Aircraft Food galleys are a major destination
for uninvited passengers. Various
pathogens lurk in crevices and other damp
surfaces in the food galley area. Even if
catered food arrives safely aboard an
aircraft, it may not remain safe for long.
Many food safety procedures are skimmed over
lightly in an aircraft food galley; these
omissions contribute to the contamination of
food, water or other types of beverages.
Passengers and crew can become ill because of
neglect by the food handler in the aircraft,
which could be a
pilot, Co-Pilot, Flight
Attendant, or anyone who handles the food.
Dirty hands, dirty fingernails, contaminated
clothing, uncontained hair, cutting boards,
cloths, or sponges, and contaminated equipment
are just a few of the culprits that can cause
a foodborne outbreak aboard an aircraft.
There are so many ways that food can become
unsafe in an aircraft, but in this condensed
article, I will discuss only a few, a good
start for understanding the danger in food
handling in an aircraft galley.
As much as 200 percent more bacteria are found
on an average cutting board in home kitchens,
or food galleys in an aircraft than on a
toilet seat. Cutting boards are dangerous
areas for pathogen growth, and wooden cutting
boards should never be used. Always clean and
sanitize an acrylic cutting board between
uses, and any surface, such as the
refrigerator or microwave, which is exposed to
food. Never use the same cutting board
in an aircraft for ready-to-eat-food, if that
cutting board was used to cut raw vegetables
or meats. An aircraft food galley should have
several cutting boards, and the boards must be
cleaned and sanitized after each use.
Regardless of what type of wipes or sponge a
food handler uses in a food galley, bacterium
is spread with each swipe of an infected
sponge or cloth.
Get rid of all sponges!
Sponges are a breeding ground for
all types of pathogens in any type of kitchen,
and bacterium in sponges is extremely hard to
kill. Forget the usual method of using
microwaves and washing machines with bleach to
try to destroy bacteria in sponges. These
methods are far from foolproof.
The food handler must remain mindful of the
fact that any other type of disposable cloth
or wipe used in a food galley area becomes
contaminated very quickly. Being mindful of
that fact, the safest policy in a food galley
is to use disposable wipes and discard them
after each use.
Remember, cleansing wipes only clean the
surface, but do not sanitize. In order to
clean and sanitize (kill the pathogens),
you will have to use two different types of
wipes. For sanitizing a surface, a Quats based
chemical (Quaternary Ammonium) in a wipe will
not have to be rinsed off after the
sanitizing process. Quats based sanitizing
wipes can be purchased through BE Princess
Aviation Supply @800-489-0609. Alcohol-based
sanitizers have to be rinsed off after the
surface has dried. Bacteria and other
pathogens thrive on anything that is touched
while preparing food. This includes other
appliances, counters, faucet handles, coolers,
oven doors, cabinets, etc. Please do not
forget to clean and sanitize these areas as
often as possible.
Any type of cloth or dry kitchen towel used in
a food galley, for any reason, presents a
danger to food safety. Too often, food
handlers tend to use towels for wiping
surfaces, as well as for potholders for hot
foods coming out of an oven, or for holding
the handles of hot pots.
Using a kitchen towel as a potholder for
pulling hot food out of an oven is an accident
waiting to happen. A dry kitchen towel can
catch fire if it brushes against the hot oven
coils, resulting in burned fingers. In
addition, most dry kitchen towels are very
thin, and hands are easily burned on the
searing pans through the thin towels. Kitchen
towels can also scorch themselves, especially
if they are frayed or have holes in them.
Using a damp towel on a hot pan usually
produces steam, which can cause a nasty steam
burn on the fingers and palms.
Reaching into an aircraft oven with bare arms
can also cause burns from the wrist up to the
elbow, through contact with hot racks, oven
doors and pans.
To forestall being burned in an aircraft food
galley, always have an inventory of hot pads,
oven mitts, and pan handles made with
fireproof materials. These items should be in
your “bag of tricks’ that always travels with
If you should be burned in the food galley,
apply ice or cold water immediately. After the
cold treatment, apply a medicated salve or
aloe on the burnt skin to soothe and help the
healing process. Cover burns with clean
bandages, rubber gloves or clothing before
working with or around food. If the burn is on
the fingers, cover the finger with a bandage,
a finger cot, and last of all, a rubber
glove. When not working with or around food,
expose burns to the air to help the healing
process. Once burns have become infected on
the hands or arms, the chances of
contamination to the food of the passengers or
crew is very likely.
Fingernails are another major problem for
anyone who handles food in any kitchen or food
galley. Any length of fingernails will harbor
bacteria, and acrylic fake nails are
comparable to a cesspool for breeding
bacteria. In Georgia and many other states
throughout the United States, a law enforced
by County Environmental Health Departments for
commercial kitchens on the ground states, “fingernails
must be no longer than the tips of the
fingers, unless a glove is worn when preparing
Another Environmental Health Department code
throughout the United States is; “There should
be no bare hand contact with
ready-to-eat-foods.” This means that
anyone handling food that will be going
directly into a person’s mouth has to have on
rubber or latex gloves. WHY?
The bacteria normally found on your skin,
called resident bacteria, spend their
lives in the small folds of the skin on your
hands and body, on hair or under fingernails.
These resident bacteria on the skin of normal,
healthy people are usually not harmful, but
they are always there, and cannot be removed
On the other hand, other pathogens, called
transient bacteria, are transferred to
your skin in many different ways. You can pick
up transient bacteria by touching a
telephone, handling money, preparing food, or
touching anything on a hard or soft surface.
Bacterium is all around us in our
environments. You can remove many of the
transient bacteria, but not all, by
washing your hands with hot water and lots of
soap, which includes scrubbing your
fingernails. Since bacteria is microscopic, we
have to assume that it is always on our hands,
even thought we can not see it.
In conclusion, concerning the hands, it is
very important to always have a box of rubber
or latex gloves in any aircraft galley.
Wearing gloves, while preparing food for
passengers and crew, can help to cut down on
cross contamination of the food being handled
and prepared, and might just prevent a
foodborne outbreak aboard the aircraft.
Pathogens are just as real and alive as you
are. They eat and grow. They reproduce and
die. We just cannot see them!
Dible is president and founder of
GA Food Safety
Professionals, a mobile food & alcohol safety training school in
Atlanta, GA. Jean is a contributing writer to the
Corporate Flight Attendant Community
website; her Your Food Safety Connection column appears here on a