DETROIT (AP) -- A company that supplies airline meals to Northwest and other airlines has had repeated incidences of unsanitary conditions, inspections records show.
Federal regulators have found unsanitary conditions at Culinary Foods Inc., a Chicago food processing plant, in past inspections, according to records obtained by the Detroit Free Press.
But officials at Culinary, a Tyson Foods Inc. subsidiary, say they corrected problems and installed state-of-the-art safety systems after two food recalls in 1999.
''At Culinary Foods, the wholesomeness of our product is of primary importance,'' the company's vice president, Tom McLaughlin, said in a statement. ''Within the past 10 months, we have invested more than several hundred thousand dollars in improved plant systems and implemented many new policies designed to further enhance quality assurance.''
However, the recalls have prompted Minnesota-based Northwest and other airlines to hire outside companies to test the meals they receive from Culinary and other suppliers for bacterial contamination.
In February, Culinary Foods recalled 78,000 chicken burritos because of contamination with the potentially deadly bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. Some of the burritos had been served aboard American Airlines flights out of Detroit.
In March, the company also recalled 1,900 pounds of pasta with sausage for the same reason.
Northwest Airlines is doing about 40 percent less business with Culinary Foods than it did earlier this year, Northwest spokeswoman Marta Laughlin said. But she said the airline has had no problems with Culinary products.
Northwest has changed its contracts with all its food providers to require that meals be tested for bacteria prior to shipping.
Regulators say the Chicago plant has made significant improvements, but they haven't lifted a June probationary status that subjects the plant to stepped-up monitoring by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
''When we take an enforcement action, it's serious,'' said William Smith, a USDA assistant deputy administrator for field operations.
The plant remains under scrutiny, Smith said. The USDA's tests repeatedly detected Listeria.
However, Smith said the company is making improvements. ''They are doing a number of proactive things,'' he said.
The 353 pages of inspection reports and other documents obtained by the Free Press last week span a time period from 1997 through February 1999.
Smith said he did not have details about recent citations at the plant. Officials at Culinary Foods and Tyson declined further comment, saying only that they work with the USDA in the inspection process.
Among the food safety violations reported at the Chicago plant:
--Inspectors observed workers spraying down dirty floors and allowing the dirty water to ricochet onto exposed food or food packaging materials, contaminating them.
--An inspector condemned 683 pounds of chicken mandarin after watching the product become contaminated with dripping ice and water from an overhead refrigeration unit on Dec. 2, 1998.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.