilities that prepare airline food for suspected health and sanitation violations following inspections of their kitchens this year and last, according to inspection reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
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The inspections were at U.S. facilities of two of the world's biggest airline caterers, LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet, and another large caterer, Flying Food Group.
The three caterers operate 91 kitchens that provide more than 100 million meals annually to U.S. and foreign airlines at U.S. airports. They provide meals for nearly all big airlines, including Delta, American, United, US Airways and Continental.
The FDA reports say many facilities store food at improper temperatures, use unclean equipment and employ workers who practice poor hygiene. At some, there were cockroaches, flies, mice and other signs of inadequate pest control.
"In spite of best efforts by the FDA and industry, the situation with in-flight catered foods is disturbing, getting worse and now poses a real risk of illness and injury to tens of thousands of airline passengers on a daily basis," says Roy Costa, a consultant and public health sanitarian.
Conditions open the door to food-poisoning outbreaks, says Costa, a former Florida state food inspector who volunteered to review the FDA reports obtained by USA TODAY.
All three caterers say they work hard to ensure food is safe. And airlines say they monitor the food that goes onto their planes.
LSG Sky Chefs has "comprehensive and multilayered quality-control standards in place to ensure our customers receive safe, healthy and high-quality food," says spokeswoman Beth Van Duyne.
Norbert van den Berg of Gate Gourmet says findings are taken "very seriously" and the company uses an independent auditor for quality assurance. Glenn Caulkins of Flying Food Group also says his company's facilities are independently audited for quality assurance.
JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin says the airline requires caterers to provide results of FDA inspections and does its own "impromptu" visits to their facilities.