Has the FDA Inspected the Aircraft on Which You Are a Passenger?

Did you know that the Food and Drug Administration — an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services of the United States tasked with protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety, amongst other responsibilities — has jurisdiction over certain aspects of the inspection, compliance, certification, enforcement and criminal investigations over interstate carriers and their support facilities?

Interstate carriers includes commercial airlines — and their past history with the Food and Drug Administration is open for all to see with a simple search.

I never really thought about it until I found this posted on FlyerTalk while I was doing research for this article pertaining to the end of the longest flight in the world — and apparently there are some FlyerTalk members who did not know about the role the Food and Drug Administration plays in commercial aviation.

Usually — when thinking about the Food and Drug Administration — one thinks of the approval of pharmaceuticals or the inspection of food processing facilities.

In this particular example, Delta Air Lines was warned by the Food and Drug Administration two years ago pertaining to the findings of “rodent excreta pellets” and “mammalian urine” in several different areas — including areas where food is prepared — aboard an airplane as the result of an inspection and laboratory tests.

A search reveals that the operations of United Airlines located at the watering point of the international terminal at San Francisco International Airport were in “serious violation of the federal regulations for interstate conveyance sanitation of the Public Health Service Act” for “lack of proper protection of the potable water supply” back in 2000.

In 1998, American Airlines was warned against “significantly unsanitary conditions” from the results of an inspection of the aircraft support operation which provides lavatory and potable water service for its flights.

Airplanes are not the only places where problems can be found as the result of an inspection, as inspectors of the Food and Drug Administration three years ago cited numerous catering facilities which prepare airline food for suspected health and sanitation violations following inspections of their kitchens in 2009 and 2010 — leading to the conclusion that many meals served to passengers on commercial airlines were prepared in unsanitary and unsafe conditions that could lead to illness.

A caterer which prepares an average of 35,000 meals for commercial airlines in Denver was cited by the Food and Drug Administration in 2009 for the findings of roaches and bacteria.

In Chicago, a storage facility operated by Gate Gourmet — a supplier of passenger meals to commercial airlines — was shut down in 2005 after city inspectors found it infested with rodents with greater than a thousand rat droppings throughout the premises. Those findings apparently led the Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning two months later to Gate Gourmet that it had 30 days to clean up “serious food handling violations” at its facility in Honolulu, where live cockroaches, dirty utensils and an oozing pink slime were found as the result of an inspection.

Regardless of these results — which can admittedly render one queasy — I do not have a problem eating food aboard an airplane during a flight. My initial search of the records of the Food and Drug Administration reveals that the violations committed by commercial airlines are few and far between — and I have no doubt that once a commercial airline receives a violation letter, it resolves the issue as quickly as possible…

…and before FlyerTalk members start posting about restaurants and catering halls in the Comments section below, I used to be a wedding photographer as a side job for extra money years ago — and you do not want to know what I saw in some of those kitchens. What the Food and Drug Administration found with regards to commercial airlines pales in comparison.

However, it is nice to know that the Food and Drug Administration is performing what seems to be a diligent job in keeping commercial airlines “on their toes” with regards to the safety of you and I — and without being screened!

Then again — this is the same Food and Drug Administration whose commissioner in 2010 reassured lawmakers that radiation from the new full-body security scanners installed at airports across the United States is “not a cause for concern.”

Hmm…perhaps the food served aboard airplanes should be screened, as the radiation would probably kill off whatever dangers would be lurking in it…

…or perhaps commercial airlines are doing passengers seated in the economy class cabin a favor by not serving them meals?

What are your thoughts about the safety of the meals you eat aboard the aircraft during a flight, as well as the cleanliness of the airplanes and the facilities of commercial airlines? Do you have any stories or experiences to share?

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