Monday, July 16, 2012

Needles found in sandwiches on Delta flights: Meals prepared by same company subject to Ch. 2 security breach investigation

(Photo courtesy ABC News) 
Needles were found in sandwiches on four different Delta flights originating in Amsterdam on Sunday, July 15, 2012.

ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines Inc. and the FBI are trying to figure out how needles got into turkey sandwiches served aboard four flights from Amsterdam. One passenger was injured. 

The airline said that what appear to be sewing needles were found in six sandwiches on Sunday. One passenger on a flight to Minneapolis was injured, but the passenger declined to get medical attention, according to Delta spokeswoman Kristin Baur. The other needles were on two flights to Atlanta and one to Seattle.

The FBI's Atlanta office has opened a criminal investigation into the matter, the agency said in a written statement. An FBI spokesman in Atlanta did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Baur said flight attendants stopped serving the sandwiches as soon as the needle was discovered. Messages went out to other flights en route from Amsterdam, where the sandwiches had been prepared by a catering company. Another sandwich served on the Minneapolis-bound flight also had a needle, Baur said.

After the needles were found, passengers got pizza instead.

Baur said security for its meal production has been increased, and it is using more prepackaged food while the investigation continues.

"Delta is taking this matter extremely seriously and is cooperating with local and federal authorities who are investigating the incident. Delta has taken immediate action with our in-flight caterer at Amsterdam to ensure the safety and quality of the food we provide onboard our aircraft.

"Delta requires all its in-flight caterers to adhere to strict criteria in order to offer our customers the very best onboard meals. The safety and security of our passengers and crew is Delta's number one priority," the airline said in a written statement.

The sandwiches were made in the Amsterdam kitchen of catering company Gate Gourmet and were to be served to business-class passengers on Delta flights.

Gate Gourmet spokeswoman Christina Ulosevich said the company has gotten no reports of similar incidents on any of the other airlines it serves out of Amsterdam. She said the company does not yet know how the needles got into the sandwiches.

Gate Gourmet issued a statement, saying, "We take this matter very seriously and have launched our own full-scale investigation. The authorities involved have our complete support, and we are working closely with our customers, to include heightening our safety and security procedures. Nothing is more important to Gate Gourmet than the safety and well-being of our customers and their passengers."

The Transportation Safety Administration is also looking into the incident. In a statement provided to Channel 2 Action News, they said, "Upon notification of reports of possible foreign objects being discovered in meals served on several flights inbound to the U.S. from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, TSA immediately notified all U.S. air carriers with flights from Schiphol to ensure awareness. TSA continues to closely monitor the review of the incidents as well as the security protocols being conducted by the air carrier and the airport authority."

This is not the first time TSA has had issues with Gate Gourmet. Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant uncovered a major security risk with Gate Gourmet at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Diamant spent eight weeks digging into Gate Gourmet after a whistle-blower came forward with undercover video of catering carts, still unsealed, ready to be loaded onto planes.

At that time, TSA Director John Pistole told Diamant that the TSA's investigation into Gate Gourmet could lead to a complete review of security procedures for airline caterers nationwide.

Pistole promised that the TSA would investigate.

"I'll look at it and assess if we need to make changes," Pistole said.

The TSA's investigation found "no violation of security regulations."

Former TSA administrator Kip Hawley told Diamant that does not mean the unsealed carts are not a problem.

"If there's a security threat that's outside the regulation, there's no excuse for it, but the regulation says it's OK," Hawley said.

However, in May, Diamant reported that the whistle-blower brought more pictures showing the security breach remained.

The TSA still stands firm, claiming that despite the law's language, "the assertion that the law requires the sealing of individual catering carts is incorrect," and they have "developed procedures to ensure the secure movement of catering supplies, carts and vehicles."

In May, Gate Gourmet told Diamant it is in full compliance with TSA rules and would welcome any opportunity to review policies and procedures with the TSA.

The Associated Press contributed to this article


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