I saw how aeroplane food gets made —  and I learned a shocking secret about food waste and delayed flights

United Airlines Food 7848
Wait until you hear what happens to prepared aeroplane food when a flight gets delayed. Sarah Jacobs

Besides likening themselves to cattle shoved into an airborne metal tube, there’s nothing passengers like to complain about more than how terrible aeroplane food is. But how and where those disappointing in-flight meals get made is rarely thought of.

United Airlines recently let our cameras into its catering facility, Chelsea Food Services, near Newark International Airport in New Jersey. Surprisingly, the food we saw was super fresh, made entirely by hand, and meticulously planned in advance. Another shocker? The airline’s newest menu additions are actually pretty good.

Keep scrolling to see all of the work that goes into the making of your in-flight meals, and to find out about the shocking waste that occurs when your flight is delayed.

[slideshow]
[slide
permalink=”/#welcome-to-uniteds-chelsea-food-services-facility-where-a-team-of-1000-produces-33000-meals-per-day-1″
title=”Welcome to United’s Chelsea Food Services facility, where a team of 1,000 produces 33,000 meals per day.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/56292b559dd7cc04308b8af0″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
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]
[slide
permalink=”/#food-services-manager-leon-britton-showed-us-around-britton-has-worked-here-for-28-years-2″
title=”Food services manager Leon Britton showed us around. Britton has worked here for 28 years.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929809dd7cc02308b8a90″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
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[slide
permalink=”/#absolutely-everyone-is-required-to-wear-a-hair-net-and-most-wear-lab-coats-to-our-eyes-the-facility-was-spotlessly-clean-3″
title=”Absolutely everyone is required to wear a hair net, and most wear lab coats. To our eyes, the facility was spotlessly clean.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5629296e9dd7cc11008c4005″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
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credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#this-place-is-a-machine–every-meal-cart-and-tray-is-efficiently-produced-labeled-and-dated-4″
title=”This place is a machine — every meal, cart, and tray is efficiently produced, labelled, and dated.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5629296d9dd7cc03308b8bcf”
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#here-in-the-hot-kitchen-meals-for-217-flights-are-made-daily-5″
title=”Here in the hot kitchen, meals for 217 flights are made daily.”
content=”It’s hard to tell in this photo, but the hot kitchen is actually quite small for the amount of work it has to accommodate. You’ll see this better in another photo taken from outside the kitchen.”
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5629296e9dd7cc01308b89e0″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#fresh-veggies-are-chopped-by-hand-and-cooked-on-a-grill-nothing-is-automated-6″
title=”Fresh veggies are chopped by hand and cooked on a grill. Nothing is automated.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5629296b9dd7ccfc418b8e61″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#the-trick-to-airplane-food-is-to-only-cook-it-halfway-steak-for-example-is-cooked-30-of-the-way-the-final-cook-is-done-onboard-in-the-aircrafts-convection-ovens-7″
title=”The trick to aeroplane food is to only cook it halfway. Steak, for example, is cooked 30% of the way. The final cook is done onboard in the aircraft’s convection ovens.”
content=”A common misconception is that planes have microwaves. Convection ovens, which use fans to push the heat, are faster and can cook items at a lower temperature.”
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929689dd7cc04308b8ad5″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#items-that-do-not-need-to-be-cooked-like-this-fruit-salad-are-made-outside-the-hot-kitchen-fresh-produce-is-delivered-multiple-times-a-day-8″
title=”Items that do not need to be cooked, like this fruit salad, are made outside the hot kitchen. Fresh produce is delivered multiple times a day.”
content=”We asked about how many produce deliveries the facility gets a day, but they told us it happens so frequently that they can’t even count!”
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5629297a9dd7cc15008c40ce”
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#heres-a-view-from-outside-the-hot-kitchen-it-looks-pretty-small-when-you-consider-that-33000-meals-come-out-of-that-space-every-day-9″
title=”Here’s a view from outside the hot kitchen. It looks pretty small when you consider that 33,000 meals come out of that space every day.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929949dd7cc01308b89e5″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#the-facility-must-also-supply-flight-attendants-with-the-tools-they-need-to-prepare-and-serve-the-meals-10″
title=”The facility must also supply flight attendants with the tools they need to prepare and serve the meals.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929979dd7cc16008c3f8e”
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#everything-the-flight-attendants-could-possibly-need-think-tongs-ice-scoopers-are-niftily-packed-in-an-oven-mitt-11″
title=”Everything the flight attendants could possibly need (think: tongs, ice scoopers) are niftily packed in an oven mitt.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5629299d9dd7cc04308b8adb”
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#the-precise-amount-of-servingware-that-each-flight-needs-is-planned-and-packed-in-these-metal-bins-far-in-advance-12″
title=”The precise amount of servingware that each flight needs is planned and packed in these metal bins far in advance.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5629296c9dd7cc10008c3fd1″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#once-meals-have-been-prepared-theyre-rolled-into-the-cold-room-13″
title=”Once meals have been prepared, they’re rolled into the ‘cold room.'”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929729dd7cc02308b8a8e”
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#this-room-is-kept-at-a-chilly-50-degrees-fahrenheit-14″
title=”This room is kept at a chilly 50 degrees Fahrenheit.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5629297c9dd7cc03308b8bd1″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#here-employees-package-every-single-dish-by-hand-15″
title=”Here, employees package every single dish by hand.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929789dd7cc1b008c4133″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#the-dishes-are-then-set-aside-for-the-next-step-16″
title=”The dishes are then set aside for the next step.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929779dd7cc24008c3edf”
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#which-is-to-arrange-the-trays-pictures-on-the-walls-show-employees-how-to-arrange-food-and-what-the-final-product-should-look-like-17″
title=”Which is to arrange the trays. Pictures on the walls show employees how to arrange food and what the final product should look like.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929769dd7cc11008c4006″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#completed-trays-are-put-into-the-same-food-carts-you-see-onboard-the-plane-each-one-is-labeled-with-its-flight-number-18″
title=”Completed trays are put into the same food carts you see onboard the plane. Each one is labelled with its flight number.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929799dd7cc16008c3f8b”
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#once-the-carts-have-been-loaded-theyre-moved-to-an-even-colder-room-to-be-blast-chilled-this-room-is-kept-at-a-frosty-38-degrees-the-people-who-work-here-wear-heavy-winter-coats-19″
title=”Once the carts have been loaded, they’re moved to an even colder room to be blast-chilled. This room is kept at a frosty 38 degrees; the people who work here wear heavy winter coats.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929769dd7cc03308b8bd0″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#these-carts-are-ready-and-waiting-to-board-an-aircraft-20″
title=”These carts are ready and waiting to board an aircraft.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929859dd7cc25008c4013″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#before-boarding-carts-are-packed-with-dry-ice-to-keep-the-food-fresh-21″
title=”Before boarding, carts are packed with dry ice to keep the food fresh.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5629297f9dd7cc19008c3fc1″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#dishes-are-conveniently-kept-at-the-bottom-of-the-carts-22″
title=”Dishes are conveniently kept at the bottom of the carts.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929819dd7cc18008c408b”
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#heres-the-shocker-meals-cant-sit-for-more-than-six-to-eight-hours-before-boarding-a-plane-if-a-flight-is-delayed-for-more-than-a-couple-of-hours-all-of-its-meals-could-get-thrown-out-and-replaced-not-only-is-the-food-wasted-but-employees-have-to-work-overtime-to-get-the-new-food-ready-23″
title=”Here’s the shocker: Meals can’t sit for more than six to eight hours before boarding a plane. If a flight is delayed for more than a couple of hours, all of its meals could get thrown out and replaced. Not only is the food wasted, but employees have to work overtime to get the new food ready.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5629297c9dd7cc11008c4007″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#snack-carts-are-also-pre-loaded-and-have-their-own-area-24″
title=”Snack carts are also pre-loaded and have their own area.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929969dd7cc22008c4183″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#walking-into-the-soft-drink-area-kind-of-feels-like-being-in-costco-25″
title=”Walking into the soft drink area kind of feels like being in Costco.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5629298b9dd7cc1b008c4134″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#alcohol-is-kept-in-its-own-restricted-spot-26″
title=”Alcohol is kept in its own, restricted spot.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929989dd7ccfc418b8e66″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#thats-a-lot-of-booze-27″
title=”That’s a lot of booze.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929909dd7cc19008c3fc4″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#this-is-the-enormous-dish-washing-facility-28″
title=”This is the enormous dish washing facility.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929989dd7cc1a008c3e70″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#after-use-everything-including-the-push-carts-is-pressure-washed-29″
title=”After use, everything, including the push carts, is pressure washed.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/562929869dd7cc14008c4121″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”/#if-workers-hit-their-monthly-goals-and-run-on-time-they-get-a-300-bonus-for-the-month-hence-the-300-we-saw-plastered-all-over-the-facility-heres-hoping-this-holiday-travel-season-is-light-on-flight-delays-and-food-waste-30″
title=”If workers hit their monthly goals and run on time, they get a $300 bonus for the month, hence the ‘$300’ we saw plastered all over the facility. Here’s hoping this holiday travel season is light on flight delays and food waste.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5629299b9dd7cc1e008c3f97″
source=”Sarah Jacobs”
caption=””
credit_href=””
]
[/slideshow]