Using Bluetooth Thermometers to Streamline Airline Catering
Airline catering is no simple task. Feeding anywhere between 300 and 500 passengers on an aircraft where space is at a premium requires a food offering that is smartly designed, all while meeting a wide range of customer expectations and dietary requirements.
The catering division within one of the world’s largest air services providers is responsible for producing inflight meals which are served across more than 60 global locations. In recent years, it has expanded its operations across the USA, Canada, the UAE and the UK, a major milestone being the opening of a new 6,500-square-metre, state-of-the-art unit in Dublin to service Aer Lingus, as well as the move into new facilities in Luton and London City.
In the UK, it operates out of several hubs, with Heathrow also distributing to Stansted and Gatwick, Manchester also covering Birmingham, and Glasgow also serving Edinburgh. From these hubs, catering requirements for airlines such as EasyJet, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines are fulfilled, each of which have varying needs.
There is therefore a lot of pressure placed on the company. Many passengers’ impression of an airline can be swayed by the quality of food they are served during a flight. Meanwhile, at the more serious end of the scale, carriers cannot afford to tarnish their reputations by serving food that is spoiled or compromised.
Averting these risks requires watertight control of food temperatures throughout each stage of the food preparation process, from the organisation’s industrial kitchens to the aircraft where the food is stored, heated and/or cooled.
While it may sound simple, controlling temperatures for airline catering is far from it, not least because of the number of components that go into an individual meal.
“We prepare 30,000-plus meals a day, which equates to 150-200,000 different components,” a spokesperson said.
“So, if you think of a tray that can have an appetiser, a salad and a dessert, plus an entree, and you have that as two meal services, that’s around eight or nine components as it is, just for one airline. And then you consider you have 300-500 passengers on board, so you’re talking just over a thousand different components that need to be temperature controlled.”
Its kitchens take the raw ingredients, prepare and cook the meals. After this, they are blast chilled before being taken onto the aircraft. From start to finish, there are a huge number of stages at which temperatures need to be checked before meals are served to passengers – from the product being cooked to plating, there can be up to six readings taken.
Going digital to boost accuracy
This is where Bluetooth temperature probes from ETI are proving their worth. The standard method for tracking temperatures is manual, a process which not only consumes an enormous amount of time, but can produce issues with accuracy.
Currently, the organisation is digitising this process using ETI probes, including several from the RayTemp infrared range. RayTemp Blue, for example, is ideal for measuring food at temperatures as low as -49.9 °C and as high as 349.9 °C.
“We came to ETI because they understand how temperatures and temperature readings work,” their spokesperson added.
“A couple of years ago we had a test on a cup of ice and saw that the temperature was going lower and lower instead of coming up to ambient. Logically, ice should melt and it should be getting warmer, not colder, and we were getting confused. ETI were extremely useful and sent us a link on how to carry out tests with ice in water.”
Digitising the temperature readings process unlocks numerous benefits, not least around accuracy of readings which is essential to maintaining a safe operation on such a large scale. In addition, the system can prompt staff of appropriate corrective actions to take when readings reach a certain level – sometimes this will mean disposal of a batch, but on other occasions the system will save products from being wrongly wasted.
It will also save valuable time and provide a data archive whereby the organisation can easily access records in the event of an allegation.
“The compliance team absolutely love it,” they said. “The manual paper route means somebody has got to write readings down on a piece of paper, then it’s got to be archived, and because we don’t have storage facilities, somebody then has to go to a warehouse.
“It can take two weeks to get the right documents back, and even then when you retrieve the file it can be blank or not properly filled in. With this technology, they can pull up the report within two minutes and see it back five years ago if they had to. They can see whether the temperature is right or wrong, whether someone’s overwritten it or not.”
With these benefits starting to be realised, the company’s ambition is to encourage a wider uptake across the organisation’s operational portfolio in the UK.
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