The next time you’re served a meal on an airplane, you might want to reach for your barf bag instead.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning letter to Gate Gourmet, a major airline catering company over the unhealthy state of one of its catering facilities.
“These conditions cause the food products held at your facility to be adulterated... because they were prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth or rendered injurious to health,” says the March 29 letter.
The FDA downgraded the facility from “Approved” to “Provisional” following what it labeled as numerous infractions of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice and other public health regulations.
The facility can continue to operate but must make “significant corrections” or else risk being shut down entirely.
The violations were discovered during inspections on November 29 and December 1.
Among the violations cited by the FDA:
- Cockroach activity found throughout the facility, including in ovens, sinks, stoves in the hot productions kitchen. In one particularly stomach-churning observation, the letter states that dead roaches were “too numerous to count.”
- Heavy buildup of grease, food deposits, and “general filth” found on cooking equipment including grills, fryers, ovens, and stoves.
- Filthy floors soiled with old food residue and, in some cases, standing water.
- Cutting boards and other tools covered with food residue.
The good news is that the peanuts and pretzels are probably fine.
Gate Gourmet apparently failed to provide sufficient evidence to the FDA that the facility had made improvements in the time after the November inspection.
The FDA letter does note a response from Gate Gourmet in which the company lists improvements to the facility. However, the FDA says the response lacks specific evidence, such as photographs, to verify these claims.
Gary C. Reeves, the general manager of the Gate Gourmet facility in Kentucky named in the warning letter, did not respond to Healthline’s requests for comment on this story.
Gate Gourmet was given 30 days to make improvements following the issuing of the FDA letter in late March.
A spokesperson from the FDA told Healthline that there haven’t been any further developments, pending another inspection of the facility.
Last month’s developments are the latest in a string of headlines related to airline food, and Gate Gourmet in particular.
As far back as 2010, there have been reports of everything from roaches, flies, and ants to rodents infesting airline catering facilities.
In November 2017, American Airlines suspended food service on flights out of Los Angeles due to the discovery of listeria in a catering facility.
The company: Gate Gourmet.
“We weren’t satisfied with the cleanup efforts and decided to suspend food service out of the facility out of an abundance of caution,” an American Airlines spokesman told Business Insider.
Check the water
Food isn’t the only issue onboard airlines either. Lower water-quality standards on planes make it smart to order bottled.
“I won’t drink the tap water,” a major airline employee of 20 years told Time last year, speaking anonymously. “I just don’t always trust the cleanliness of the aircraft and the testing of it.”
A study from 2015 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health concluded that “aircraft water supply tanks are conducive for microbial growth.”
More dangerous microorganisms such as E. coli were not discovered, but the authors warned that the bacteria discovered in aircraft water tanks has the potential to cause illness for travelers.
Prior to that, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study from 2004 found that in water sampled from 300 planes, 15 percent of the samples tested positive for coliform bacteria, which are commonly found in feces.
In 2009, the EPA issued the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule. This required airplanes to provide “safe and reliable drinking water” to passengers and crew.
Among other rules, the law mandated, “routine disinfection and ﬂushing of the water system [and] periodic sampling of the onboard drinking water.”
Despite the new regulations, water quality on airlines is still a concern.
A report in 2013 found that a “high percentage” — roughly 12 percent — of commercial airplanes in the United States had at least one form of coliform bacteria.