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How to Stay Safe from Food Dangers on Planes

Jokes about bad airplane food are the bread and butter of stand-up comedians, but this story is no laughing matter. CNN reports that the family of Othon Cortes is suing American Airlines and Sky Chefs after Cortes allegedly became ill upon eating an in-flight meal.

Cortes reportedly ate a meal of chicken on his flight from Barcelona to New York City. While waiting to make his connecting flight to Miami, Cortes allegedly became ill, and once aboard the flight, suffered a "cardiac event" and was pronounced dead on arrival after an emergency landing in Norfolk, Virginia.

Cortes' family is suing the airline and food provider for breaches in food safety, as well as negligence in allowing Cortes to board his connecting flight while ill. Sky Chefs has begun dismissal proceedings against the lawsuit, as they did not provide the food on the flight in question; American Airlines, already busy with its bankruptcy proceedings, will not comment on the lawsuit.

Setting aside the validity (or not) of the claim, we'll focus on another element of the story: Airline food is gross. Don't just take my word for it: Science proves it. (So do these FDA warnings over rodent droppings and unsanitary in-flight kitchens.)

But let's assume for a moment you're on one of those rare flights where meals are still served. If you suffer from food allergies or intolerances, how do you know your in-flight meal is safe to eat even without the food-poisoning threat? Here are a few tips for feeding while flying:

Don't get stuck grabbing a desperation meal made of chips and sodas from the nearest magazine stand to your gate. Download one of these apps for your smartphone, and you'll be able to find gourmet to-go and eat-in options located near your gate so you can dine while you wait: 

  • GateGuru can direct you to the best cuisine at the airport, complete with user reviews and ratings.
  • Too much luggage to drag around to a restaurant? Check out B4 You Board, an app that will let you order food from restaurants to be delivered to your gate at select airports.

Trying to save money? Why not pre-pack your own in-flight meal. You'll have ultimate control over what goes in it (excellent if you've got allergies or just want to eat healthy), and you'll spend way less than at a fast food place.

But with all of the new security restrictions, how do you know what food you're allowed to bring? Check out the TSA's handy "traveling with food or gifts" page where you'll learn that more than 3.4 oz. of peanut butter, jams, salsa, etc., are prohibited, but that pies and cakes are a-okay. Can't find your food item on the list? The TSA's homepage has a handy "what can I bring" widget, where you can type in what you want to bring, and the tool will tell you if it's okay.

Finally, if you're running late and find yourself with no other option than to eat airplane food, cross your fingers that you're on either Air Canada or Virgin America, as they were recently ranked as the healthiest in-flight meal servers.

Readers, does this lawsuit make you reconsider whether or not you should eat airplane food? If so, what's your strategy—wait 'til you land, pack a meal, or grab something at the gate?

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