Why do we all need training relating to catering at some level? In a word . . . to reduce the incidence of a food borne illness or allergic reaction which would affect our flight crews and passengers.
Simple right? But realistically, it will save the flight department, the charter operator, and the FBOs serious money. First it will reduce the number of sick days taken by your staff, thus reducing additional costs for someone to cover the shift of that person; it will reduce your overall company insurance claims and medical expenses. It will improve efficiency within the company because your normal work rhythm isn’t interrupted by having to double check if something was completed, planned, organized, or done by a “fill-in” staff member.
We all need training so we can be aware of and identify a potential problem before it occurs. Imagine being proactive rather than reactive. Isn’t flight training based on that principle? And what about emergency egress training?
What about the proper method of using a defibrillator and giving an epinephrine injection. Without catering training why would you question when and how the food was loaded to the aircraft; why would you care whether the food was slightly warm, or what difference it makes regarding how your aircraft dishes were cleaned and by whom. We all need SOPs when it comes to food at any stage of its flow from the farm to the dinner table. When there are SOPs, it is a proven fact that the staff takes more pride in their work, and there is definitely less waste and less food contamination which requires it to be discarded (again a money saving). And why wouldn’t you want those you fly and serve to have a greater comfort level in the safety of the food they are consuming. After all, they assume the food and water are not going to give them severe abdominal cramping, nausea, diarrhea, headaches, or cause them to vomit or become hospitalized. What does it cost a company to delay a mission on the road because of a sick crew member or VIP passenger, or to have to send in a relief crew?
Training doesn’t have to be days of time spent to study and test, how about one day? What is that in the grand scheme of things? Is that amount of time unrealistic? That one day, could prevent so many problems down the line. So what should this training include and why and for whom?
Let’s start with the scheduler, the FBO Customer Service representative who takes and places a catering order. How do they play a key role in the safe handling of food . . . after all, they are not touching the food, reheating the food, or delivering the food? But they are the one ordering the food. They assume that if someone on the other end of the phone picks up, that someone within their company has said they are a safe and secure provider, but, did anyone go to see the facility, audit the facility, ask for insurance documents, ask to see if anyone in their facility had food safety training or do they assume that because they have a menu and a nice smile that they really know what they are doing?? They assume that the food source understands the unique aspects of general aviation, understands the specific packaging needs and more importantly the why it needs to be prepared and packaged in a certain way? They assume if it is hot enough outside to fry an egg on the tarmac, the food source will take precautions to keep the food chilled, but are they? What are in the schedulers and the CSR Standard Operating Procedures for receiving and storing food until loaded to the aircraft? Do they also assume the food is OK? What about the flight crew member who asks the scheduler or CSR from whom to order catering? They assume if you are passing along a company name and phone number that they are qualified to safely do the job.
Now as we look at the flow of food, does the food source have standard operating procedures to make sure that the food isn’t harmed during the packaging and delivery? You assume that I, as your food source, package so that juices and liquids don’t leak, that seals are tight, that packaging will hold up to the pressurization of the cabin and won’t explode. Something as simple as how full to fill a container so the pressure won’t cause the lid to burst and send the contents all over the flooring, the headliner, and the cabinets which will cost the aircraft owner a great deal of clean-up expense and, yes, aircraft down time. Do you assume that the packaging will keep that fish juice from running off that magnificent seafood tray all over the galley, and assume it wouldn’t create a foul smell that soaks into the leather, the carpet and the cracks and crevices of the galley? Whose job is it to request proper packaging for an aircraft? Are you assuming that just because you order food, that it is the food source’s SOP to package it correctly for an aircraft? Do you assume you don’t need to specify the packaging each and every time you order? Do you assume, that I as your food source am going to take the initiative to add ice packs to your seafood trays and fruit trays when the weather and conditions require it? I would hope so, but, probably not . . .
Now let’s assume that food is received at the hanger or FBO and it is nice and warm. It came from a cook serve environment rather than a cook chill kitchen (remember my discussion earlier on cook chill vs. cook serve?)You assume because it came from a place that regularly prepares food that you don’t need to worry about the food. Are you assuming that you can pop this food into refrigeration and that will be the end of it? Do you assume that a staff member, whether a CSR or line service, knows to check the food temperature when it is delivered? And even further, do you assume they know what a good delivery temperature should be? Do you assume that it is being stored in a safe secure location? You assume that warm food, which is now swimming in unwanted bacteria, will be just fine because you will be reheating it in an aircraft oven to warm it up a bit before eating. And you further assume that the person reheating the food does an internal temperature check of the food with a thermometer and not just a check by inserting their finger into the food to see if it burns their finger. You assume that because the equipment where your catering is being held (whether a delivery vehicle, the FBO or hanger, or on board the aircraft) is not only the right temperature but that cross contamination is being prevented, and that the unit is being cleaned and serviced on a regular basis. You as a crew member assume that everything is all right and that all you need to do is call for your catering when ready. What about the locations that load the catering directly to the aircraft . . . Do you assume that it will hold just fine, that it will be safe to eat in an hour or two? Do you assume that the person who handled the food before it arrived at the aircraft had some sort of training? If you are the flight attendant or the person handling the food in the back of the aircraft, does the passenger assume you are trained in the proper techniques of storage, reheating and cleaning of food and surfaces so they don’t get sick.
As an aviation professional (and I like to think we hold ourselves to that “Professional” level), where do assumptions fit in our industry? Do you assume your fuel load? Your route? That maintenance was performed on that landing gear? Do you assume when traveling internationally that everyone on board has their passports and documents? Do you even assume that everyone’s favorite beverages are on board the aircraft? Then why may I ask, why do you assume the food and water was handled in a safe manner?
Most people assume that because we eat every day , the sustanance we consume is going to be safe. After all, the food is being handled by a trained person – right?