Food poisoning is often a concern among airplane passengers indulging in an in-flight meal service. Common symptoms of food poisoning include nausea and vomiting, neither of which a passenger wants to experience while being confined in tight quarters nor in the days and weeks following travel.
How valid is this fear?
Food served on an airplane is handled differently and has fewer regulations due to the constraints of space, time, and oversight. The FDA typically inspects airline caterers only every three to five years and inspects airplanes whenever it is convenient. Although it is entirely possible for the food to be contaminated from the source, studies have shown that bacteria is most likely to develop from improper storage or handling on board. Flight attendants prioritize time efficiency to serve hundreds of passengers which creates an environment where food safety may not be the prime concern. Bacteria are more likely to spread when there is a general lack of sanitation and preparation areas including a limited availability of hot water and hand washing facilities. The standard design of bathroom sinks on board airplanes typically requires one hand to constantly depress the faucet, thus promoting the spread of bacteria. A lack of sanitation space is a growing concern as newer airplanes are being reconfigured to create more seats per aircraft.
Which foods are most susceptible?
Passengers that are especially concerned with contracting a foodborne illness on board can avoid certain foods that are more susceptible to developing bacteria and pathogens on board. In the past forty years, the largest recorded outbreaks have been traced to seafood salads, raw carrots, eggs, steaks, and fruit juices. Some of the safer options on board include soups and curries that are heated to high temperatures which can kill any bacteria the food may have developed. Another option for those that are more cautious are fruits and vegetables that come with the peel on such as an orange or a banana.
In addition to airplane food, inspections have shown that coffee pots and tea kettles are often refilled without being properly cleaned which creates the perfect environment for pathogens to develop. In general, it is recommended to only drink water on a plane if it comes from a bottle. If the water tanks on board are not properly cleaned, bacteria like Salmonella can survive in water for months on end.
What do Food Safety Experts do? Such as Food Poisoning Lawyers?
One national food poisoning lawyer, Dr. Anthony Coveny, had this to say: “In my experience, food on airplanes is like food from any other restaurant. The key is in the staffs’ dedication to personal hygiene and proper food handling. I have found that the biggest concern is the spread of Norovirus, or the simple stomach virus, that comes when many people are mixed in tight spaces. One sick person who fails t wash their hands can contaminate multiple surfaces ad spread the highly contagious virus. Always wash your hands, use hand-sanitizer, and try not to tough multiple surfaces and handle your food with your hands. “
For long-haul flights, bringing snacks from home may not provide the best sustenance, but it may result in a healthier vacation or homecoming.