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The Story of the Worst Airline Food Ever

The Story of the Worst Airline Food Ever

In 1975, Japan Airlines flew a special flight for salesmen from Coca-Cola. The men and their wives had won a company contest and were now bound for a fabulous vacation in Paris. Their plane took off from Tokyo and made a couple quick stops in Anchorage and Copenhagen. On the way, the crew served some basic meals: omelets for breakfast and sandwiches, all picked up during the Alaska stop. 

Then people starting throwing up. Not just one or two nauseous travelers struck by motion sickness but 196 passengers, and when the plane let them off in Copenhagen, a hospital admitted 144 of them. 129 of them got diarrhea; nine had bloody diarrhea. The first-class passengers suffered worst, simply because they got served before everyone else, and it seemed the first meals that went out were the deadliest. The ham in the omelets contained Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. It made for quite a bad meal, even by airplane food standards. 

It was such a disaster that when the catering manager for the airline learned what happened, he shot himself in the head. Maybe he thought this was the honorable course after such a failure. His wife and two kids surely thought otherwise.

When we have a food-poisoning outbreak like this, doctors don’t just shrug their shoulders and say, “Eh, shit happens.” Epidemiologists open an investigation to track down the infection’s source. So much like with another poisoning case — some infected pork sliders that Rep. Lauren Boebert sold at a rodeo — doctors took blood and stool samples and turned on their detective vision to follow the trail. 

The culprit turned out to be an Alaskan cook who worked for Japan Airlines’ catering company. He hadn’t worn gloves while preparing the ham. More than that, he had visible lesions on his hands, with bandages poorly covering infected blisters, and investigators were able to culture Staphylococcus aureus from those lesions. The poisoning had been very much a preventable incident. Not that it was any kind of consolation for the passengers — though at least they still got to go to Paris once they recovered.

For the truth behind airline food:

Restaurant-Style Tables Force You to Look at Other Travelers

Multiple Restaurants Want to Bring You Back to Pan Am Glory Days

Classic Jokes With Scientific Answers: What's the Deal With Airline Food?

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