Inside one of the world's largest airline food factories

2016-01-08 11:04
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Cape Town - Back in 1919, the very first airplane meals were served - a scrumptious snack of sandwiches and fresh fruit, to keep passengers flying from London to Paris smiling. 

A few decades later, airplane food has become a huge commodity, taken beyond the common chicken or beef sarmie and delving into finer gourmet indulgence. 

Apart from 'indulgence' another factor that grown airplane food is that it has grown in quantity. 

PICS: The saddest and most shocking airplane meals of 2015

CNN Travel took a look into one of the world's biggest airline food factories - the Emirates flight catering facility in Dubai. 

The food factory prepares 180 000 meals every day, for more than 400 daily flights to 142 destinations, reports CNN, and according to them, approximately 65% of all the airline meals are made in Dubai. It's other food catering stations are scattered around the world, with over twenty in the Asian Pacific alone. 

Vice President of Emirates Flight Catering - Joost Heymeijer -oversees the airlines productions of over 55 million meals a year. To him, the 'sounds and smells of a restaurant have always got his engines running - and this mass food factory is no exception.

By no means is it a thing of serving everyone the same meal - different destinations often require special menus and flavours, such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

READ: 10 families a day denied boarding to South Africa from Heathrow

Heymeijer explained to CNN that the various menus are changed every month - making up 7 000 different meals every year. "We have 254 different kinds of soup in first class alone."

Food safety is the main priority when dealing with mass quantities in such a huge factory. The key to keeping things above board and pure is to have complete 'traceability'. Nothing is in powder form or modified. 

Getting a tour of the Dubai factory is not easy to arrange, with stringent security measures and health precautions, CNN was able to explore the multi-billion Rand building. 

A photo posted by Emirates (@emirates) on

Here are some of the mind-blowing findings of how much food Emirates uses every year...

3 million items of dirty equipment are cleaned every day, with all items are divided into food, beverages and duty-free. These items are then cleaned by machines operated by 500 workers. 

It takes 7 500 carts to carry food and meal items which are transported through the factory on the 2.5km overhead rail above worker's heads every day. Emirates does its part to keep everything green and recycles 1.7 million tons of recycling every year (tin, plastic, glass etc).

READ: #HoverboardsFails: SA domestic airlines ban trendy new gadget

500 chefs cook fresh meals before it is frozen and stored

Cooked items must be eaten within 72 hours

58 million mini bread rolls are used every year


13 million eggs

4 300 tons of chicken

1 100 tons of lamb 

3.6 tons of lobster

What many do not know is that all in-flight and lounge meals are prepared at the factory. The egg mayo, located in one corner of the facilities is operated by two staff members, one who adds it to mini-bagels and another who adds salmon to the bagel. 

The airline also invested $500 million (about R7.8 billion at R15.75/$) over the last ten years on wine - many of which are 'route-specific' - South African wines in South African, and so on for each country. Emirates flies a total of 120 different wines annually. 

READ: The Top 5 Airlines meals in the world

The 26 000 litres of whipping cream used every year used amounts to 3250 baths of water. 

201 tons of prawns

3,300 tons of flour

550 tons of basmati rice

The amount of ice used every year weights about the same weight as a medium-sized family home. 

550 tons of watermelon

70 tons of strawberries

1210 tons of tomatoes

4 million hairnets

23 million gloves


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