Hygiene is the backbone of the airline catering industry and must be maintained from sourcing onwards, says Hakan Ahl, general manager of airline caterer Gate Gourmet Hong Kong. The 'cold chain', from suppliers to the meal that passengers finally unpack, is 'strictly prescribed'. 'Food is not actually frozen all the time but very cold. In the cold zone, it will have been about four to five degrees Celsius,' he said. 'Meals kept on board aircraft should never exceed 10 degrees.' That means food goes from refrigerator to refrigerator and is finally packed on to a refrigerated truck. On board, meals are kept cold, before being reheated to specified temperatures. Chicken, for instance, will get cooked at a sizzling 75 degrees. Cathay Pacific Catering Services will aim to ensure there are no problems with the food by having in a laboratory in its new building at Hong Kong International Airport. Twelve people will staff the laboratory, which follows international standard analysis to identify hazards in large food production facilities such as raw products, temperature control during cooking and cleanliness of equipment. 'There are a whole series of things we measure ourselves by,' Paul Stuart, Cathay Pacific Catering Services' project manager, said. 'We have 30-plus other airline customers apart from Cathay. Each of them sends around its own teams on regular inspections.' The Department of Health adds to the checks with tests on water supplies, ice and temperature control. Cathay Pacific's own hygiene policy stipulates in great detail what requirements are for in-flight kitchens. 'I think the hygiene on an aircraft is 10 times better than in most hotels,' Adrian Ort, Cathay Pacific's manager, Catering Services, said. 'There is such a great awareness of the dangers on board. Your reputation would take a tremendous hit. We're very careful with high-risk items and with the cold chain. Once food has been cooked, we cool it down in blast chillers where we take temperatures down to five degrees Celsius in a very short time and we keep it there all the time. 'You keep the temperature consistent until you heat it up again to minimise bacteria.' Building a kitchen from scratch at Chek Lap Kok offered Cathay Pacific the chance to introduce innovations such as tiling the entire food production floor in one operation before putting special insulated partitions for walls and cold rooms in place. It meant minimising the number of nooks and crannies where pests could gather. An idea little known in Asia, a ventilated ceiling, covers the entire kitchen, eliminating the need for extractor hoods over hot ranges. 'It means the whole area is more open, airier, and there is not so much noise bouncing around from stainless steel hoods,' Robert Little, project manager with construction management firm Parsons Brinckerhoff Asia, said. A 'power and free' monorail-like system transports airline food carts around the ground floor, ensuring everything underneath can be easily cleaned.