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The changing scenario in the airline industry over the last two years has had its impact on airline catering services too. The low cost structure and Buying on Board (BOB) model implemented by some domestic carriers further influenced the business.

ON BOARD meal services were changed to elaborate meal services to be bought on board. Competition increased and the elaborate meal service included only limited meal components, striking a direct blow on the air catering business. However, the industry is bracing a turnaround with tourism and leisure travel picking up. Improving world economy, rising airplane deliveries and the growth in passengers are factors that are identified as growth drivers for the air catering market in the coming years. To meet the growing demand for high quality service at lower prices, flight caterers will have to explore innovative ways.

No doubt, taste and quality of food make all the difference when it comes to serving on board, however, the environment in which the food is prepared ensures healthy and hygienic food. Rohit Narang, Director Commercial, Sky Gourmet, explains all in an interview with Clean India Journal:

 Cleaning & Hygiene

Cleaning and hygiene is as important to flight catering as it is to any food industry. Poor hygiene standards can lead to undesirable microbial contamination of food endangering the health of the consumer. Unlike any other catering industry, meals prepared in the flight kitchen are served to onboard passengers 35,000 feet above the ground level. Cleanliness and good food hygiene practices are essential to prepare and keep food safe and free of microbial contamination until served to the passengers.

[box type=”shadow” ] Brand ideologies, cleaning protocols, market expectations and the key to delivering to customer satisfaction is what makes an air catering business successful.
– Rohit Narang, 
Director Commercial, 
Skygourmet (India)[/box]

There are dedicated teams for washing and cleaning activities with well experienced supervisors in each  shift. Cleaning schedules are tailored to ensure timely cleaning is carried out in all areas to maintain desired standards. The production areas are thoroughly cleaned twice a day, while the food contact surfaces are cleaned and sanitized prior to use with cleaning chemicals specific for the purpose.

Raw materials like vegetables and fruits are washed and sanitized to remove soil and other contaminants prior to use. Kitchen utensils like food pans, ladles, bowls, etc., are manually cleaned in four-sink cleaning method. The airline equipment like casserole, trays, cutlery and glasses are cleaned and sanitized using state-of-the-art dishwashing machines.

Since flight catering is 24X7 it is imperative that the cleanliness and hygiene of the workplace is maintained round the clock. It is quite a challenge to keep the area in the audit mode all the time. Despite the challenges, the areas are kept tidy by running a fixed schedule or programme for cleaning.

The most common contaminants in food are microorganisms and unintended foreign objects like hair, stone or thread. They are controlled to a great extent through adherence to GMPs – staffs maintaining good personal hygiene, food handling & storage practices, FOB control procedures and food safety training.

Cold storages and deep freezers play a vital role in cold chain maintenance. Preparation starts approximately 16-18 hours before final product realization. Maintenance of the cold chain throughout the process is the key to food safety. Blast chillers are used for rapid chilling of hot food above 60oC to below 10oC. Cross contamination is controlled through robust food handling and storage procedures.

Generally, stocks are purchased to maintain inventory of 7-10 days. Fresh fruits and vegetables are received daily. Adequate walk in chillers and freezers are provided for the storage of chilled and frozen foods. Vegetables, chilled and frozen food received are immediately transferred to cold storage and deep freezers, respectively. All the items received are labelled with the date of receipt and stored in a manner to facilitate proper stock rotation and ensure FIFO (First In First Out).

[box type=”shadow” ]All food pans, utensils, equipment are made of stainless steel. All direct food contact surfaces e.g cutting boards, food storage containers, equipment and machines, packaging material are of food grade quality.[/box]

All the processes from purchasing to dispatch of food to the aircraft are in line with Gate Gourmet’s food safety standards, world food safety guidelines presented by international food service association (IFSA) & Association of European Airline (AEA) & IATA Catering Quality Assurance Programme (ICQA). Locally it is governed by FSSAI.

We have implemented our Food Safety Management System in accordance to ISO 22000:2005 & all our units are ISO 22000: 2005 (FSMS) certified by BSI.

Processes & Audits

Our dedicated quality assurance team monitors all the production processes for compliance to the food safety standards on a daily basis. We have well equipped laboratory for conducting in-house microbiological analyses. Random samples are picked up at various stages of production for microbiological analyses to confirm the meals are free of undesirable microorganisms. Regular equipment swabs, hand swabs and environment microbial count are taken to verify the cleaning and hygiene processes that are in place and effective. Unannounced food safety audits are conducted by the in-house QA team as well as by corporate team to evaluate the implementation of food safety management system. Regulatory audits are conducted by FSSAI and Airport Authority. Besides this, the airline customer conducts annual audits. These audits can be unannounced at times.

The quality team also conducts the raw material supplier audits for the selection of the supplier and confirm the compliance to the food safety standards.

Food safety training is imparted to all the employees by the quality team on joining and thereafter once a year as refresher training to be abreast with the latest industry standards. Other mandatory training and skill based training are provided for different categories either with in-house or outsourced trainers.

Preserving Freshness & Quality

USP to the freshness is rapid or blast chilling of freshly cooked food with best of the ingredients within four hours post cooking and maintaining the cold chain until the food is delivered to the aircraft. No preservatives or food additives are added in the food prepared in the flight kitchen.

Vijayalakshmi Sridhar

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