The food served on the major airlines these days is much better than it was five or ten years ago. But it’s still food served onboard a plane and it must be prepped in advance, in mass (here’s an interesting write-up on Gate Gourmet, the world’s largest independent airline caterer). Food is often cooked only part of the way and then frozen or kept cool so that it can be finished in the air at a later time. Special meals, which can be ordered in advance if you have a dietary restriction, for example, are generally frozen for longer. Well, here’s something that might surprise you: Your airplane food, particularly when it’s a special meal ordered in advance, may have been prepared more than a year before it’s served to you—and if you’re flying a major U.S. carrier, that won’t be a big deal.
Case in point: At the beginning of this month, an American Airlines passenger flying in Main Cabin Extra economy from Dallas to London reported being served a vegan red curry dish stamped with a manufacture date 16-months past. He’s a vegetarian and he had ordered the dish in advance as a special meal. My buddy Gary Leff then wrote a follow-up post for which he asked AA for comment. Here’s what Gary wrote about that: “American didn’t tell me this was a misprint or even a catering mistake. Instead they told me this is acceptable (that it’s within industry norm) but that they’re working with catering vendors to provide meals that were made within 40-60 days.”
Gary then checked in with United and Delta, writing that, “American isn’t wrong about being within an industry norm. Apparently United will serve meals up to 6 months, Delta 12 months, and American 18 months. There’s nothing premium about 6 or 12 month old frozen food, though.” He’s right about that last part.
You can generally assume that airline food is safe to eat (especially on U.S. carriers), but 16 months? No thanks. I suggest looking for a manufacture date on packaged airline food, and if you’re thinking of ordering a special meal bringing your own snacks to eat just in case.
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