Sizzling Airplane Food in Phoenix

Sizzling Airplane Food in Phoenix

Unsafe temperatures in the transport of airline food are even more reasons to dislike it.

During the summer months, the temperature on the tarmac of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is often well above 100 degrees. As food is transported from catering facilities to airplanes, it may reach unsafe temperatures. LSG Sky Chefs’ management and the union representing the catering company’s workers offer different perspectives on the issue and, in the absence of recent FDA inspections, it is difficult to determine whether passengers are actually at risk of food poisoning.


Video Spotlight: Grave Concerns About Airline Food Safety


This post is based on the NBC News article, Airline Catering Workers in Phoenix Say Food Is Getting Too Hot on the Tarmac, by A. Kaplan, L. Bomnin, and V. Nguyen, December 28, 2019, and the YouTube video, Is Airline Food Safe to Eat? What You Need to Knowby NBC News/TODAY, December 27, 2019. Image source: Kasto/123RF.

Discussion Questions:

1. What factors contribute to potentially unsafe temperatures before the food is loaded on a plane?

Guidance: Temperatures in the air and on the tarmac are very high during the summer months. According to some workers, the delivery trucks are not always temperature-controlled. The time to transport the food from the catering facilities to the airplanes can be several hours. As a result, the dry ice used to control food temperature during transit may evaporate before delivery.

2. What are potential solutions to this problem?

Guidance: Some standards should be set regarding delivery times and transportation equipment. The delivery time should not exceed a certain threshold. All trolley carts should be designed so that they are easy to pack with dry ice on top and around the sides of the carts. Vehicles should be air-conditioned, and the cargo area should have specific, temperature control settings. Workers should perform inspections, and the temperature measurements should be recorded systematically.

3. Management of the catering companies and airlines countered the workers’ claims of safety issues. Would an FDA inspection be enough to determine whether concerns are warranted?

Guidance: FDA inspections are sporadic. Depending on its scope and timing, a single inspection may be insufficient to yield conclusive results. However, failure costs could be extremely high. Therefore, catering companies probably take seriously the risks of failing FDA inspections repeatedly or of making large numbers of passengers sick. With so few airlines dominating the market, the loss of a customer would be financially disastrous for a catering company. If catering companies are not already following strict statistical process control protocols, they should do so quickly before safety lapses put them out of business.

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