by: Aaron Diamant Updated:
ATLANTA - A scathing federal report is showing unclean conditions at the Atlanta hub of the country's largest airline catering company.
Gate Gourmet at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has been on Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant's radar for a long time.
Diamant's investigation into a potential security breach involving the catering carts sparked hearings in Congress and last summer he dug into reports of needles found in its sandwiches.
Now, Diamant has obtained a report from the federal government about deplorable conditions in the company's Atlanta location.
A former employee of Gate Gourmet, who asked not to be identified, said he tipped off the feds about conditions inside the company's airport operation.
"It's totally disgusting," he said. "My biggest concern was the safety of the people."
Concerns were confirmed when FDA inspectors showed up at Gate Gourmet's Hartsfield-Jackson hub last November.
Diamant obtained the report through a Freedom of Information Act request, some of the more troubling observations inspectors made involved contamination controls.
"Water was observed splashing onto the cooked pasta from the floor and the drain," the reports said.
"Employees were washing fruit without any sanitizer present in the water," and "Pigeons were observed flying over the ovens," the report went on to say.
A source shot video inside the facility showing the ovens sitting just a few feet from Dumpsters.
"I've seen birds come and eat right out of the same ovens that they put on first class food."
Inspectors also found several pieces of equipment considered "un-cleanable."
Snacks stored, "In a soiled plastic bin on a shelf in a puddle of unknown liquid."
The report said there was a "Failure to conduct cleaning and sanitizing operations for utensils."
"How long was this stuff going on?" Diamant asked the former employee.
"I've seen it the whole four years I was there," he answered.
Inspectors wrote, "An employee was observed cleaning the flat top grill with only water and orange juice. While spraying the drains out, water was observed splashing onto the flat grill after it had undergone its cleaning process."
And maybe most frightening for a facility that makes millions of passenger's meals every year, inspectors found a "failure to properly identify, hold and store toxic cleaning compounds in a manner that protects against contamination of food."
"I hope the public just gets in an uproar," the source told Diamant.
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Diamant received a letter Gate Gourmet sent back to the FDA, telling them it created a special team to address each problem the inspectors found and all of the corrective action in the following weeks.
Gate Gourmet sent a statement to Diamant in response to the report, saying, "Our work with the FDA is important, especially in an operation of our magnitude. FDA inspections are multi-layered processes in place at Gate Gourmet and in the airline catering industry. Where any issues arise, we take swift action to address those issues, often working cooperatively as we did here with the FDA. In this instance, we thoroughly investigated each observation, identified root causes and took corrective action. Furthermore, we have defined preventive actions for each observation.
"It's important to consider these reports in context. Form 483 is neither a "warning letter" nor a direct threat of closure. The Form 483 includes inspectional observations that do not represent a final agency determination of non-compliance. This Form 483 was prompted by a complaint that the FDA concluded was unfounded," the statement read. "Gate Gourmet's goal is to be 100 percent compliant with all health and safety regulations, 100 percent of the time. We take our responsibility very seriously, and we continually improve our processes and technology."
"Along with FDA oversight, our system of controls also includes other government agency audits, customer inspections, continuous improvement
initiatives and our own quality assurance programs (which food safety inspections outsourced to a third party to ensure objectivity," the statement continued.
"We employ thousands of individuals and have rigorous controls in place under which we globally serve more than 250 million safe and high-quality meals annually, to more than 250 airlines," the statement concluded.