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Learn How to Serve Food Safely Aboard Aircraft

Safety is paramount in business aviation, but often professionals think of safety only in terms of operating and maintaining the equipment, while it’s also important to ensure the food served to flightcrews and passengers is safe.

“There are some basic safety rules for serving food aboard an aircraft,” said Paula Kraft, founder and co-owner of Tastefully Yours Catering, in a recent NBAA webinar on catering standards and food safety best practices. “These rules should be part of your flight department’s safety management system (SMS).”

The rules for handling food safely require common sense and a basic knowledge of the risk factors for contamination. “If certain factors – like time, temperature and moisture – are aligned, that can lead to rapid growth of bacteria in food,” said Roger Leemann, senior vice president of culinary operations for Air Chef.

Kraft and Jean Dible, president and founder of GA Food Safety Professionals and a co-presenter at the NBAA webinar, cite three main risk factors for unsafe food:

  • Time/temperature abuse
  • Poor personal hygiene and cross-contamination
  • Improper handling of potentially dangerous foods

Kraft and Dible note that at temperatures between 40 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit, food is in the “danger zone,” where the bacteria count can double every 20 minutes.

“If you’re scheduling a multi-leg flight, it’s ideal to order fresh catering at every stop,” said Leemann. “If you can’t do that and need to store several meals on the airplane, the meals that will be served later in the day need to be packed with dry ice.”

Hand washing is most essential to preventing contamination, says Dible. “In the galley,” she warns, “Your worst enemies are your hands.”

Pathogens can also be transferred from one food item, piece of kitchen equipment or surface to another, so it’s important to keep the galley clean. “If you set your food down on the cabin floor, even if it’s in the packaging, you’ll transfer everything from the floor when you put that box on the countertop,” said Kraft.

Protein, moisture and pH neutrality can be dangerous. If not cooked thoroughly, proteins such as meats and eggs can carry the bacteria E. coli and salmonella. Pathogens need moisture to live, making vegetables and produce a higher risk. Acidic foods, such as pickles, are hostile to bacteria, but foods that are relatively pH balanced, like meats and starches, can quickly become contaminated.

“These foods cannot be stored very long, particularly at room temperature,” said Leemann. “If you don’t have a thermometer, use your senses: Does the food feel cold? Does it look and smell fresh? If not, contact your caterer for a replacement and don’t take any chances.”

Food safety need not be a mystery or burden, Leemann emphasized. “Taking simple steps will make the flight safe and enjoyable for your passengers.”

Kraft recommends that flight departments incorporate the food best-practice principles of Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) into their SMS.

For More Information

Learn more about food safety and other topics at the NBAA 16th Annual Flight Attendants/Flight Technicians Conference, to be held June 16 to 18, San Diego, CA. For other references listed in this article:

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