Culinary Recalls Airline Entrée - Chicago Tribune - March 5, 1999

By: Jon Bigness, Tribune Staff Writer
Chicago Tribune
March 5, 1999

Chicago-based Culinary Foods Inc., one of the nation's largest providers of airline food, has issued its second Listeria-related recall in the past month, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The South Side firm, a division of Tyson Foods Inc., pulled back nearly 2,000 pounds of its Farmhouse brand penne with sausage after U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigators found Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. The possibly tainted pasta was produced Jan. 20 and sold exclusively to United Airlines, said Tyson spokesman Archie Schaffer.

Both Tyson and United said there have been no reports of illnesses.

Culinary's pasta penne was served on United flights to Asia from O'Hare International Airport and John F. Kennedy International airport in New York according to United spokesman Andy Plews.

The pasta was among the meals served in the economy section on flights from O'Hare to Tokyo and Osaka between Jan. 28 and Feb. 28, and on flights from JFK to Tokyo and Osaka between Jan. 29 and Feb. 28, he said.

Though most of the meals have probably been consumed, United is still checking its inventory to make sure all of the product is withdrawn, Plews said.

"Food safety is critically important to us," he said. "We're working with Culinary to make sure all of the products [have been accounted for]. We have complete confidence in the meals we're receiving from Culinary now."

Culinary Foods has been the target of numerous tests in the past several months. Some of its major airline customers started testing its frozen prepared meals in December. The carriers stopped serving Culinary dishes after more than 600 tests turned up four positive samples of bacterial contamination, said Schaffer.

Next up was the USDA, which found Listeria in one sample of chicken burritos after conducting about 65 to 70 tests since December. On Feb. 6, Culinary Foods recalled more than 78,000 possibly contaminated burritos sold exclusively to American Airlines and served on flights out of Detroit and other cities.

FDA investigators then came in and conducted environmental and product testing in January and February. The agency's inspectors took 60 swabs from food-processing equipment but didn't find any Listeria contamination, Schaffer said. Then the FDA pulled 18 different product samples for testing on Feb. 15 and found Listeria in the pasta penne only.

This indicates the contamination came from one of the ingredients in the past and not because of a problem at the plant, Schaffer said. The pasta dish contains sausage and vegetables, both of which can become contaminated with Listeria.

"We are convinced we don't have a problem at this plant," Schaffer said.

As a result of the Listeria problems, Culinary Foods has instituted a more extensive testing program. The company now pretests all the ingredients before they are used and tests all ready-to-eat meals before they're shipped to the airlines.