Seemingly Wonderful Catering . . Part III

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 second article of this series we discussed and defined what Food Safety actually means. It is important to understand DUE DILIGENCE surrounding our catering from the time it is assembled until consumption. We touched on what to look for when securing catering from a corporate aviation caterer or other venues at hand when traveling.

I think it is important to add to the conversation the ways in which the catering is actually delivered to you at the hotel, or given to the Handling Company or delivered to the FBO.

If from the caterer, are they guaranteeing food safety precautionary measures once your food leaves their facility? What this actually means is whether or not the actual vehicle is refrigerated (Not Air Conditioned), and whether they are placing your catering into insulated coolers / or clean boxes lined with heavy garbage bags and layered with ice packs (perhaps dry ice depending on the mission) intermittently placed in-between and throughout all of the layers of trays / food containers / zip lock bags? If placed into shopping type open bags you can be certain that maintaining the safe temperature zone of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4.4 degrees Celsius is at best questionable.

One of the first questions I pose to a caterer is their method and standards of packing my catering for delivery? My concern is a cold environment and Food Security. I personally do not support catering being delivered in open bags for two reasons.

1. The temperature environment just can't be maintained.

2. Additionally, there is the issue of security surrounding the catering. Food sabotage! Think about it...... what if you are flying a person who is regarded as persona non grata in some quarters and a malcontent manages to infiltrate the catering company or FBO? All catering boxes are marked on the outside with your company name and tail number.

Your catering arrives in an open bag or a box that is not sealed. Your catering is now an open target for food sabotage thus putting the passengers and the crew in great possible peril.

Catering in my opinion should leave the catering facility in a sealed environment with tape that is tamper proof and once opened, the seal is recognizably broken and has been tampered with. It might be the same tape that pilots use to ensure that no one attempted to break into the aircraft via the doors and over wing exits.

I always recommend to corporate flight attendants in my training; when leaving their home domicile to make sure that they save 1-2 of the boxes that their catering was delivered to them in. (Stored in the baggage compartment) The boxes can then be reused for their return flight and you know that they are clean.

If you are securing catering from a hotel, the hotel's kitchen is not equipped for the "transportation process". They may put your catering in boxes that were left outside the hotel's kitchen and possibly small rodents were running in and out of those boxes..... Not an appetizing thought! Another option is to travel with a good insulated cooler on wheels or one with a shoulder strap that is kept in the baggage compartment. Upon arrival at your destination, you can have the outbound caterer pick up the coolers or boxes from the FBO or you can give them to the Handler to give to whomever is doing the catering for your trip. If getting catering from a restaurant the same thing applies.

It is in this manner that you can ensure a cold and closed / sealed environment for your catering and its transportation back to the aircraft.

It is a great idea to always SAVE ice packs and have them re-frozen by the hotel (if you are getting catering from them) or ask the FBO to re-freeze them or have the caterer do this for the outbound catering. You cannot always easily find these from country to country. If you are working on an aircraft without a "chiller" system, these will keep the catering cold for a long while in the food storage compartments during the next flight when you put it away until the passengers start eating.

Once the catering arrives at the FBO or directly to your aircraft, what are the best practices to watch for and to continually ensure and safeguard your catering until consumption? That is what will be discussed in the 4th piece of this series.

The next article will address the responsibility and BEST PRACTICES around food and its arrival at the FBO and then delivery onto your aircraft. We will discuss the FBO's responsibility in this equation as well as what you can do to keep your food safe once it is put onto the aircraft.

08 October 2009

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

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