Delta investigating spoiled meals that led to emergency landing

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Delta Air Lines was returning to normal food operations for international flights Friday after reports of spoiled meals on a flight this week forced a diversion, emergency medical attention and a change in food service for more than 100 flights.

The ordeal began early Wednesday morning when a flight heading from Detroit to Amsterdam with 277 passengers on board diverted to New York after crew members learned that some of the meals served to economy passengers were spoiled. While CBS shared photos of allegedly moldy food from the flight, the airline has not confirmed those photos and said it is investigating what went wrong with the food.

Service on the flight was about a third of the way through, according to Delta spokesman Anthony Black, but it’s not known how many people had eaten the food. Medical experts consulted by the flight crew recommended making the stop in New York City.

Emergency medical workers met Flight 136 at John F. Kennedy International Airport after it landed around 4 a.m. Wednesday to treat travelers; about a dozen people were examined, but no one was taken to the hospital, Delta said. The airline said the flight crew did not eat the food.

“Delta’s Food Safety team has engaged our suppliers to immediately isolate the product and launch a thorough investigation into the incident,” the airline said in a statement. “This is not the service Delta is known for and we sincerely apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and delay in their travels.”

On about 75 international flights on Wednesday and Thursday, Delta “moved to a pasta service” amid the review of its meals, Black said.

Airlines use meals that are prepared by outside vendors; hot meals are cooked in advance and either frozen or kept cold before being reheated on the plane.

Black did not name a catering company responsible for the meals on Wednesday’s flight but said that “there are multiple catering components under review.”

The disruption in service came amid the busy Fourth of July travel week when Delta expected to fly nearly 6 million people. In an interview with CBS Mornings, CEO Ed Bastian said the airline’s teams were ready for the holiday.

Health experts say airplane food — just like food on the ground — can become contaminated in several ways, including exposure to dirty water, incorrect handling or cooking, among others. It may not be heated properly or may be sitting out too long. But while food poisoning on planes does happen, it’s not a very common issue.

Had the travelers accidentally eaten some food contaminated with mold, it may have been uneventful, says Mark Gendreau, a physician and the chief medical officer of Beverly, Addison Gilbert and Anna Jaques hospitals in Massachusetts.

Unless you’re consuming a “massive quantity of mold,” he says people with healthy and intact immune systems can withstand eating some without much issue.

People could still experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea within hours if they did have symptoms. While it’s rare, you could also develop symptoms a day or two later, including allergic reactions, skin rashes and, in even more rare cases, weakness, fatigue and difficulty breathing, Gendreau added.

Ali A. Khan, a gastroenterologist with Gastro Health in Fairfax, Va., said that for immunocompromised people, however, eating mold can be far more dangerous as the risks of it turning into a major fungal infection are greater.

You should be able to tell if your meal has been contaminated. Khan said signs of mold include unusual white or black spots, softer texture than normal or bad smells. If you do spot mold, throw out the entire meal rather than trying to cut the moldy part off, he said. It can be hard to tell exactly how deep the mold and adjacent bacteria have actually gone.

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