TSA: Needles in food no terror threatOfficial assures that regular inspections keep catering secure
By Gary Stoller
Netherlands — The discovery of needles in sandwiches served on four Delta Air Lines flights into the USA shouldn't set off widespread safety or terrorism alarms, the government says.
The Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible for security for flights in and into the USA, has procedures to "ensure the security of the (airline) catering process," TSA spokesman David Castelveter says.
"TSA conducts ongoing inspections to ensure airlines and contractors comply with these security requirements," he says.
Six needles, which appear to be used for sewing, were found Sunday in six turkey sandwiches made for business-class passengers flying from Amsterdam on two flights to Atlanta and flights to Minneapolis and Seattle, Delta spokeswoman Kristin Baur says.
A passenger on the Minneapolis flight suffered a minor injury.
The FBI is investigating the incident.
All the sandwiches were made in the Amsterdam kitchen of one of the world's biggest airline caterers, Gate Gourmet, according to Delta.
Gate spokeswoman Christina Ulosevich calls the incident "disturbing" and says, "We are treating this as a criminal act."
"The company also is cooperating fully with investigations by local and federal authorities and by our customer (Delta)," Ulosevich says.
Aviation security consultant Rich Roth says he suspects the needles were put in the sandwiches by a prankster or a disgruntled employee -- and there is no terrorism concern.
"Every once in a while something gets through the catering system, but the system doesn't need to be improved," he says.
Although it's conceivable that a plastic explosive, such as C-4, could be placed on an airline food tray, Roth says, "it's extremely unlikely it could get through the system."
Michael Boyd, another aviation consultant, disagrees, saying that although some aspects of security have been improved since 9/11, security surrounding catering remains weak.
"If needles can get slipped into a turkey sandwich, it's no leap of faith to conclude that a C-4 explosive can be substituted for the lasagna," Boyd says.
Gate's Amsterdam kitchen is one of 160 kitchens that Delta's contract caterers use worldwide to prepare food on its flights.
Although Roth says the needles shouldn't pose a terrorism concern, a USA TODAY investigation of airline food two years ago found that many meals served to passengers on flights are prepared in unsanitary conditions that could lead to illness.
The investigation, which reviewed documents of Food and Drug Administration inspectors, found that many airline catering facilities store food at improper temperatures, use unclean equipment and employ workers who practice poor hygiene.
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