The company in question is Gate Gourmet, Inc. The food catering company provides airline food for a slew of airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, LAN Airlines, Air Algérie, Air Canada, American Airlines, United Airlines, Qantas, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Avianca, Iberia Airlines, Air China, Air France, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, Thai Airways, Swiss International Air Lines, TAM Airlines, Air Indus, Alitalia, and easyJet.
In 2004, Gate Gourmet was investigated by the FDA for spreading an intestinal infection called shigellosis to 45 passengers who ate the company’s poorly-handled carrots. The Honolulu facility kept "dirty uncovered" trash cans near food and did not keep the food at the right temperature to avoid bacterial growth. Trash carts with fruit flies and cockroaches were sitting next to the salad preparation area. Workers handled ice cubes with bare, unwashed hands. The FDA also found “mold growing on the windows” of one facility and appliances that had “sticky, old food residue.” Even the “clean end” of wash stations was filthy, with one conveyer emitting a “pink slimy substance.”
Things haven’t changed nearly fifteen years later. The FDA has cited Gate Gourmet for a slew of new violations at a Kentucky preparation facility, including:
The conditions are so insanitary, the FDA downgraded the facility to “Provisional” with the threat the facility could be shut down if changes are not made in 30 days. “These conditions cause the food products held at your facility to be adulterated... because they were prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth or rendered injurious to health,” says the March 29 letter.
Gate Gourmet has failed to provide specific photographic evidence to verify that changes have been made. The FDA is planning another inspection of the facility. Gate Gourmet has been caught in the past for infecting airline passengers with listeria. In November 2017, American Airlines had to suspend food services for all flights out of Los Angeles because of listeria contamination from Gate Gourmet’s poor food preparation practices.
The problem isn’t just with the food. The water on airlines can easily be contaminated with microorganisms such as E. coli. Aircraft water supply tanks are the perfect environment for microbial growth. In fact, the EPA finds that airplane tap water contains coliform bacteria (commonly found in feces) in approximately 15 percent of studied water samples. It’s best to avoid the flight’s tap water and buy bottled water instead. The same can be said for airline food: don’t trust it. If you’re really hungry, and can’t resist eating on your flight, don’t forget to pack a barf bag.
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