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Coffee, Tea, or Diarrhea? How to Handle Food on Flights

Opinion

(This article by Sydney Ross Singer was originally posted on his blog May 1, 2015, and is reposted here with his permission.)

Airplane food has been under scrutiny for food safety breaches. But even the best prepared food can become a vector of disease when it is consumed using contaminated hands. Airline travel exposes people to extremely germ-infested conditions, making the inflight meal one of the most hazardous aspects of flying.

Besides the exposure in airports to international germs, the aircraft itself is a reservoir of bacteria and viruses. Thousands of people touch armrests and headrests, especially the reclining button. But the most infectious surface is the food tray, which people open and close with dirty hands, sneeze on, eat on, and talk over.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-airplane-cabin-interior-passengers-entertainment-food-movie-image47528040Then there’s the bathroom. You certainly wouldn’t want to go there to wash up before eating. You’d probably come back with more germs than before you washed.

This environment is ripe for foodborne illness. Even if the food is fine, eating becomes an infectious process. What can a fearful flyer do? Here are some suggestions.

The airline can provide disposable hand wipes with each meal. There should be two, one for before you eat and one for afterward. But unless the wipe is bactericidal, don’t expect this to remove more than the visible dirt.

Wear gloves in the airport and throughout the flight and remove the gloves only to eat. Wear a separate pair of gloves if you need to use the restroom. Dermatological cotton gloves are comfortable, disposable, and available in drugstores.

Bring your own food and drink, including cups. Flight attendants routinely handle the rims of cups as they serve beverages, and they touch everything on the plane. They also have one of the highest illness rates of any profession.

To completely avoid the issue of getting sick from eating on a plane, try not eating. This also is a good idea since eating when flying can create uncomfortable intestinal gas and make you need to use the restroom, which is something you want to avoid if possible. But bring your own bottled water to keep from dehydrating, either by buying it, or by bringing an empty water bottle and filling it up, once you’re past the security checkpoints.

The best food safety practices can be undone by eating with dirty hands. Hand hygiene, especially in public areas such as airplanes, is key to avoiding infectious disease.

© Food Safety News
  • Anne

    Water served in pitchers from the airplane’s bulk source — ALWAYS AVOID IT. The worst GI infection I ever had struck about 10 hours after drinking it. A woman who sat near me on the plane also developed the same condition from my their ice.

  • Ron Butler

    What brand filter mask do you recommend?

    • sydsinger

      I use vogmask. It has a carbon filter.

  • sydsinger

    Can you recommend a lightweight one? 🙂

  • sydsinger
  • Kitsy WooWoo

    Like I need yet more reasons to avoid airplanes? Maybe traveling ain’t what it’s cracked up to be, after all. 😉

  • Andy

    this seems a bit over the top, but are there statistics on illnesses from flying? Anything specifically on illnesses from airplane food?

    • William Lynn Harris Jr.

      i saw stats saying 10 million a year

  • LogicPolice

    Don’t eat if you can’t wash your hands and avoid rubbing your eyes or mouth. Wash up when you land. If you think you are going to dehydrate on even the longest domestic flight…..you have been partying too much.