Aug. 13, 2015
Ask aircraft operators what they emphasize most in their day-to-day operations, and one answer will emerge: safety. Ask catering experts the same question about international food supply, and their answers will likely be similar: safety and security.
Below are five issues to consider in international catering:
Food safety protocol should be always be paramount. “Although all countries have food safety regulations and standards, they vary in strictness and enforcement,” said Paula Kraft, founder of Tastefully Yours.
The EU is more stringent than the U.S. in many areas, but the rest of the world offers varying levels of comfort for visitors hoping for a locally enforced safety net.
John Detloff, vice president, Flight Attendant Services at Air Culinaire Worldwide, said operators need to be more vigilant. “It is crucial to use a reputable caterer to make sure food is properly prepared, package, and transported to their aircraft,” he said. “It is also crucial for flight crew members be trained in how to properly store the food.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. is entering a new era in food safety. The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2012 will bring a much higher level of scrutiny to every aspect of food service. Among the new requirements are extensive recordkeeping and specific standards for transporting food.
Many catering experts consider security precautions on par with food safety.
“Regardless of where one purchases food for an aircraft, strangers will be preparing, handling and delivering the food,” said Jean Dible, founder of GA Food Safety Professionals and online food safety course author. “It is essential to give an international catering company the least amount of information to get the safest food delivered.”
In a perfect world, that would mean avoiding use of credit cards or email addresses that give indications of where the order is coming from, using generic order forms and order numbers, not aircraft tail numbers, to track orders and using pseudonyms when names are needed, such as for special-request meals.
But in many cases, reality makes such precautions difficult. Repeat visits to the same places mean setting up accounts with the food providers, which often means putting credit cards on file. Accepting a food delivery at a busy airport usually requires providing aircraft information to get the delivery through security and ensure the food is heading to the right aircraft.
The key to minimizing risk is preparation, experts said.
Even the best precautions to ensure food safety can be undone by one ingredient that finds its way into every meal: water.
The threats go beyond just drinking water. Food that gets rinsed can pick up harmful bacteria. This means food with thick peels, like oranges or bananas, is often safe, but produce like berries or greens present much higher risks, Kraft noted. Absent a very high confidence level in the catering provider, strong consideration should be given to avoiding such foods.
Aviation English may be the industry’s international language for operations, but not so for the catering business. “There are still many miscommunications, especially in culinary, food, allergy and safety terminology,” Kraft said.
“An example of this is if you order a steak, give specific weight in metrics that you are requiring, so your passenger won’t be wondering why the portions are so small,” Detloff said.
Variables from holiday schedules to generally accepted practices in the international destination can affect food-sourcing options.
“Pork products, alcohol and other items may be hard to source in some parts of the Middle East, or beef in India,” Detloff said. “Remote locations, such as small islands, may not source everything you need and many international caterers require at least 24 hours notice, so it’s always good to know how far in advance you need to place orders.”