The surprising truth about airline meals

Travel News 19 Oct 2015

FAST food giants have nothing on airline catering companies, that churn out an average of 46 meals a minute for as little as $3.50 each.

One of the world’s largest is Brahim’s Airline Catering in Kuala Lumpur that provides meals for around 30 international carriers, including Emirates, Etihad, Malaysia Airlines, Garuda, AirAsia and Cathay Pacific.

The airlines set the budget for each meal which can be as little as $3.50 (10 Malaysia Ringgit) for economy class passengers and more than $30 (100 Ringgit) for First Class travellers.

The 1200 staff adhere to strict health and safety guidelines to achieve their enormous output — which incredibly is still less than a quarter of that of Emirates’ own facility in Dubai.

Each week, around 2.5 tonnes of seafood, 600kg of beef and four tonnes of chicken are sliced up, cooked and blast chilled; poultry being the most popular protein “because it’s cheap”.

Computer screens display the exact portions required and the presentation of the dish, with staff expected to produce exact replicas thousands of times over.

All food is prepared from scratch including pastries, flame-grilled satay sticks and salads, with an emphasis on freshness and presentation.

Ten people are assigned to preparing the award-winning satay sticks served exclusively in Malaysia Airlines’ First and Business Class cabins, with an individual output of 3000 sticks a day for each worker.

So structured is the cooking procedure, the satay sticks can be served in the air, just 45-minutes after they are made.

Executive sous chef Fakhrul Aliff said the most challenging part of their work was keeping meals consistent and within budget, and creating new menus as required.

“We cater for around 160 flights a day, which can mean hundreds of different menus,” said Mr Aliff.

“New menus require months of planning and trials to get them just right.”

University of Queensland Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences Senior Research Fellow Dr Eugeni Roura, said preparing food to be served at high altitudes was a science in itself.

“The caterer’s challenge is undoubtedly being able to preserve the food “as fresh as possible” to retain moisture and juiciness, and all at zero risk of bacterial growth or fermentation,” said Dr Roura.

“Obviously taste enhancers are a must, salt, sugars, glutamate, spices, chilli and garlic are always highly present in plane foods.”

Mr Aliff said Brahim’s had perfected a process of “blast chilling” that allowed cooked hot meals to be frozen at high speeds to minimise the risk of bacterial growth.

“It brings down the core temperature from above 65 degrees, to below 10 degrees in a matter of minutes,” he said.


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