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FDA warns airline food supplier over filth

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- An airline catering company must take major steps to clean its Honolulu location or risk the unit's closure after U.S. health inspectors found live cockroaches, dirty utensils and an oozing, pink slime earlier this year, according to a letter released Tuesday.

Gate Gourmet, Inc., which provides food and beverages to a number of airlines at Honolulu Airport, also kept "dirty uncovered" trash cans near food, let workers handle ice cubes with bare hands, and did not keep food at proper temperatures, the Food and Drug Administration warned.

"Specifically, in the pot wash area, salad area and hallways were dirty uncovered trash cans and trash carts with fruit flies and cockroaches in and near them," the inspectors wrote in a letter dated April 21.

FDA officials also found a greasy stirring paddle and a "dirty oily" utensil rack at the Hawaiian facility during a February inspection. All refrigerator handles "were dirty and sticky with old food residue" and one unit "had mold growing on the windows," the agency said.

"A pink slimy substance was dripping onto the conveyor at the 'clean end' of the pot washing machine," the letter said.

Memphis, Tennessee-based Gate Gourmet, Inc. is one of the largest airline food suppliers and operates 115 flight kitchens in 30 countries, according to the company. It serves 200 airlines worldwide.

A spokesman for the privately held company could not be reached for comment on the letter.

Several top U.S. airlines serve Honolulu Airport as do other international carriers. While the FDA cited "various airlines" it was not clear which airlines used Gate Gourmet.

FDA officials said the company could continue to operate the island facility on a "provisional" basis for 30 days, when it would conduct another inspection. If the company failed to take action, the agency said it would shut down the location until it was properly cleaned up.

Other Gate Gourmet locations were not affected by the letter.

The agency gave company officials 15 days to respond after it received the letter, which is on the FDA's Web site. An FDA spokeswoman could not immediately confirm if the company had done so.

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