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Everything you wanted to know about plane food but were too afraid to ask

Ever wondered how long that meal you’ve been given on a flight has been sitting in the galley? On a recent tour of the Emirates catering facility in Dubai I unearthed some interesting facts about what they’re doing to try and remove the stigma of ‘plane food’.

170,000 meals are produced here each day, of which 90,000 are hot. This is before you add the muffin count (70,000) and the sandwich tally (50,000) to the mix. There are also 26 special meals that need to be cooked, plated and sent on the correct flights when requested.

And yes, before you ask, there are a few people who get the coveted ‘quality control’ job of testing everything that is being cooked on any given day.

So to say that plane food is a logistical nightmare would be treading lightly.

In order to achieve the kind of numbers that make the Emirates facility the largest catering facility (by output) in the world, they have onsite butcheries and bakeries, as well as an entire building solely devoted to the preparation of food – not the actual cooking component.

One billion pieces of cutlery and crockery are washed, sanitised and sent back into circulation every year by the Emirates facility, helping to explain the 9,500-strong workforce, which trends upwards around holiday times to deal with demand. There’s also an automated, 1.1-kilometre monorail system that plays a very important part in getting food from factory to flights.

So how do they do it? How is the food edible, let alone as fresh and delicious as what I’ve eaten on Emirates flights?

The answer is lots of people, working in 12-hour shifts around the clock, plus storing facilities and fridges the likes of which you’ve never seen before (and with no ongoing deliveries, would be 80 per cent depleted in 24 hours), and some clever innovations that keep food fresh and bacteria-free.

The air curtain is a contraption that sits above every work bench to ensure the 45C-plus degree days outside in Dubai don’t touch the areas where fresh food is being prepared.

They have hyper chillers to cool just-cooked food down to -3 degrees in about five minutes, thus ensuring the food doesn’t sit around in lukewarm, bacteria-growing conditions.

There’s also a separate kitchen for sushi that can be sterilised easily and regularly, as well as a pastry cutter that uses highly pressurised water to slice your favourite flan.

And if you’ve ever wondered how often menus get changed, the answer is very regularly. Menu presentations outlining recommendations for changes and additions are presented weekly to the powers that be, and could include a complete overhaul or just the addition or omission of a particular dish based on customer feedback.

So the next time you have a bad or great inflight food experience, be sure to let the staff know – the airline is listening.

Sorrel flew to Dubai courtesy of Emirates

Conveyor belt
Pans of food
Conveyor belt
Meal tray trolleys
A clean kitchen area for the Emirates workers
Eggs boiling in hot water
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