HOW TO: Do-It-Yourself In-Flight Catering in Remote Locations (Part 2 of 2)
This business aviation blog post is the second part of a two-part series. You can read part one here.
When in-flight catering is not available at particular locations, there are alternatives to self-catering from local restaurants or hotels. Double-provisioning on an outbound leg and strategic use of onboard shelf-stable food products are a couple of options to consider when quality and/or safety of local restaurant product is unknown.
1. Consider alternatives to do-it-yourself catering
When visiting remote locations, a primary goal is minimizing food safety risks for passengers and crew. Consider double-provisioning catering from the departure point of your previous leg, as food items may be safely maintained with dry ice up to 24 hours. Or, when departing a remote location, you may want to wait until the next tech stop, where known in-flight catering can be obtained. Always have a back-up plan and carry onboard non-perishable supplies such as instant rice, cans of soup or stew, and protein bars in case of a catering malfunction at some location. Best practice is to always check with the ground handler at your intended destination to ensure that airport authorities will permit certain non-perishable items to remain onboard the aircraft.
2. Food safety is always the #1 consideration
Bacterial growth is best controlled by keeping foods below 40 degrees F. or above 145 degrees F. until ready to consume. Bacterial growth is a function of temperature, pH/acidity, and moisture content. Protein dishes can be a particular risk for bacterial growth. Items with higher levels of acidity are less prone to bacterial growth. For example, marinara sauce can be safely refrigerated for up to four days due to the inherent acidity. Pre-packaged, shelf-stable items like crackers or instant noodles pose no danger of bacteria growth as there’s no moisture. Items such as breads sourced from international locations are usually safe and will give your packaged provisions more of a “local feel.” One of the best defenses against food contamination is to use your senses – sight, smell, taste, and touch – to ensure that catering is safe. Trust your judgment and utilize the same “Go or No Go” mentality as your aircraft operations require. If you have a back-up catering plan using non-perishables onboard the aircraft, you will be less likely to commit to questionable catering. Keep in mind that there may be situations in which catering received at a remote location is perfectly safe, but the smell is not what you are used to because of the use of local spices or sauces. In this situation, it may be best to err on the side of caution. Your decision to not use the catering is a good one and centers on the protection of the crew and passengers.
3. Some ingredients work better than others for catering at FL450
If you have to order your catering from a restaurant menu, there are items that you want to avoid. Egg- or butter-based sauces such as Béarnaise are difficult to reheat and reconstitute. These sauces will generally separate, and you will not be able to get them re-emulsified. Egg-based salad dressing, like the one used for Caesar salads, can be potentially hazardous from a food safety perspective and should always be kept separate from salads. Eggs may turn green when in contact with aluminum unless you use pasteurized eggs. If your caterer does not have pasteurized eggs, simply ask that they use parchment or oven-safe paper to line your foil pans. For reheating purposes and to maximize flavor, there’s really no one best reheating method. Steaming vegetables and protein entrees onboard is one effective option. However, even a fresh lobster can be successfully steamed, grilled or baked at altitude. A good cook can do almost anything as long as they have heat and water available. In the end, don’t be afraid to ask the restaurant chef for recommendations on things that reheat well, or change a sauce or a side to better meet your needs.
4. Use this simple catering checklist for remote locations
- Find out if there are catering options available, including restaurants, hotels, and other sources. Typically, you can get an idea of your catering challenge during this step and decide whether to get catering, double provision, or obtain catering at another stop.
- Modify your onboard stock to include non-perishable items. The idea here is not to replace a meal, but just to be able to offer sustenance to fuel the crew and passengers until catering can be safely acquired at a down line location. Examples of such non-perishable items include:
- Protein bars
- Canned soups and stews
- Dried fruits and nuts
- Bring packaging that a prospective caterer could utilize for your aircraft. These include everything from bulk foil pans and lids, to containers for holding liquids like dressings or juices, to the coolers and gel packs needed to safely transport catering.
- Bring example photos of how the food is to be packaged. Many times there may be a language barrier, and a photo will help explain how to utilize the packaging.
- Once the catering is delivered, use your senses. It is recommended that when inspecting the catering, you are in an area with sufficient light and free of too many other smells, like jet fuel. If you can check the catering inside of the ground handler’s office or Fixed Base Operator, this is usually better, as this area will decrease the outside influences of your perception. Also, if you decide not to utilize the catering, at least it is not already onboard the aircraft, which is both convenient and doesn’t fill the cabin with unwanted smells.
While food safety considerations are always paramount, you will not always have professional in-flight caterers available at more remote locations, and passengers may expect more than minimal catering options. Do-it-yourself catering can be successfully orchestrated when working with options such as your ground handler and a local restaurant willing to adapt products to the specific requirements of business aviation and your particular mission.
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