There may be more than just a money reason to skip those expensive airline meals. According to an analysis of inspections by USA Today, “Many meals served to passengers on major airlines are prepared in unsanitary and unsafe conditions that could lead to illness.”
Here’s some of what the newspaper found:
Six months ago, Food and Drug Administration inspectors say, they found live roaches and dead roach carcasses "too numerous to count" inside the Denver facility of the world's largest airline caterer, LSG Sky Chefs.
They also reported finding ants, flies and debris, and employees handling food with bare hands. Samples from a kitchen floor tested positive for Listeria, a bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. It's also dangerous to pregnant women.
LSG Sky Chefs, which annually provides 405 million meals worldwide for more than 300 airlines, says conditions at the Denver plant didn't meet company standards. It took immediate measures to remedy the problems, says spokeswoman Beth Van Duyne.
As of Friday, the FDA's regional offices had sent reports for 46 facilities. At 27 of them, FDA inspectors noticed suspected food-preparation violations or objectionable practices. Among them:
•An FDA inspector spotted a mouse, rodent nesting materials and rodent feces under a pallet of food and in other areas at LSG Sky Chefs' Minneapolis facility during a May 2009 inspection.
•The Dulles, Va., facility of Gate Gourmet, the second-largest caterer in the USA, failed to keep shrimp, filet mignon, Chilean sea bass, chicken and vegetables, and pastrami and cheese sandwiches at the proper temperature during an inspection in August. When an inspector mentioned the unsafe practice to company personnel, the shrimp and the pastrami and cheese sandwiches were not thrown in the garbage.
Employees with "unclean hands" were handling food. A lab report found a "high coliform count" in rice.
•At Gate Gourmet's San Diego facility in November, the director of operations said the company would cook any food to an airline's specification without regard to food safety guidelines, an FDA inspector wrote. He also wrote that a Gate Gourmet official said the company doesn't verify if food is from approved sources or frozen for "parasite destruction." Raw meats aren't cooked to adequate temperatures — a repeat violation that was also cited in 2008.
•A Los Angeles facility of Flying Food Group had a corroded and taped ice-machine door that failed to "hold ingredients in bulk or in suitable containers to protect against contamination," an inspector wrote in an April report.
You can check to see if the airline you’re flying has ever been issued a warning letter here.
Or go here to browse warning letters by subject matter.