Seemingly Wonderful Catering . . And It Could Kill!

By Susan C. Friedenberg

Susan C. Friedenberg is President & CEO of Philadelphia-based Corporate Flight Attendant Training & Services. In the first of a series of articles for BlueSky, Susan discusses the consequences of inadequate training in the ordering and handling of food.

When the customer or client calls to book a trip, most of the time catering is involved. For the 'trained' corporate flight attendant, ordering safe and delicious catering is a piece of cake - no pun intended! But for the untrained person, it can be a hassle and a nightmare in many markets.

If you are a Charter Broker, Part 91 operation, Part 135 operation or any scheduler / dispatcher without a trained corporate flight attendant to handle the many components and complexities of ordering and maintaining safe catering, (and you are not trained for this task) it can be daunting. You might be asking, "Where do I start? Where and how do I get it? Is the caterer reputable? What are my options in a foreign city where there are not corporate specific aviation caterers? What are the aircraft's galley and cabin limitations for proper and secure storage of it? How can I keep perishable catering items temperature safe to prevent bacteria from doubling every twenty minutes?"

Food safety has become a global problem. From the ways in which cattle is slaughtered, the antibiotics that poultry are fed and the questions asked around farm-raised fish. An estimated 76 million cases of foodborne disease occur each year in the United States alone. The great majority of these cases are mild and cause symptoms for only one to two days. However, can you imagine how that would effect 10-12 high profile global leaders attending a World Summit meeting traveling on a Gulfstream V? What about two pilots that are sick in the cockpit and barely able to fly the aircraft?

The CDC (Center For Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia USA) states that some of these cases are more serious and they estimate that 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths related to foodborne diseases occur every year. The most severe cases tend to occur in the very old, the very young, those who have a pre-existing illness which reduces their immune system function, and in healthy people who are exposed to a very high dose of an organism.

You might be asking, "What is a foodborne disease / illness? It is caused by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. Many different disease-causing microbes or pathogens can contaminate food types so there are many various foodborne infections.

The three main types of food contamination are:

Food Safety Awareness

Proper Food Holding Temperatures

Cross Contamination

Passenger Food Allergies and Dietary Restrictions (Health / Religious)

How To Really Order Catering For ANY Aircraft Type / Size

Catering Communication Skills

Galley Size Constraints

Correct Packaging


Clean Ice Machines & Ice Delivery

As consumers, and through media attention, we are most familiar with Ecoli and Salmonella which is the result of pathogenic bacterial poisoning.

There are several others. Chemical contamination includes industrial processing chemicals, agricultural chemicals, pesticides etc; Physical contaminates include insects, paper, string, stones, leaves, scales from fish, tips of broken fake finger nails from food handlers and a very long list of others. Cross contamination of tainted food can occur in the transportation process to the aircraft, in galley storage compartments as well as on the counters in the galley.

It is our responsibility to protect our passengers and crew from any type of food poisoning. Following best practices of never ordering the same meals for the pilots is a start, knowing the language of ordering catering and how to secure safe catering, safe temperature zones, where to get it from and the right questions to ask as well as protecting your food once it is on the aircraft is paramount to the safety of the mission. It is not just about the safety of the aircraft. Food safety is important. Remember, FOOD KILLS!

Susan C. Friedenberg - President & CEO
Corporate Flight Attendant Training & Services
Telephone # 215.625.4811

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