Airline Catering Kitchens & How They Impact Business Aviation

Susan C. Friedenberg, President & CEO of Philadelphia-based Corporate Flight Attendant Training & Services, continues her series of articles on food safety awareness by outlining some of the questions that must be asked.

Travelling as a passenger on a South West Airlines flight - on the way back from conducting a training class at FlightSafety and attending the NBAA Flight Attendant Conference - I read an article in USA Today on airline kitchens.

I was totally DISGUSTED by it. People around me were looking at me as I said out loud, "OH MY GOD!" at least 5 times while I was reading it.

We assume that the airlines are safe-guarding our food. Lets face it, in 'coach' (or as I can now call it, 'roach coach'), this is a non-issue since you get a bag of something rather than a meal. However, on longer flights the flight attendants are selling boxed meals that come from these kitchens.

What scares me to death is the fact that in some foreign markets, if there is no trained flight attendant, some of the business aviation handling companies will order first-class meals from the catering facility of that country's airline. The handlers are mostly untrained on what questions to ask or any degree of food safety implementation. In a hot climate, do they know to have the catering transported in a cold environment (with ice packs)? Are they checking the kitchens themselves?

I train corporate flight attendants to spot-check their caterers in the USA and tell them to ask the caterers whether they're spot-checking the suppliers. FOOD KILLS!

When a customer 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?” This applies to the handling companies as well when they're globally charged with the mission of getting catering and at times get first-class meals from the airline of that country.

Food safety has become a global problem; From the ways in which cattle are slaughtered, the antibiotics that poultry are fed and the questions asked around farm-raised fish. Just today, July 4th, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, there was a national recall of Bison meat - which is Buffalo meat that has been infected with ecoli. I just happened to have that exact product in my freezer. I was shocked and distraught that I could've fallen very ill or died due to tainted food. I immediately took it back to the grocery store. An estimated 76 million cases of food borne 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 affect 10-12 high profile global leaders attending a World Summit meeting travelling on a Gulfstream V? What about two pilots that are sick in the cockpit and barely able to fly the aircraft? 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 knowing how to secure safe catering - and where to get it from.

Knowing 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!

It could have been me cooking Bison burgers.

Here’s a link to that USA Today article if you’d like to read it yourself:

8 July 2010

Susan is available to present this topic and other Business Aviation Flight Attendant related safety topics at conferences, annual meetings and organizational meetings.

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

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