July 30, 2012

Needles found in turkey sandwiches on recent commercial airline flights highlight the need for safety checks when it comes to catering on all flights, including general aviation.

What did you have for lunch today? Where did it come from? Who made it? What are their qualifications? Was anyone else nearby when this food was cooked? These are questions catering consultant Paula Kraft believes should be asked of every meal served on every business flight.

“Commercial aviation caterers have stringent regulations that cover food preparation, handling and safety,” said Kraft, founder and managing partner of Atlanta-based Aviation Catering Consultants. By contrast, general aviation operators have no regulatory standards to comply with in this area, she added, which makes it essential for business aviation flight attendants and pilots to undergo the proper safety training to mitigate the risks associated with food preparation.

Kraft said it is incumbent on upon both operators and FBOs to keep close watch on the companies that prepare in-flight meals and snacks. Properly trained corporate flight attendants directly interact with both the passenger and the caterer, so they are in the best position to ensure that the food ordered is, in fact, the food received.

“Everyone assumes somebody else has checked this person out. Nobody knows. Everyone assumed for the last 35 years that I had business license, insurance, health and security training. Nobody ever checked. They just assumed I did it. No one ever checked. We offered. ‘Would you like to see our food safety training? Want to see our driver training? Hiring screening?’ Nobody ever checks. They just assume,” she said.

Those are assumptions Kraft warned can get FBO and flight operators in trouble.

“You need to know that the food source (whether it’s an aviation caterer or a restaurant operator) has done background screening on their employees. They also need to be fingerprinted. My catering company does credit checks. You need to know if they have a safety management system for food handling and security,” Kraft cautioned.

While it is imperative for flight operators and FBOs to know where the food they serve comes from and what has been done to make it safe and secure, Kraft said it is just as important to maintain a secure communications environment when ordering catering for crew and passengers.

“If you tell a catering source who is on board a particular flight, they can tell their friends who tell their friends and so forth. You end up with people who know who’s on board and when and where they’re going. That can compromise security in all phases of flight,” explained Kraft.

Instead of naming names when ordering catering service for a business trip, Kraft suggested operators keep as much information to themselves as possible. She suggested ordering meals without identifying passengers and without differentiating between crew meals and passenger meals.

“Don’t tell me who food is for or where it’s going. Give me orders for persons one, two or three. I don’t need to know who is crew and who is a passenger. I just don’t need as much information as people want to share for better food or quality. If they pick me to do the catering, they know I do a good job no matter who it’s for. It wouldn’t matter if it were for a king, queen, president of a country or a CEO,” said Kraft.

Keep a file on available caterers for each market in which you operate, Kraft suggested. Include in that file a copy of the caterer’s business license, latest health inspection, food handling permits, insurance documentation and whatever else you believe is necessary to fully ensure a forensic trail in the event something does go wrong with the catering.

“That’s the only way you’ll be able to make sure that the company you’re doing business with is serious about the way they do business,” she said.