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Safety and environmental issues with Amtrak's Flex Dining concept

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20th Century Rider

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The deterioration of food service on Amtrak has brought much discussion regarding disappointment. However other more serious issues have surfaced regarding food safety and health; as well as recycling of food product waste. Here is a repost from earlier today. How do others on this forum feel about this???

While the 'Flex Dining' food product itself may be edible for occasional intake in a critical situation, there are three reasons why it is not recommended for human consumption. The first two involve health risk, the last is environmental. I hope Amtrak management is watching our forum and will rethink its responsibilities to both safety and the environment.

1] Carcinogenic and toxic properties of Polyethylene Terephthalate plate when heated.*
2] Sodium at unhealthy level.
3] Food and container waste is not recycled or reused.

* If you will be 'Flex Dining' your food will be heated in the plastic dish. Turn it over and you will see the designation as '1' in the triangular recycling stamp required by law. You owe it to yourself to check this out:

www.madesafe.org
#ChemicalCallout: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) does not readily break down in the environment and it may pose some toxicity risks.
www.madesafe.org www.madesafe.org
 

McLeansvilleAppFan

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I agree with most everything you state.

How much was being trashed before the change in food services? The last time I was in a dinner the plates were plastic it seems, which I assume were being tossed.

When did Amtrak last use reusable plates, utensils, and cups that were washed and put back in service at a later time?
 

20th Century Rider

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I agree with most everything you state.

How much was being trashed before the change in food services? The last time I was in a dinner the plates were plastic it seems, which I assume were being tossed.

When did Amtrak last use reusable plates, utensils, and cups that were washed and put back in service at a later time?
Recycling problems existed when they eliminated using china and glassware... they just put it in big boxes and unload at designated stops... its taken away by contracted garbage collector. They said it was all going to landfill but I can't be certain. That includes unused everything from unused dinner rolls after dinner is over... to aluminum pans the food is stored in... and all kinds of plastics including the plateware. I have been told time and again when questioning... even in recycling conscious California on the Coast Starlight... it all goes to landfill.

The reason why they stopped the china ware and glass ware was because it was too costly to house a dishwasher and required water. But this is no excuse as this has been used for decades. It was ALL ABOUT CUTTING COSTS... at the sacrifice of the environment. That is one reason why government funding is crucial for Amtrak and the environment.
 

20th Century Rider

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I agree.

For 100 years (or however long it’s been), trains have had china, cups, glasses, pots, pans, etc... AND the necessary water to wash them on the train. The REAL savings is to not have to pay the extra employee to do the washing!:rolleyes:
The government should put the environment before cost cutting. Wait a minute! What ever happened to the EPA when it comes to recycling waste from the trains??? If the government is committed to the environment it would only make sense they would stop throwing toxic plastics into landfill. But! But! But! The government is disjointed and goes in different directions that are in conflict with each other. Wastes even more money and makes no sense! Where oh where is the top leadership???
 

PVD

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Disposable doesn't have to mean bad, there are recyclable and/or compostable options. Of course they may not be as cheap, or may actually require some effort to keep sorted.. Being stuck in the apartment, I went through a variety of prepared or frozen foods, and found that most of the mainstream products are too high in Sodium, Saturated Fats, and/or Added Sugars. Same thing for most meals that you can pick up in a drive through. If you look at the most popular restaurants, or store products that the American people buy, I'm not sure what Amtrak buys is any worse nutritionally than typical people buy, unfortunately, that isn't very good. That is clearly an area for improvement, at least make an effort to offer a couple of healthier options.
 
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20th Century Rider

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Disposable doesn't have to mean bad, there are recyclable and/or compostable options. Of course they may not be as cheap, or may actuallyrquire some effort to keep sorted.. Being stuck in the apartment, I went through a variety of prepared or frozen foods, and found that most of the mainstream products are too high in Sodium, Saturated Fats, and/or Added Sugars. Same thing for most meals that you can pick up in a drive through. That is clearly an area for improvement, at least make an effort to offer a couple of healthier options.
Right on... that is exactly what we are talking about! Food preparation technology exists where less processing can allow for lower sodium and fat, while still maintaining flavor, texture, and taste. That also means doing away with 'fillers' and 'extenders,' and high sodium 'flavor enhancers.' Remember, as a sleeping car passenger, those meals are generously costed into that high fare already. Highly suspect that some of that money may be diverted to other places... but that's another discussion.
 
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rickycourtney

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The thing is... it doesn’t need to be this way and airline food proves we can do better.

Yes, airline food.

I know a lot of railfans like to snicker and make fun of airline food. But the truth is, since airlines eliminated free food in coach on domestic flights... their central kitchens have re-focused on preparing meals for first class customers. That change demanded that they step up their game.

Check out this video showing how Delta and their contractor GateGourmet prepare meals for first class passengers:

I see no reason why Amtrak couldn’t do something similar, although some changes may be necessary.

Place the items separately in foil containers, pack real plates and silverware into carts and have the crew plate everything just before servicing. When meals are done, the crew places the dirty dishes back into the carts for cleaning at the central kitchen, they place the recyclable items into a recycling cart, and the trash into another cart.
 

20th Century Rider

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The thing is... it doesn’t need to be this way and airline food proves we can do better.

Yes, airline food.

I know a lot of railfans like to snicker and make fun of airline food. But the truth is, since airlines eliminated free food in coach on domestic flights... their central kitchens have re-focused on preparing meals for first class customers. That change demanded that they step up their game.

Check out this video showing how Delta and their contractor GateGourmet prepare meals for first class passengers:

I see no reason why Amtrak couldn’t do something similar, although some changes may be necessary.

Place the items separately in foil containers, pack real plates and silverware into carts and have the crew plate everything just before servicing. When meals are done, the crew places the dirty dishes back into the carts for cleaning at the central kitchen, they place the recyclable items into a recycling cart, and the trash into another cart.
That's right in line with what I've been saying... but in a way, the present prepackaged meals, which are so very very bad in terms of food safety and quality are probably being outsourced from some vendor that makes them in vast amounts in very much the same way you describe with GateGourmet.

So why doesn't Amtrak solicit other sources such as GateGourmet for a more appropriately qualitative food experience? The supply points would be in major passenger rail centers such as Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, etc. Is there something else going on that is being hidden from disclosure? I couldn't find the Flex meals vendor anywhere. Who is that vendor??? When Anderson started this flex idea to cut spending... certainly he knew about food service companies from his experience in the airline industry.

🤠Thank you for bringing up a good point!
 

MARC Rider

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I went through a variety of prepared or frozen foods, and found that most of the mainstream products are too high in Sodium, Saturated Fats, and/or Added Sugars. Same thing for most meals that you can pick up in a drive through.
Same thing for freshly cooked gourmet food at fine restaurants.
 

Dakota 400

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Mar 5, 2014
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The thing is... it doesn’t need to be this way and airline food proves we can do better.

Yes, airline food.

I know a lot of railfans like to snicker and make fun of airline food. But the truth is, since airlines eliminated free food in coach on domestic flights... their central kitchens have re-focused on preparing meals for first class customers. That change demanded that they step up their game.

Check out this video showing how Delta and their contractor GateGourmet prepare meals for first class passengers:

I see no reason why Amtrak couldn’t do something similar, although some changes may be necessary.

Place the items separately in foil containers, pack real plates and silverware into carts and have the crew plate everything just before servicing. When meals are done, the crew places the dirty dishes back into the carts for cleaning at the central kitchen, they place the recyclable items into a recycling cart, and the trash into another cart.
Fascinating video and particularly being viewed by one who flies Delta First Class and Delta One! I have never had a disappointing meal on Delta. Even when it has been a sandwich type option, the entree and other items were good.
 

Thirdrail7

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While the 'Flex Dining' food product itself may be edible for occasional intake in a critical situation, there are three reasons why it is not recommended for human consumption. The first two involve health risk, the last is environmental. I hope Amtrak management is watching our forum and will rethink its responsibilities to both safety and the environment.

1] Carcinogenic and toxic properties of Polyethylene Terephthalate plate when heated.*
* If you will be 'Flex Dining' your food will be heated in the plastic dish. Turn it over and you will see the designation as '1' in the triangular recycling stamp required by law. You owe it to yourself to check this out:
When did they start heating up food in the serving dishes? Thais must be a very recent turn of events if this is the case. So recent that none of the OBS employees I asked stated they heated the food in these dishes.

2] Sodium at unhealthy level.
This is true,

3] Food and container waste is not recycled or reused.
What makes you think that and when did this change? When it was named "fresh choices" and the food came in boxes and bags, it was a nightmarish mess of garbage and waste. However, when they altered the operation to Contemporary Dining, they started using the serving trays. They are meant to be reused many times and are treated just like the old china plates....meaning they are run through the dishwasher at FDA approved temperatures for sanitizing. Trains without dishwashers are still supposed to collect the trays and return them to the next crew base, where they can be cleaned and reused.

It is basically as described by FrensicPic below:

On the LSL...
20191017_124147.jpg 20191017_130331.jpg
We later learned that those "trays" were washed and used again!
Unless something has dramatically changed, two of your three points are not supposed to occur.
 

crescent-zephyr

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When did they start heating up food in the serving dishes?
What are you suggesting they are heated up in?

they started using the serving trays. They are meant to be reused many times
The poster said food and container waste. The poster didn’t say anything about the tray.

There is also additional waste with the plastic utensils and paper napkins.
 

Thirdrail7

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What are you suggesting they are heated up in?
I'm not suggesting anything...which is why I didn't start a thread stating" * If you will be 'Flex Dining' your food will be heated in the plastic dish. Turn it over and you will see the designation as '1' in the triangular recycling stamp required by law."

I haven't seen everything heated up but what I have seen wasn't in a plastic dish. Indeed, the only plastic related dish I've seen is the serving tray. Granted, my exposure is limited...but what is the basis for the original statement?

The poster said food and container waste. The poster didn’t say anything about the tray.
Well, since you're speaking for the OP, what he actually said was " Food and container waste is not recycled or reused."Perhaps you can clue us in as to source all of this "food and container" waste and what isn't recycled and reused? I'm personally not a fan of eating recycled or reused food and since the only thing that can readily be recycled are certain packaging (which is actually taken care of before boarding by Aramark) and the service trays, plus the standard recyclables, I guess we'd need to know what exactly the OP (or you) thinks is occurring.
 

Thirdrail7

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I see no reason why Amtrak couldn’t do something similar, although some changes may be necessary.

Place the items separately in foil containers, pack real plates and silverware into carts and have the crew plate everything just before servicing. When meals are done, the crew places the dirty dishes back into the carts for cleaning at the central kitchen, they place the recyclable items into a recycling cart, and the trash into another cart.
So why doesn't Amtrak solicit other sources such as GateGourmet for a more appropriately qualitative food experience? The supply points would be in major passenger rail centers such as Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, etc. Is there something else going on that is being hidden from disclosure? I couldn't find the Flex meals vendor anywhere. Who is that vendor??? When Anderson started this flex idea to cut spending... certainly he knew about food service companies from his experience in the airline industry.

🤠Thank you for bringing up a good point!
Perhaps it has something to do with the costs and the congressional mandate. Amtrak's food and beverage choices over the last few years have a lot to do with PRIIA and the FAST act. One of the provisions is to eliminate F&B losses and by Dec 4th, 2020, federal funds are not be used to cover F&B losses.

That's just a few months away.
 

crescent-zephyr

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I haven't seen everything heated up but what I have seen wasn't in a plastic dish.
That’s what I was asking.... what are the meals being heated up in?

Well, since you're speaking for the OP, what he actually said was " Food and container waste is not recycled or reused."Perhaps you can clue us in as to source all of this "food and container" waste and what isn't recycled and reused?
I’m not speaking for anyone but myself.

I’m guessing the serving dishes, plastic utensils and napkins were all thrown away.

Many have questioned how much Amtrak actually recycles anything, I have no way of proving either way.
 

dlagrua

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The plastic that the prepackaged meals come in, is not biodegradable. The food is not only unhealthy, the containers will end up in some landfill that will only serve to pollute the environment. Not that long ago Amtrak and the airlines served food in ceramic/china dining ware . Today its all about fast, faster, cheap and throwaway with no regard as to the consequences.
 

railiner

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At least the fast-food chains have gotten away from styrofoam and plastic, and substituted paper where possible....
 

the_traveler

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Every time I’ve seen somebody order a burger/hot dog/pizza/sandwich/etc... from the cafe, I’ve seen the OBS just slice the wrapper to vent it, and put the entire package in the convection oven. I’ve never saw them take it out and put it on a plate before heating it up! And then take it off the plate and put it back in the wrapper.

Even that Delta video shows the plastic trays of food coming out of the convection oven!
 

Qapla

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I prefer paper napkins over cloth as I find most cloth ones do not really clean my hands and/or mouth/face like the paper ones do.

There are recyclable/biodegradable plates, eat ware and other food service implements made from plant by-products. These can compost in as little as 6 months when discarded. Some of these are even able to be washed in a dishwasher and reused. Paper napkins are also biodegradable.

Now, as for "paper straws" ... don't get me started on those - our county has outlawed plastic straws and required the paper ones. My girls call them "toilet paper tubes" - especially since most of them start to deteriorate before you can finish your drink!
 

joelkfla

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Now, as for "paper straws" ... don't get me started on those - our county has outlawed plastic straws and required the paper ones. My girls call them "toilet paper tubes" - especially since most of them start to deteriorate before you can finish your drink!
All straws were paper when I was growing up, and we got along just fine. IMHO, plastic straws are are one of the most senseless and wasteful inventions ever.
 
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