Senator Seeks Better Oversight of Airline Food

Following news reports about <"">horrible food safety conditions at a number of airline food caterers, New York Senator Charles Schumer (Democrat) urged the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday to implement more stringent health code policy enforcement, said USA Today. Among other requests, Schumer said the FDA should put in place mandates banning repeat offenders from operating at airports in the United States, reported USA Today.

Earlier this week, we wrote that a lot of the meals served by major airlines appear to be prepared in what USA Today previously described as “unsanitary and unsafe conditions that could lead to illness.” USA Today based its information on government documents it reviewed.

FDA inspectors cited “numerous” catering facilities responsible for airline food preparation for suspected violations in health and sanitation following agency inspections of kitchens in 2009 and 2010 at 46 domestic facilities, said USA Today. Inspection reports were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The inspections took place at domestic (U.S.) locations for LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet—considered the world’s largest airline caterers, as well as Flying Food Group, a large caterer, reported USA Today. Together, the caterers run 91 kitchens that make over 100 million meals each year that are supplied to U.S. airports and for both U.S. and international air carriers, according to USA Today. Airlines fed by these caterers include Delta, American, United, US Airways, and Continental.

Earlier this year we wrote that the FDA warned LSG Sky Chefs after an agency inspection revealed both live and dead cockroaches and Listeria bacteria at LSG’s Denver facility, citing the Associated Press (AP). According to the earlier AP report, the FDA advised the company that it could be banned from selling food to airlines at Denver Airport if further violations are found in future inspections.

LSG claims it resolved its kitchen issues, added the AP, including firing its manager and head chef. Deutsche Lufthansa AG owns LSG Sky Chefs, which provides food to Delta, American, and United airlines, among others, and has 43 kitchens nationwide, said the AP. Beth Van Duyne, LSG spokeswoman, said it replaced pipes and a drain when the dangerous Listeria pathogen could not be killed with chemical treatments, noted the AP. USA Today pointed out that LSG Sky Chefs provides about 405 million meals throughout the world for over 300 airlines each year.

The FDA letter indicated that its inspectors found live and dead roaches in quantities “too numerous to count” in a variety of kitchen areas that, shockingly included, no less that “40 live insects in the silverware station,” said the AP. Employees were seen touching food with either bare hands or while wearing dirty gloves, water was found dripping from the ceiling into areas in which utensils are cleaned, and holes in the facility’s walls were found that could easily be home for bugs and vermin, said the AP.

Schumer said these awful food preparation practices “would never be tolerated at a restaurant”; airline passengers “should not have to accept a lesser standard just because their food is served on a plane,” quoted USA Today. The recent inspections, said Schumer, “have revealed chronic instances of poor sanitary conditions,” and that he would be working for “stiffer” fines, wrote USA Today. Today, noted Schumer, the fine is $1,000 per violation. Schumer is looking to increase this to up to $50,000 per violation for repeat violations, said USA Today, noting that airline caterers are not generally fined for violations.

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