The first regular airline passenger service began in 1919 in Europe, between England and France, and food has been served on aircraft since the outset of this operation (Jones and Kipps 1995). Initially the service included sandwiches, tea and coffee, but in the mid-1930s hot meals began to be served.
The advent of the jet aircraft in passenger services in the mid-1960s contributed to the growth of mass tourism. In 1950, there were 25 million international tourist arrivals, in 1960, 69 million, in 1970, 160 million and in the 1990s, 400-600 million tourist arrivals recorded worldwide yearly (Jones and Kipps 1995, World Tourism Organization 2000). This huge increase in air traffic has created a need for a certain type of mass catering. The scope can vary from a small kitchen to a large catering establishment producing up to 40000 meals per day (Kirk 1995), including provisions for long-haul flights and handling the detailed specifications for many different airlines. A large flight kitchen may have contracts with tens of airlines. The way food is prepared today in large units resembles processing in a food manufacturing plant rather than a catering kitchen.
The provision of meals on aircraft gives rise to many food hygiene problems. Galley space and sanitary facilities on aeroplanes are very limited. Serious problems may arise if a major food poisoning outbreak occurs on board and the aircraft is far away from an airport and from adequate medical services. Foodborne illness during a flight can be extremely serious, especially during prolonged international flights. On a flight from Lima, Peru, to Los Angeles in 1992, 75 passengers went down with cholera (Eberhart-Phillips et al. 1996). Ten of them were hospitalised and one died. These emergencies often present a management dilemma because of the limited medical resources available on board (Godil and Godil 1997). In addition, certain problems specific to air travel complicate the recognition and investigation of outbreaks caused by meals served on aircraft. E.g. if a causative agent has a longer incubation period than the flight takes, passengers become ill after disembarkation. Therefore it may be difficult to recognise a cluster of a foodborne illness among travellers from many different countries and to trace the origin of the outbreak.
It is important to identify the hazards associated with aircraft meals and to develop efficient control methods. Regular microbiological testing of food as a part of the quality assurance system of flight kitchen is necessary to ensure the safety of meals. Controlling the health status of food handling staff and training in food hygiene field is of great importance.