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What happens to the unused food after a flight? Does it get all destroyed (on-site or off-site) or is there some alternative use (e.g. Charity ) that it gets put to. Does the incoming food truck cart it off with the carts or is it handled by the Janitorial / Clean Up crews.

On shorter sectors can some items be used on the next flight with the carts only being "topped up"?

PS. Obviously, I'm referring to the perishable items with short shelf lives. Not talking about peanuts and other packaged items that last with longer shelf lives.

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    $\begingroup$ What if the garbage (on international flights) contains plant or animal products banned from the destination country for disease control reasons? Is the airline forced to carry their trash home with them? $\endgroup$ – DJohnM Jan 4 '16 at 20:18
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The crew eats the food, no doubt. Just joking. The unused food is off loaded from the airplane into catering trucks and is discarded. It seems a bit sad but the reality is, any food that is leftover from a flight is considered “contaminated” so is discarded. This includes meals that passengers didn’t finish as well as entire carts full of food that were never used.

So what is being done to help eliminate unnecessary waste? With limited space on flights, some airlines have started to make small changes by only loading 95% of the required meals on each flight with the expectation that some passengers will opt not to eat. Other airlines have started charging around $10 a meal, recognizing that less food is consumed when meals are only available for purchase rather then complimentary. In the past, some airlines have even donated their unused food to shelters and charities to help make a difference. Unfortunately due to incidents where food poisoning occurred, the liability became much too high and is no longer practiced by airlines. (Source)

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    $\begingroup$ Could there be an unfilled role for a buffer organization to shield the airlines from liability risk? e.g. If the airlines dumped excess food to an intermediary could it shield them from any inadvertent food poisoning risk & the associated goodwill loss & bad PR? I guess some bit of labor might be wasted in anonymization by the intermediary. $\endgroup$ – curious_cat Jan 4 '16 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding liability, at least in the US, good faith donors/recipients are protected by law. $\endgroup$ – fooot Jan 4 '16 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ Out of curiosity, how is a situation handled where more than 95% of the passengers opt to eat? Is it similar to how overbooking is handled? $\endgroup$ – nanofarad Jan 4 '16 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ Hexafraction - some people go without, and probably get some compensation. Even at 95%, though, they'll usually throw some food away - there are always a handful of people who are asleep/feeling sick/not hungry/just don't like airplane food etc. $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Jan 5 '16 at 12:02
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I will say about airlines in Brazil. The meals that are not eaten by passengers, after the flight, they are loaded off by the catering service responsible for this, and they are tossed.

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