An FDA inspector who paid a routine visit to the food service facilities at Los Angeles International Airport in January found numerous conditions that could pose a threat to airline passengers. His findings are described in greater detail in a union report that is to be issued Wednesday, June 10.
The facilities, operated by Flying Food Group, a provider of food services for many of the world’s major airlines, have come under fire in previous years for violations in several of its kitchens. In 2011, Flying Food Group recalled food after it was found to be contaminated with listeria, which can cause fatal infections.
Among the issues identified by the inspector, machines built to maintain bacteria levels were not properly maintained; food storage areas were cluttered, inviting pests; and restrooms where employees were supposed to wash their hands were unsanitary.
Employees at the LAX facility also stated to The New York Times that they were instructed by managers to change the dates on labels indicating when the items were prepared, and to wash dishes by hand, often without detergent, when dishwashing machines commonly broke down.
Paul A. Hall, the vice president for food safety and quality at Flying Food Group, told the Times that these issues had been fixed, and disputed employees’ claims that managers rarely responded to their concerns.
“Once issues are identified, a root cause analysis is conducted and actions taken based on that analysis,” Hall wrote in an email to the publication. “If repeat problems occur, we keep looking for solutions until we find the effective one.”
A second airline catering service, LSG Sky Chefs, was also citied during inspections at Kennedy International Airport in New York, for “food-borne biological hazards,” and failing to identify potential allergens in its meals.
A spokesman for LSG told the Times that the company was in the process of meeting with the FDA to set terms of quality assurance.
The airline industry and catering facilities have maintained that these issues do not reflect the overall quality of airline meals, and that no widespread foodborne illnesses related to airline meals have been reported.
Jean Dible, an airline food safety expert, countered these assurances, suggesting that lack of reporting was due to a lack of data. “No one keeps track of this so it’s hard to know how big the problem is,” Dible said.