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Gate Gourmet works to get airline customers back at LAX

Gate Gourmet is reporting its kitchen at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is again operating without restrictions, but it’s not clear if it has won back all of its airline customers at America’s second busiest airport.

Last month, after Gate Gourmet found Listeria in its kitchen at LAX, several airlines including American, Delta and Virgin Australia suspended their use of the air catering service until the problem could be resolved.

Gate Gourmet insisted at the time that it found Listeria only in floor drains and that the contamination had not reached any food contact services. Until just before it told its airline customers about its Listeria problem, Gate Gourmet had maintained an “A” grade during routine inspections by the Los Angeles County Department of Health.

Los Angeles health inspected Gate Gourmet six times from mid-2015 to mid-2017, posting grades in the 90 to 100 percent range for the caterer’s LAX operation. But in its most recent inspection on Sept. 21, Gate Gourmet’s grade fell off to 82 percent, dropping its rating to a low “B.”

In that most recent inspection, Gate Gourmet LAX had two significant violations.One was for improper use of gloves and hand washing, the other for not using proper hot and cold holding temperatures for food. The facility lost additional points because multiple major critical violations increase the risk to public health.

Among its other violations included not correctly identifying and storing toxic substances; not property storing food; not keeping nonfood contact surfaces clean and in good repair; improper storage and use of equipment, utensils, and linens; inadequate lighting and ventilation; and not maintaining plumbing and backflow devices in good repair.

Local health department inspections typically do not include the collection of  environmental samples from surfaces to determine if pathogens are present in a facility unless there is an outbreak. Gate Gourmet likely found the Listeria problem later in the year through its own environmental testing.

Even as airlines were announcing they were suspending Gate Gourmet in early November, the catering kitchen claimed it was operating without restrictions and that it remained in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations.

It’s not known if Gate Gourmet LAX reported its Listeria problem to the Food and Drug Administration, either through the Los Angeles district office or the agency’s reportable incidents portal. The fact that FDA has not issued a warning letter to Gate Gourmet may mean the agency is satisfied with Gate Gourmet’s remediation.

The first public notice of the problem came at 3 a.m. on Nov. 1 when the Association of Professional Flight Attendants announced American Airlines suspended Gate Gourmet over Listeria concerns. Other airlines followed, some picking up airport cafe food to feed their international passengers.

Routine food and beverage services appear to have returned to the many international flights out of LAX, although airlines aren’t saying if they’ve resumed doing business with Gate Gourmet.

Virgin, which flies long routes across the Pacific, told Australian media it’d made “new arrangements with our onboard catering company at LAX…” Virgin says it is “satisfied with the standards of our onboard catering company.”

It remains unknown if that company is Gate Gourmet.

Among foodborne diseases, Listeria is the one that might be most problematic for airline passengers. It can take up to 70 days after exposure before the appearance of any symptoms, leaving most people with few specific memories about what might be making them sick.

Pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system are especially susceptible. Symptoms that do appear include fever, stiff neck, muscle aches, and mental confusion.

Pregnant women may experience flu-like reactions. Listeria is also well known for causing miscarriages and stillbirths.

Gate Gourmet LAX is on the edge of the airport’s runways at 6701 W. Imperial Highway. Deep-cleaning was used to eradicate Listeria on the facility’s interior.

Headquartered at Switzerland’s Zürich Airport, Gate Gourmet services airlines around the world with about 28,000 employees.

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