Delta investigates tainted meals that led to emergency landing

Delta Air Lines resumed normal food service on international flights Friday after reports this week of tainted food on a flight forced flight diversions, emergency medical care and adjustments to food service on more than 100 flights.

The ordeal began early Wednesday morning when a flight from Detroit to Amsterdam with 277 passengers on board was diverted to New York after crew members noticed that some of the food served to economy passengers had spoiled. Although CBS shared photos of reportedly moldy food from the flight, the airline has not confirmed the photos and said it is investigating what went wrong with the food.

Service on the flight was about a third of the way through, Delta spokesman Anthony Black said, but it was not known how many people had eaten the food. Medical experts consulted by the crew recommended making the stopover in New York City.

Emergency workers met Flight 136 at John F. Kennedy International Airport after it landed around 4 a.m. Wednesday to treat travelers; about a dozen people were examined but no one was taken to a hospital, Delta said. The airline said the crew had not eaten the food.

“Delta’s Food Safety team has engaged our suppliers to immediately isolate the product and launch a thorough investigation into the incident,” the airline said in a statement. “This is not the service Delta is known for and we sincerely apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and delays to their travels.”

On about 75 international flights on Wednesday and Thursday, Delta “switched to a pasta service” as it overhauled its meals, Black said.

Airlines use meals prepared by outside suppliers. Hot meals are prepared in advance and then frozen or kept cold before being heated on the plane.

Black did not name a catering company responsible for the meals on Wednesday’s flight, but said “multiple catering components are being evaluated.”

The service disruptions came during the peak travel week of July 4, when Delta expected to fly nearly 6 million people. In an interview with CBS Mornings, CEO Ed Bastian said the airline’s teams were prepared for the holiday.

Health experts say that airplane food — just like food on the ground — can become contaminated in a number of ways, including exposure to dirty water, improper handling or preparation, and more. It could be from being undercooked or left out of the refrigerator for too long. But while food poisoning does happen on planes, it’s not a common problem.

If the travelers had accidentally eaten food contaminated with mold, there likely wouldn’t have been any harm, said Mark Gendreau, MD, chief medical officer at Beverly, Addison Gilbert and Anna Jaques hospitals in Massachusetts.

Unless you’re ingesting a “massive amount of mold,” people with healthy, intact immune systems can tolerate eating it without too many problems, he says.

People may still experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea within hours of having symptoms. Although rare, you can also develop symptoms a day or two later, including allergic reactions, rashes and, in even rarer cases, weakness, fatigue and difficulty breathing, Gendreau added.

Ali A. Khan, a gastroenterologist at Gastro Health in Fairfax, Virginia, says that eating mold can be much more dangerous for people with weakened immune systems, as it is more likely to cause fungal infections.

You should be able to tell if your meal is contaminated. Khan said signs of mold include unusual white or black spots, a softer texture than normal or bad odors. If you see mold, throw out the entire meal rather than trying to cut off the moldy portion, he said. It can be difficult to tell exactly how deep the mold and neighboring bacteria have actually gone.

Leave a Comment