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Experts Call Attention to In-Flight Food Safety

November 23, 2010

“No one wants to talk about food safety, but the truth is, every year 5,000 people in this country die from food-borne illness,” said Jean Dible, president and founder of GA Food Safety Professionals. “Food preparation and delivery in general aviation is not regulated by any agency. Most restaurants in this country are inspected twice a year, but in general aviation there are no controls.”

Dible trains general aviation professionals in food safety standards and insists that everyone involved in serving food on a flight needs to be aware of food safety issues, from the scheduler/dispatchers who place an order, to the FBO personnel that receive it to the flight attendants who serve it.

“Most scheduler/dispatchers and flight attendants have no concept of how food should be handled,” said Paula Kraft, founder and co-owner of Tastefully Yours Catering. “I’ve had flight departments order sushi that they plan to eat on the return flight, a day later. And most airplanes don’t even have refrigerators.”

Temperature is often a risk factor in the delivery and storage of prepared food on business aviation flights, according to Dible.

“Hot food has to remain above 135 degrees Fahrenheit at all times, or the bacteria count will double every 20 minutes,” said Dible. “And cold food needs to remain below 40 degrees or the same will happen. So the way the food is delivered is as important as how it’s prepared. It’s what we call the ‘flow of food.’ There are so many hands that touch the food before you eat it aboard a business aircraft and if it’s not stored properly at each stage, it could potentially become dangerous.”

Because they’re responsible for flying the airplane, it’s also important for pilots who are eating the food to be sure it’s safe. However, Kraft notes that often, business aviation professionals don’t want to know about the risks in preparing and delivering food, assuming that it must be safe enough.

“Even when they do take responsibility,” said Kraft, “if they don’t have the proper training, they don’t know how to check that it was prepared safely and delivered safely. They don’t know what questions to ask the caterers.”

A widespread risk, which may be increasing because of the difficult economy, is food prepared at home by business aviation flight attendants.

“It’s very common for flight attendants to cook the onboard meals at home, transporting it to the aircraft in the back of a warm car,” said Dible. “It’s a very dangerous practice, and they have no idea how much liability they’re assuming. I often tell people: imagine you went to your favorite restaurant and found out one of the employees cooked the food at home. That’s what’s happening on many of these flights.”

To raise awareness of food preparation, handling and delivery issues on business aircraft, Dible and Kraft are presenting an NBAA Webinar on December 2, 2010, titled “Catering Standards & Food Safety Best Practices.” For more information, and to register for the webinar, visit NBAA's On-Demand Education web site.