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Over the past two years, FDA inspectors have found unsanitary conditions at facilities where food is prepared for commercial airlines, suggesting that the food on these airlines may not be safe for consumption.

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…annually provides 405 million meals worldwide for more than 300 airlines. –USA Today

LSG Sky Chefs, along with catering companies Gate Gourmet and Flying Food Group, serve major airlines such as Delta, American, United, US Airways and Continental. All three companies have been cited by the FDA for food-preparation violations. These include having rodents and rodent feces in food preparation areas, failing to keep perishable foods at sufficiently cold temperatures, not cooking raw meats sufficiently to kill bacteria, and having employees who handle food with bare, unclean hands.

When FDA inspectors find such violations, they issue warning letters to the companies demanding improvements. The companies have 15 days to comply with the letters and bring their conditions up to code. According to the USA Today, SkyChefs has received 18 warning letters since 1996.

The seemingly ongoing and pervasive nature of this problem is extremely distressing. After sending enough warning letters about conditions this bad, it would make a lot more sense for the FDA to simply put these recalcitrant companies out of business. Until that happens, avoiding eating any part of an airline meal appears to be the only sensible option for airline passengers.

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