Needle Found In Sandwich On Air Canada Days After Similar Incidents On Delta

on August 01 2012 10:45 AM
Air Canada customer agents serve strike notice
The Canadian government blocked on Thursday an impending lockout and strike that would have paralyzed Air Canada (Toronto: AC), the country's largest airline. flickr

Air Canada is investigating how a sewing needle ended up inside a pre-wrapped sandwich on a July 30 flight. The bizarre incident comes just two weeks after Delta Air Lines found needles in sandwiches served on four of its flights.

The passenger in Monday's incident discovered the needle on a flight from Victoria, British Columbia, to Toronto, officials said. A full investigation is now underway.

Spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an emailed statement that the airline has contacted the caterers who prepared the meals for the flight, but he declined to release the name of the company.

"Safety is always our top priority so we are taking this matter very seriously," he said. "We are working closely with our caterers to ensure heightened security measures have been put in place."

Fitzpatrick added that the airline is "cooperating fully with police in their investigation," but said "as the investigation is under way, we have no further details to provide."

Two weeks ago, passengers discovered needles in turkey sandwiches on Delta Air Lines flights from the Netherlands to Seattle, Minneapolis and Atlanta. At least two passengers on the Minneapolis-bound flight suffered minor injuries and one passenger, James Tonjes, was put on the drug Truvada, an antiretroviral drug recently approved by the FDA to treat HIV.

The FBI opened up a criminal investigation into the incident in coordination with detectives in the Netherlands. Dutch police officer Robert van Kapel said Wednesday it was too early to say whether there is any connection with the new incident on Air Canada, though he didn't rule out a copycat incident.

The tainted Delta sandwiches originated at the Gate Gourmet catering facility in Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. A subsidiary of Swiss-based gategroup Holding AG, Gate Gourmet is one of the largest independent global providers of airline passenger products and services, operating in 28 countries and serving an average of 9,700 flights each day and 300 million passengers annually. With such a wide reach, the mid-air scare raised concerns about a potential loophole in airport security.

Last year, a local television station in Atlanta performed an investigation at the Gate Gourmet facility at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world's busiest airport by passenger traffic. The station, WSB-TV, released a video that allegedly shows just how easy it is to add unauthorized items to unaccompanied food carts.

Though catering operations are tightly regulated by food safety authorities who look for things like salmonella, sabotage is often much less of a priority. TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein, however, said that the Aviation and Transportation Security Act requires steps be taken to ensure aircraft catering services security.

"TSA has developed procedures that airlines and their contractors must follow to ensure the secure movement of catering supplies, carts and vehicles," she noted, adding that the agency "conducts ongoing inspections to ensure airlines and contractors comply with security requirements."

As for the alleged infractions in Atlanta, Farbstein claims TSA "has inspected Gate Gourmet operations at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on approximately 20 separate occasions since October 2011, a significant increase over the prior year's period. No violation of security regulations has been found."

Gate Gourmet is among Air Canada's catering companies, but a spokesperson for the company confirmed to CBC News Tuesday that it does not provide the airline food out of Victoria.

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