Delta is trying to figure out how needles found their way into six sandwiches served to its passengers.
A half-dozen sewing needles have become the focus of law enforcement investigators on two continents. That’s what happens when they wind up in peoples’ food aboard airplanes over the Atlantic Ocean.
By now, you’ve heard the story. Six turkey sandwiches, served in Business Class aboard four different Delta Airlines flights from the Netherlands, had sewing needles in them.
The flights were bound for various destinations in the United States and all left Amsterdam on the same day.
Three passengers found those needles the hard way, taking a bite from their tampered sandwich. Among them were a father and son, who each found a needle in their sandwich, while flying on two different Delta flights out of Amsterdam that day.
One passenger was stabbed in the roof of his mouth. Authorities have since put him on HIV medication as a precaution.
The sandwiches came out of an Amsterdam flight kitchen belonging to Gate Gourmet, an airline catering company that provides meals for roughly 10,000 airline flights from nearly 30 countries…a day.
You can pick up more details on this incident from this National Public Radio story here.
The incident is casting a glaring light on something few of us ever really closely examine— airline food. We may love it, hate it or be utterly indifferent to it, but few of us have a clue about how it finds its way to our seat. We have no idea who’s producing this stuff, how or where.
Have you ever seen an airline chef? Neither have I. Airline catering serves hundreds of millions of people 24/7, but from the consumers’ point of view, it may be one of the world’s most invisible industries.
The companies have names like Gate Gourmet, Servair, Dnata. Together, they’re among the world’s largest employers. Gate Gourmet alone has 22,000 employees.
Their flight kitchens, located on or near the grounds of major airports, are more like factories than kitchens, each preparing thousands of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks around the clock.
That may not sound too appetizing, but it has to be that way. You can’t cook fresh on airliners.
Never mind the time constraints of trying to prepare 300 to 1,200 meals for a single flight in the cramped confines of an airplane galley. Open flame in a pressurized cabin equipped with oxygen, seven miles above the Earth?
Enter the caterers.
Several airline catering firms are owned, though not necessarily operated, by individual airlines, while others are independent contractors. All of them serve multiple airlines.
So when the flight attendant asks you “beef or chicken?” on that American Airlines flight, nobody tells you that your dinner may be coming to you courtesy of Lufthansa, the national airline of Germany.
Lufthansa owns LSG Sky Chefs, the world’s largest airline catering outfit, preparing some 500 million meals a day for American — and about 300 other airlines around the world — from 200 flight kitchens in 52 countries.
So who’s Number Two? Gate Gourmet. The needle guys. And this is not the first time there have been issues with its airline food.
Eight years ago, the Food & Drug Administration zeroed in on a Gate Gourmet flight kitchen in Honolulu after 45 travelers were exposed to carrots contaminated with Shigella bacteria.
Shigella causes dysentery, which at best is miserable and at worst can kill. But that incident was about lax food safety procedures, not a deliberate attempt to hurt somebody.
It gets better. Gate Gourmet actually belongs to a family of companies, including one called Gate Safe, which is dedicated in part to…
…wait for it…
…airline catering security.
Gate Gourmet says it’s conducting its own investigation. Delta, in turn, says it’s taking its own measure to protect the food aboard its aircraft. Dutch authorities and the FBI are already on the case.
Everybody…and I do mean everybody… is taking this one seriously. Believe me, this one’s going to get interesting.
Edited by P.A.Rice
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