08.02.10

The Most Dangerous Airline Meals

The FDA is cracking down after finding unsanitary conditions at airline caterers. So is anything safe to eat at 36,000 feet? Nutritionists and food safety experts helped The Daily Beast rank mile-high foods.

The FDA is cracking down after finding unsanitary conditions at airline caterers. So is anything safe—or healthy—to eat at 36,000 feet? Nutritionists and food safety experts helped The Daily Beast rank mile-high foods on calorie counts and sanitation risks.

Airline food has always had a bad reputation. When FDA inspectors found live cockroaches, ants, and flies at a food preparation facility used by airlines last month, it didn’t exactly help. Considering that the domestic airline industry spent just a few bucks per passenger on food last year (a total of $1.9 billion, according to the government’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, or about as much as it shelled out for payroll taxes) is it any wonder that in-flight cuisine is known to be questionable?

But the dust-up over unsanitary catering kitchens begs the question: What’s safe—and is anything at all healthy for you to eat? Smart air travelers have avoided airline food entirely since the airlines were carelessly deregulated by the federal government in 1978. But beyond Stephen Sondheim’s lyrical advice—“anything that's gray, don’t eat”—is there such a thing as “safe” air fare?

The Daily Beast asked nutritionists and food safety experts to rate the most common airline meals and snacks, from the breakfast burrito to peanuts, to determine which ones would be most and least likely to spoil up in the air. We also pulled nutritional and calorie information from flight caterer LSG Sky Chefs to see if there were any healthy options. Our experts gave us a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the entrée. Here’s what to eat at 36,000 feet.

Click Image to View Our Gallery of What You Should—and Shouldn’t—Eat While Flying

* Nutritional information provided by LSG Sky Chefs. Numbers vary based on circumstances and ingredients.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate for MSNBC, National Geographic Traveler, Tribune Media Services and The Washington Post. His blog, elliott.org, offers strategies for becoming a more informed traveler. Follow him at @ elliottdotorg.