In the name of our Technology and Environment classes we had to think about a topic which includes the environment and food and make an article about it. We are Loris Hitz and Jeffrey Medina and our goal is to find out how airplane food is produced, how much waste it produces and how much energy is used to produce it.
We were able to get in contact with a spokesperson from Gate Gourmet and ask Questions about our project. We’ll post the original answers in german and add a short english translation.
1) How can a salad stay fresh at an altitude of 10 kilometers?
- Wie kann ein Salat auf 10 km Flughöhe frisch und knackig bleiben?
Salate oder allgemein alle Speisen im Trolley verlassen die Kühlkette (gekühlter Truck) nicht und werden in einer gekühlten Position im Galley (Flugzeug Küche/Trolley Park) versorgt, bevor sie serviert werden auf entsprechender Flughöhe.
Dazu werden Blattsalate vom Passagier selber angemacht (Dressing Portion auf dem Tray).
Salads or generally all food in the trolley do not leave the cold chain and are stored in a refrigerated position in the galley (aircraft kitchen), before they are served at the appropriate altitude.
For this purpose, the salad is prepared from the passenger himself (dressing portion on the tray).
2) Do the ingredients lose any of their vitamins or minerals?
- Gib des bei den Zutaten irgendwelche Vitamin oder Mineralstoff Verluste?
Vitamine und Minerale bleiben ohne Verlust erhalten, jedoch führt der Kabinendruck zu einer verminderten Speichelproduktion beim Passagier, wobei Salzgehalt in den Speisen und Tannin im Wein schwächer wahrgenommen werden. Moderne Flugzeuge können aber mittlerweile den Kabinendruck ausgleichen.
Vitamins and minerals are preserved without loss, however, the cabin pressure leads to a reduced production of saliva, so that the salt content in the food and tannin in the wine are perceived weaker. Although, modern aircrafts can compensate the cabin pressure which solves that problem.
3) Do the producers keep in mind the seasonality and the sustainability of the meals?
- Achten Sie als Produzenten auf Saisonale und nachhaltige Mahlzeiten?
Unbedingt! Kostendruck und Lokalität, dazu Nachhaltigkeit lassen uns als Caterer nur diese Wahl!
Den Airlines werden saisonale Menus im 1-3 Monate Wechsel präsentiert (SWISS, EK, SQ) und Gategroup wird noch mehr auf Plastikreduktion und recycelbare Ressourcen zurückgreifen!
Wir verkaufen bereits kompostierbares Geschirr aus Pflanzenfasern und setzen dies schon z.T. ein.
Der Ball liegt bei den Airlines, unsere «grünen» Produkte auch einzusetzen!
Absolutely! Cost pressure and locality, as well as sustainability let us as caterers only this choice!
Seasonal menus will be presented to airlines in 1-3 months, and Gategroup will use plastic reduction and recyclable resources even more!
We already sell compostable crockery made of vegetable fibers and are already putting this on.
The ball is up to the airlines to use our “green” products as well!
4) Approximately, how much energy is used to reheat the meals in the aircraft?
- Wie viel Energie wird ungefähr für die Zubereitung einer Mahlzeit gebraucht?
Dazu habe ich leider keine Zahlen, aber die Strategie der Firma ist klar und wir legen sehr viel Wert darauf, unsere Natur zu schonen und Müllberge zu reduzieren!
Aus getrennten Küchenabfällen/Retouren vom Flugzeug wird Biogas produziert.
Unfortunately, I have no figures, but the strategy of the company is clear and we put a lot of effort on conserving our nature and reducing waste!
From separate kitchen waste / returns from the aircraft biogas is produced.
Because of the interview we asked ourselves what the airlines do, to reduce the waste they produce.
In Summary every passenger produces 1.4 Kilogram waste per Flight including plastic, cardboard and paper. This was the result of a study from IATA (International Air Transport Association)
According to Etihad Airways 95 items on a flight are used just once. Etihad Airways tries to reduce their “waste per flight ratio”. They have introduced blankets which consist out of recycled plastic and use cutlery consisting out of recycled and degradable materials.
Nowadays the Airlines are faced with governmental restrictions. For example, airlines need to throw perfectly fine and unopened soda cans away after a flight. With unnecessary regulations like these it is almost impossible to reduce waste on airplanes.
Although, several airlines have a plan to reduce their waste:
Lufthansa/SWISS: have an in-house project in which they want to reduce the waste and recycle much more than they currently are. Nowadays around 80 kilograms are so-called “one-serve products” which are used on board of a typical flight between Frankfurt and Los Angeles. They say that in the future they want to introduce plastic cups which are produced out of recycled materials and could be re-used several times before they land in the trash can.
Condor: has the intention to reduce the amount of plastic on board with a new economy project. The Airline tries to improve the products and invest into products which are less environment harming. In conclusion they will also reduce the amount of C02 Emissions.
Things which everyone can do to reduce the waste:
- Take your waste with you!
- Ask the crew if they can refill the plastic cup avoid the use of a new one for every drink
- Ask the Airline Company critically why they use so much plastic on board.
- Pass up on plastic
Ideas to improve the packaging for Airlines:
- Plates out of palm fibres
- Plastic from the Wipf AG biodegradable instead of normal non-degradable plastic
- Of course, it’s a separate market which needs to be explored.
Reheating on the plane
Before the passenger even sees the food, there are multiple steps needed in order to serve a fresh and tasty meal. Everything starts on the ground in a kichen, where the chefs are precooking everything. For example, meat is only grilled rare and wouldn’t be ready to be served to the customer. The last steps before the food gets to the passenger is the reheating on board with convections oven. It is not possible to use microwaves in the plane due to safety reasons. A convection oven circulates hot air around the food to heat it. It is comparable with a steamer. With this method the food can be prepared much faster than with an ordinary oven.
Currently there are new convections ovens in the market to improve the efficiency and reliability. Some of the newest generation of ovens which airlines use on a daily are produced by factories like Ipeco or Collins Aerospace.
According to a case study from a SWISS flight attendant, one oven can heat up to 64 meals in a matter of 5 minutes.
In the end, our opinion about the project is, that a lot of people already made their experiences with airplane food and therefore already made up their opinion about it. The opinions about the quality and the taste of the food on the plane are different. However, the Airlines try to offer the best products to the customer especially in First and Business Class. Unfortunately, the airlines do not share how much costs they have to produce a meal.
The environment plays a huge role in the airline catering industry and also for the airlines. The current mood of the people to live environment friendly has also impacted those industries. All the companies try to improve their products to be environmentally friendly in order to better the publics opinion about flying. However not only the industry needs to change their behaviour but also the passenger.
We learned a lot about the process of the production of airplane food. In the beginning it was hard to find good and reliable sources for our project. Unfortunately, the airline industry does not share a lot of information about this topic. As soon as we found good sources, we have been able to find the interesting facts about the project. The topic is also very complicated, and it is difficult to explain the main subjects. However, we think that we managed to overcome those problems. We got in contact with people from the industry and were able to get interesting information.
Galley = Küche im Flugzeug
perceived = empfunden
saliva = Speichel
IATA = International Air Transport Association
convection oven = Heissluftofen
Other interesting Projects:
Listen to our audio pitch:
Jeffrey and Loris
Was vom Bordmenü übrigt bleibt (Spiegel.de)
Collins Oven Products (rockwellcollins.com)
How Is Airplane Food Warmed Up During a Flight? (thedailymeal.com)
Ipeco Ovens (ipeco.com)
The Sience of Airplane Food (thepointsguy.com)
☷ See the project teams here »
☵ Some words about the contributions »
One thought on “Airplane Food facts”
Hello Loris and Jeffrey!
I am not a high frequent flyer but mostly I enjoy the meals in the sky very much.
1.4 kg of waste per flight per passenger is no small amount. I found out there were more then 4 billion number of scheduled passengers in 2019 (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IS.AIR.PSGR) that makes unbelievable 5.6 billion Kg waste in 2019! That would be a cube filled with water with an edge length of 1778 meters!
It seems there’s something going on with the airlines on this topic. There are some good ideas like taking local food, palm fibers, recycling dishes and no plastic but I think also there is no need to serve meals on short or medium length Air travel (e.g. up to 4-5 hours). That would save a huge amount of waste! A (mobile) kiosk or Bistro would be enough in my mind.
Thank you guys for your thoughts & the inspiration!