Seemingly Wonderful Catering . . Part II

Susan C. Friedenberg, President & CEO of Philadelphia-based Corporate Flight Attendant Training & Services, continues her series of articles on the importance of food safety and discusses the questions that should be addressed when choosing a catering company.

In the last article, we addressed the three main types of food contaminates:




What does Food Safety actually mean? It is the safeguarding or protection of food from anything that could harm the consumers health. In our case, it is our customers/ passengers and the crew.

This includes all of the practical measures involved in keeping food safe and wholesome through all stages of wholesale-purchasing and production to the point of retail sale, delivery to the aircraft or FBO with appropriate temperature control, storage and maintainance of safe temperatures before takeoff and before reheating / cooking, then reheating / cooking with correct cooking temperatures prior to consumption.

For those of us in Business Aviation, this translates into many unknown variables (unless you have a trained third crew member onboard) and entails a great deal of trust. As corporate flight attendants, schedulers / dispatchers, charter operators, charter brokers, managers or pilots, we are responsible for securing safe catering for our passengers. We must be cognisant of who, what, where and when while dealing with food and our sources for it. Food safety / security is so important to everyone and the people who work with food have a legal, ethical and economic responsibility for keeping food safe to eat. In most aspects of life, we become educated consumers before buying an item. Catering should be no different. At the end of the day, it is called DUE DILIGENCE.

The best-case scenario is when catering is received from a professional corporate aircraft catering facility. However, this is not always an option. Additional options are hotel restaurants, or small restaurants in the area, delis, supermarkets, speciality food shops or charcuteries. If you have a well trained business aviation flight attendant, she/he will be trained for this as well as packing coolers / boxes with perishable food items on wet ice / dry ice for long range or remote international travel and how to access dry ice globally throughout the mission.

If the catering is purchased from a corporate specific aviation caterer, have you visited their operation? You should be able to walk in unannounced and take a look at their facility. Are they following best practices? You will want assurances that the general public cannot easily gain access to their facility where your catering is being prepared and packaged and loaded into a transport vehicle. Food security is a major component to the safety of your passengers and crew. Food sabotage should be a major concern to all of us in business aviation.

For the novice, some of the following things should be addressed:

What is the general appearance of the facility?

Does the operation or kitchen manager hold a current Food Safety / Food Handlers Certificate?

Does the staff hold any food hygiene qualifications? How often do they attend refresher courses?

Do they carry food liability insurance? Are their transport vehicles chilled for food transport and insured?
Do they have workman's compensation insurance? Ask for copies of these on a yearly basis.

Ask who inspects their facility and request a copy of their last 2-3 health inspections.

Is it their local health department, Department of Agriculture or FDA (Food & Drug Administration)? Do they have a current business license? Do they have a food service permit? What are their scores? (A grade of 95 or below is considered unacceptable).

Do they have a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) plan in place? This is an internationally recognized food safety plan that identifies potential hazards within a facility and plans out a method to eliminate and control them. This program deals with food from the time it enters the catering facility until the time it would be loaded onto the plane.

Are uniforms provided? Are the employees required to change into clean uniforms at the workplace or from home? If from home, this is not acceptable.

Are they wearing hair nets / hats/ beard nets / non latex gloves / nails trimmed / NO acrylic nails permitted / jewelry? Are they removing their food handling gloves once an hour and washing their hands and then putting on new gloves?

Are they performing background checks on their employees? A minimum of 5 years is acceptable but 10 years is preferred.

Do they require a health certificate on each employee? If the employee is ill, do they require a note to return to work from their Doctor?

Do they use a temperature probe to check food temperatures at all stages of receiving, preparation and delivery?

Is the food delivered to the FBO or the aircraft hot or cold from their catering facility? Are they taking the appropriate and safe precautions to chill the food after preparation and deliver it at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4.4 degrees Celsius? Bacteria doubles every twenty minutes in a warm environment which is considered 41 degrees Fahrenheit or 5 degrees Celsius to 135 degrees Fahrenheit or 57.2 degrees Celsius. Non-chilled food after a four hour exposure time is considered the temperature danger zone.

What precautions are they taking to chill food if it is a last minute catering request for a pop up trip or if it is for an early morning departure? Food should not be delivered hot unless the temperature can be maintained at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or 60 degrees Celsius. A very good insulated thermal bag might be used for this.

As you can see, food safety is as important as aircraft safety. It should be considered a crucial and integral part of aircraft security and safety! Maintenance for the aircraft is maintained, pilots do their aircraft walk around and aircraft check lists are adhered to. Do you have catering SOP's in place for your operation as well as a catering check list?

03 Sept 2009

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

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