Catering to palates across the globe
Hiranthi Fernando visits the state-of-the-art kitchens of SIA
Producing 30,000 hot meals each day is indeed a tall order. This is the daily requirement for the Singapore Airlines' international flights departing from busy Changi Airport. Including light refreshments, the meal count totals a formidable 42,000. All these meals are prepared by the Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS) Inflight Catering Centre ICC -1. At the same time, ICC - 2, undertakes the catering for other airlines through Changi Airport, producing about 24,000 hot meals daily.

ICC 1 and 2 are separate self-sufficient sections of the large complex of the Singapore Airport Terminal Services In-flight Catering Centre. Given a tour of ICC - 1, to learn more about how these meals are produced, our passports were collected at the entrance gates as this was considered a high-security area. We were issued identity cards, without which the metal barriers would not open to let us in.

The well-structured process begins in the Receiving Section, where raw materials are sent in by suppliers. In the quality control section, they are checked for freshness, specifications, weight, expiry dates and so on. The approved raw materials are then handed over to the stores where meat and fish products are sent in to the fully automated central freezer and dry stocks stored on multi-level high flung storage racks.

These racks run the entire height of the huge storage area and can be rolled up or down. The produce is rolled in, keyed into the computer system and assigned to pellets on the multi-level storage racks. The computer monitors when the items have gone in, which items should be used earlier and where they are located. When a product is required, it is sent from the storage area on a conveyor belt to the production block.

In the distribution area, materials sent from stores are removed from the cartons, to prevent dirt getting into the kitchen. They are placed in orange bins and sent to the production area. The first stage of thawing the frozen items is carried out in the temperature tempering machine, at a temperature of-20 to -3 degrees. Pre-preparation of frozen vegetables is also carried out before they are sent to the cooking area. After the thawing, meat items are cut according to the butchery's requirements.

Before entering the production block, we donned white coats and net caps, rather like shower caps, to cover our hair and ears. Apart from notebooks, pens, and cameras, other belongings had to be left behind in a room. However, photography was also not permitted except in certain areas. All chefs and other staff working in the kitchen are also clad in these coats and caps to ensure hygienic food preparation.

In the production block, there are separate pre-preparation sections for different items, a cold kitchen, a hot kitchen, a Muslim kitchen, an Indian kitchen and also a Japanese kitchen, used for Japanese flights. A central bakery produces all the bread items required. A Premium Class Kitchen is expected to be operational in a few weeks, said Colin Tan of SATS who showed us around.

Salads and appetizers are prepared in the cold kitchen while marinated food, the hot soups, sauces, vegetable blanching, omelettes and roasting are all done in the hot kitchen. Trays of cooked products from the cooking area are sent in to the power blast chiller, on a conveyor belt. After blast chilling, the bar code is scanned and the trays go into the food buffer storing area for trays that are ready for dishing.

In the dishing area pictorial representations and specifications of the dishes to be prepared are available. The staff takes the specifications, and scans the bar code.The computer then issues the items required for dishing. Following the pictorial representations and specifications for the various meals, the staff arranges the items accordingly on the individual meal trays. There are separate dishing areas for Economy Class, Business Class and First Class, and of course, vegetarian meals.

The Food Bank is a central receiving point from all kitchens. Everything comes in here and the various items are issued for the flights as required. A checklist of items is sent down to the outbound section. Food checkers go on board and hand over the meals to the cabin crew. It is then in their hands to heat and serve the meals as required.

The Catering Control Room coordinates directly with the airport dealing with last minute passengers. Behind the Control Room is a documentation section that produces the checklists to staff.

Finally we were taken into a simulated aircraft cabin within the complex. Mr. Tan explained that here, the conditions on a flight at 30,000 feet, are simulated. It is equipped with ovens for heating up food and other equipment just as in an aircraft. "This facility is the only one of its kind in the world," he added. "People like us sit down here and taste the meals that would be served on board."Food tastes different on flights, he explained.

So the meals are tasted and comments sent for necessary adjustments to the menus. Continuous research and monitoring of the meals served on board are carried out to ensure the quality that is synonymous with SIA.

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