Singapore Airlines Makes 50,000 Meals a Day – Here's How They Do It
This article originally appeared on BusinessInsider.com.
Airplane food has a reputation for not being particularly great. But when you fly Singapore Airlines, there's a really slim chance you'll get stuck with a bad meal.
Singapore Airlines rakes in tons of awards for being one of the best airlines in the world, and one of the chief considerations for such awards is the food — even in economy class. The airline's food and wine variety and quality stand out among its competitors'.
According to the Netflix documentary series "Mega Food," Singapore Airlines, which was the first airline to introduce in-flight entertainment and food options, serves about 50,000 meals a day. On its A380 flight, passengers have more than 50 meal choices. And food served on board is never frozen and almost always made from scratch.
So how does Singapore Airlines do it?
The airline contracts with Gate Gourmet, the world's largest independent airline catering company, which is headquartered on the grounds of Zürich Airport in Switzerland and has 122 kitchens serving five continents and making 250 million meals a year.
Gate Gourmet's staff, including regional executive chef Oliver Fischer, took "Mega Food" through their facility to show how airplane food is made for Singapore Airlines.
Here are some of the most fascinating details and secrets from inside the food facility where Singapore Airline's meals are made.
Gate Gourmet staffs 30 people a day to work one Singapore Airlines flight. The kitchen has just five hours to cook 1,500 meals for a full flight, and offerings include Western, Asian, and special meals, each with their own team of chefs and recipe books.
To ensure cultural authenticity, recipes include precise measurements for spices and ingredients. One mistake or deviation from the recipe could result in 33 pounds of food wasted at a time.
The most complex foods for the kitchen to make, Fisher said, are ethnic foods where there is also a religious component restricting certain ingredients. "You need a lot of understanding of culture," he said.
In one week on average, the kitchen goes through almost 1,300 pounds of beef tenderloin, more than 200 gallons of cream, and 96,150 bread rolls. Virtually every menu item, with the exception of pralines, are handmade in the premises.
Singapore Airlines will switch their menus around every month or two depending on the sector. It takes one to three months for chefs to develop new menu items.
The development kitchen uses an airline convection oven to simulate the the conditions on a plane. The one thing it can't simulate — the low pressure on the plane. Pressure lowers our ability to taste salty and sweet foods. What's more, reheating food also lowers the salt. The kitchen compensates for this by putting a lot of punch in their food.
The food must be reheatable but also hygienic, food and beverage manager Hermann Freidanck said. That means the food isn't fully cooked so that when it's reheated it doesn't dry out, but it cannot be raw. There's a fine balance, Freidanck said. Certain foods are not good for reheating, he added, like very fine fish, so the airline opts for the better option, in this case, more fatty fish.
Ingredients also have to smell good. Fondue and raclette may taste delicious, but because of their smell, they're a no-no on planes. Cabbage can also be an odor offender, so it has to be blanched, and the airline opts for lighter cabbage.
Once food is prepared, the kitchen has four hours to chill the food to the point that it has reached under 50 degrees Fahrenheit. As a matter of food safety, the food needs to be chilled rapidly because bacteria grow most rapidly between 80 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If it takes longer than four hours to chill the food down, Gate Gourmet throws the meals away and starts over again.
The airline goes through 70,000 pieces of real cutlery a day. To clean all these knives, forks, and spoons, Gate Gourmet uses a special cutlery cleaning machine, which uses a combination of minerals and water instead of soap to get them all sparkly clean. People sort dirty trays for clean up or clean out in an assembly line, separating cups, plates, and cutlery. Another assembly line packages the clean cutlery for the next flight.
A separate team known as the portion team is dedicated to masking sure meal sizes are exactly the same for each passenger. They have only 45 minutes to portion 1,500 meals, and the food must be kept below 60 degrees Fahrenheit the entire time.
Airlines portion their food meticulously for a number of reasons. First, there's the matter of not stoking the jealousy of neighboring passengers. Airlines also have strict weight requirements, so every ounce counts. Additionally, when you're serving 1,500 meals a flight, extra spoonfuls add up budget-wise.
Every class has different meal packaging. In economy class, meals are packaged in foil, heated, and served that way. In business and first class, meals are packaged with separations between sauces and other components, and flight attendants heat the containers this way. They then transfer the meal to a plate before serving, carefully following a plating guide.
For safety purposes, Singapore Airlines' cabin crew have their own meal options separate from passengers' options. Pilots and copilots must also be provided with different meals from passengers, as well as different meals from one another. No shellfish is allowed in the cockpit either.