The threat of food-borne illness at 41,000 feet is all too real, and one the business aviation industry takes all too lightly, says Paula Kraft, a principal with Aviation Catering Consultants (ACC) of Atlanta.
According to in-flight medical emergency services specialist MedAire, 60 percent of its calls are related to gastrointestinal illnesses. That number leaves no doubt that food-handling standards should be just as rigorous as those that apply to aircraft maintenance, asserts Kraft.
With that in mind, ACC has launched a series of three-day and week-long seminars that include catering safety management system (SMS) training for anyone involved in the chain of food preparation and service in the business aviation industry. Among those who have already completed the course are corporate flight attendants, flight technicians, flight schedulers, FBO employees, flight department members, business jet caterers and U.S. government aircraft crews.
When it comes to discussing the dangers of improper food handling, Kraft is not at a loss for anecdotes. Among them is the tale of a flight attendant who invited Kraft to her home to observe her preparing meals for passengers on her company’s corporate jet. “The first thing I noticed was the cat running across the counter she was using for food preparation, and a pot of rice that sat for two hours after cooking. It hadn’t even occurred to her,” said Kraft, “that the cat was happily spreading fecal matter from the litter box and that the cooked rice was rapidly growing bacillus bacteria in the moist, dense environment of that pot.”
The goal of the catering SMS is to ensure the health and well-being of crew and passengers by identifying potential risks and setting into place preventive actions to mitigate these risks. And it begins with recognizing that safety in food handling includes everyone in that chain–those shopping for produce, chefs and sous chefs, delivery drivers, FBO employees, flight attendants and ultimately the passenger. In short, it involves “any person who handles opened or unopened food, equipment, utensils or surfaces used for food preparation and serving.”
At the end of that food handling chain, there are people with an inflated risk for food-borne illness and, warned Kraft, “there are some 200 food-borne pathogens.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, end-users particularly at risk include:
• mid-life to older people with special diets, heart problems or high cholesterol;
• those taking particular medications, such as blood thinners;
• people with immune disorders or compromised immune systems;
• pregnant women;
• and children under age four.
There is also a rather extensive list of especially high-risk foods typically served aboard a business jet. These include:
• meat, seafood and poultry;
• dairy products;
• raw or heat-treated foods such as rice and cooked vegetables;
• raw seed sprouts;
• cut melons;
• and garlic and oil mixtures.
What puts these foods in the high-risk category is primarily the requirement for temperature control, explained Kraft. “Without temperature control, they are in a form capable of supporting rapid growth of microorganisms.”
Safe Handling Procedures
Temperature and time are major factors in reducing food-borne pathogens to a nonhazardous level. For hot foods, a temperature of 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) should be maintained or they should be flash cooled to below 41 degrees F (5 degrees C) immediately after preparation.
Typically, food can be held between 140 degrees F and 41 degrees F for about four hours, cumulative time, and should not be consumed thereafter. In some countries where food handling regulations apply to business aviation caterers, the temperature and time requirements may be much more strict.
“Be careful where you shop,” Kraft warned, noting that a few years ago an entire soccer team on a charter flight was on the receiving end of salmonella poisoning about 12 hours after landing. The cause was traced back to raspberries that had been subject to recall. “Traceability is very important,” she added.
ACC also warns air crews against using restaurants, even the finest, for catering a flight. “Restaurants are cook-and-serve establishments in which the meals come off the fire onto the plate and are immediately served,” said Kraft. “They’re unprepared for and unaware of the food-handling safety measures required of dishes that may be served on a private jet hours after preparation, including hours sitting at room temperature.” If working with a restaurant is an absolute, then the kitchen must be made aware of those food-handling requirements.
She also emphasizes that pilots on any flight should eat meals with totally different ingredients. One flight department, she said, is sufficiently concerned about food safety that it does not allow its pilots to eat any seafood meal while traveling.
How serious is the in-flight ingestion of a food-borne pathogen? E.coli can cause kidney failure in young children and infants. Salmonella may lead to reactive arthritis and serious infections. Lysteria can cause meningitis and stillbirths. Camylobactor is a known factor in the debilitating Guillain-Barre Syndrome neuromuscular disorder.
Also not to be dismissed are the dangers associated with passenger allergies. Among the most common is the allergy to peanuts, which can be life-threatening, especially at cruise altitude and hours from landing. Kraft points out that the victim need not actually ingest peanuts to suffer an allergic reaction. Nothing more than the failure to change gloves after handling peanuts can transfer enough peanut proteins to the next food being handled to cause anaphylactic shock in a passenger with a peanut allergy.
There is a growing awareness of the need for safe food-handling practices, said Kraft. Most recently, kitchens at Alison Price On Air of London, Manny’s Catering at Toluca International Airport in Mexico and Hubert-Marsden Catering in Zurich, Switzerland, have completed the catering safety management system training course.
“But we need to do more,” Kraft declared. “If for no other reason than the fact that we cater some of the world’s most important people, from heads of state to Fortune 500 CEOs.”
Upcoming Food-safety Workshops
At two upcoming National Business Aviation Association events this spring and summer, seminars are being sponsored to deal with subjects ranging from the catering safety management system to the changing trends in catering for an international market.
The first is at the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in Geneva, May 21-23. Aviation Catering Consultants will present a program there on the business aviation catering SMS on May 21. The focus will be on the role of the flight attendant in safe food-handling practices. Also scheduled for discussion at the show is formation of a European caterers working group.
At the NBAA Flight Attendant/Technician Conference (June 21 and 22 in Washington, D.C.) NBAA flight attendants committee advisory board member Paula Kraft will coordinate a seminar on changing food trends in an emerging global market. Also part of the program is a food- and wine-pairing seminar with food from Rudy’s Inflight Catering’s Washington, D.C. kitchen, stemware and flatware provided by Airware of Atlanta, and wines from Tastefully Yours catering, also of Atlanta.
For more information, contact Paula Kraft at Tastefully Yours: (770) 455-7002, ty-catering.com. Contact NBAA for information on the conferences at (202) 783-9000 or www.nbaa.org. Contact EBACE chair of the European flight attendant committee Paul Milverton at firstname.lastname@example.org. For safe food handling training online, contact Jean Dible of GA Food Safety at email@example.com.