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Safety and environmental issues with Amtrak's Flex Dining concept

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Qapla

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Yes, the straws I grew up with were paper - they were wax coated. That was one of the reasons they moved toward plastic straws, the paper ones did not deteriorate in the landfills ... due to the wax coatings. Uncoated ones did not hold up back then any better than they do now.

The same was true of the paper cups back then (before the styro ones) - the wax coating that made them usable prevented/delayed them from decomposing

That was one of the "arguments" for introducing styro cups andplastic straws ... they were "reusable" so they were supposed to be more environmentally friendly :rolleyes:
 

PVD

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Wax coated milk cartons were awful, then came along different types of thin plastic coatings we see on paper products today, notwithstanding the risks of certain plastics, they also make it difficult or impossible to recycle, now we see many more straight up plastic containers.
 

me_little_me

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Bet they were't "biodegradable" back then. The ones today "biodegrade" in my mouth after a few sips!
Another complainer! Here companies are trying to do something to improve their meals by adding fiber and you complain about it. I will admit they use the NY Daily News to make the straw whereas they used to use the NY Times. But expenses do have to be cut back.
 

PVD

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Does anyone remember when folks started to look at fiber content more seriously and one of the bread companies was using sterilized sawdust powder to ramp up fiber content?
 

rickycourtney

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Even that Delta video shows the plastic trays of food coming out of the convection oven!
Nearly of the food in that video was contained in metal or paper containers, especially the items in the convection oven. The one exception I saw was plastic lids over the appetizer plates (which was a chilled item, just like Amtrak's "salads") which looked like they could be stacked up and recycled.

The problem is, Amtrak is clearly not trying very hard here. I mean, those pictures of the food served with the film still on the entree bowl? That's just straight-up bad presentation. I also think serving the salad with a plastic lid is bad presentation, but more forgivable.
 
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Devil's Advocate

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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.
What makes you think we can't see it with our own two eyes? Out here on the national network Amtrak has been trashing nearly everything placed on the table ever since they got rid of the Corelle style dishes. Where they used to toss two or three bags per service stop they now trash a dozen bags or more. You can see it being removed and you can see it being tossed in the dumpster if you stick around long enough. The level of single use waste has increased so much the service carts can barely manage to haul it away.

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.
I don't understand why you continue to cling to a flimsy little serving tray that may or may not be reused as if it somehow invalidates all the other trash Amtrak routinely generates and throws away.

Yes, the straws I grew up with were paper - they were wax coated. That was one of the reasons they moved toward plastic straws, the paper ones did not deteriorate in the landfills ... due to the wax coatings. [...] The same was true of the paper cups back then [...] the wax coating that made them usable prevented/delayed them from decomposing. That was one of the "arguments" for introducing styro cups andplastic straws ... they were "reusable" so they were supposed to be more environmentally friendly
Who claimed waxed straws and cups won't degrade and deteriorate? Who argued that Styrofoam was more environmentally friendly than waxed paper? You can see wax coated cups biodegrading on the side of almost any road if you look close enough. Plastic straws didn't become ubiquitous until kitchen staff were being replaced with automated dishwashers. Jets of heated water weren't enough to remove lipstick from reusable cups so rather than rehire a human restaurants started supplying plastic straws to collect the lipstick and be tossed in the trash. Styrofoam was sold on cost, weight, and insulation rather than some fake environmental benefit. If you don't like paper you can buy metal straws that last a lifetime.
 
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Qapla

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It's not clear to me who was making these declarations. Who was claiming wax coated straws and cups won't degrade and deteriorate? Who was "arguing" that Styrofoam was more environmentally friendly than wax coated paper?
When I first started in food service in 1971 we used waxed coated paper cups and paper straws. Our vendors who sold us these products, not only told us about the "problems" with the wax coated disposables, they showed us printed reports from "environmentalists" describing the lack of decomposition for these products and pushed the idea of using the more (at the time) "environmentally friendly" plastic/Styrofoam replacements.

Back then, since plastic disposables were fairly new, their true impact on the environment was not yet known ... or proved. Many promoted the idea that, once disposed, the "rays from the sun" would quickly break the plastic down and make it "degrade" in an environmentally way - we know now they were "full of it" - but, at the time, armed with their "studies" it all sounded good. We did start using plastic straws but stuck with the paper cups (we only used the paper cups for someone who wanted to "take it wit them" since we used washable hard-plastic cups in the dining room - we had much less breakage with the plastic cups than the glass ones).

I seldom use a bottom-siphon/soda-sucker/sissy-stick to drink my beverage - I prefer to drink it "the old fashioned way", directly from the glass/cup/bottle/can/container. I also prefer a glass cup to plastic.
 

Qapla

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Interesting you didn't seem to notice the "bottom-siphon" or "soda-sucker" ... and there is nothing wrong with people with disabilities siphoning their beverage from the bottom or sucking it through a straw 🤷‍♂️

I didn't refer to them as "sissy's" - that is the one you applied, not me (it seems that humor is a thing of the past)
 

Thirdrail7

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What makes you think we can't see it with our own two eyes? Out here on the national network Amtrak has been trashing nearly everything placed on the table ever since they got rid of the Corelle style dishes. Where they used to toss two or three bags per service stop they now trash a dozen bags or more. You can see it being removed and you can see it being tossed in the dumpster if you stick around long enough. The level of single use waste has increased so much the service carts can barely manage to haul it away.


I don't understand why you continue to cling to a flimsy little serving tray that may or may not be reused as if it somehow invalidates all the other trash Amtrak routinely generates and throws away.
I’ll take these both at once since it helps dive into what I was referring to. This
thread refers to the safety and environmental impact of Amtrak’s Flexible Dining concept.

If someone started a general thread about Amtrak’s food service waste or environmental impact, everything you mentioned makes sense.

However, you and others summed up my thought. What makes the flexible dining more wasteful than the existing services? The dishwashers are still being used, I’m not noticing much more plastic usage than the average cafe car use and in certain areas, flexible dining is only able to sleeping car passengers.

The reason I keep bring up those trays is that is major addition to the operation and would be a major source of waste....and they are recyclable.

So, how is this a problem unique to the flexible dining program?
 

Seaboard92

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ThirdRail can correct me if I am wrong on this. But I don't think it is possible to use Gate Gourmet or other airline vendors strictly because of the distance from the airports to the various rail yards.

For instance lets look at Chicago which services 8 long distance trains with "Full Service".

Distance: 19.4 Miles (Gate Gourmet)
Travel Time: 33 Minutes in current traffic 17:10 CT

From my personal knowledge of stocking a full service diner with real ingredients it takes roughly 20-30 minutes to stock a diner, and another ten minutes to do inventory to make sure you have enough for the trip. Now with a preprepared meal you can probably cut this time down to 15 minutes to stock it, with one person, and another 10 minutes to do inventory.

So the specialized truck that Gate Gourmet uses to help load airliners is for sure away from ORD for at least an hour and a half. Keep in mind that Gate Gourmet also services all UA, DL, AA, VS, BA, LA, AC, QF, AR, AV, IB, CA, AF, EK, TG, LX, AZ. Remember that even Regional jets rate catering and stocking from one of these trucks. So you are wanting to drive a truck for eight different Amtrak departures a day. Occupying a truck for 12 hours a day. I am sure these trucks are in short supply at an airport the size of ORD, and any delay to a truck can cascade into hours of delays across the country. Remember airlines generally turn a plane within an hour of its arrival at the next destination.

I don't think it is really practical for an airline oriented company to service Amtrak because even though it is a similar field to what they currently do, the trains aren't serviced at the airport. Whereas a company like Aramark is accustomed to running many far flung commissaries and venues. So unless Gate Gourmet wants to go into a niche field with little gain to their bottom line we won't see Airline style companies coming to Amtrak.
 

crescent-zephyr

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ThirdRail can correct me if I am wrong on this. But I don't think it is possible to use Gate Gourmet or other airline vendors strictly because of the distance from the airports to the various rail yards.

For instance lets look at Chicago which services 8 long distance trains with "Full Service".

Distance: 19.4 Miles (Gate Gourmet)
Travel Time: 33 Minutes in current traffic 17:10 CT

From my personal knowledge of stocking a full service diner with real ingredients it takes roughly 20-30 minutes to stock a diner, and another ten minutes to do inventory to make sure you have enough for the trip. Now with a preprepared meal you can probably cut this time down to 15 minutes to stock it, with one person, and another 10 minutes to do inventory.

So the specialized truck that Gate Gourmet uses to help load airliners is for sure away from ORD for at least an hour and a half. Keep in mind that Gate Gourmet also services all UA, DL, AA, VS, BA, LA, AC, QF, AR, AV, IB, CA, AF, EK, TG, LX, AZ. Remember that even Regional jets rate catering and stocking from one of these trucks. So you are wanting to drive a truck for eight different Amtrak departures a day. Occupying a truck for 12 hours a day. I am sure these trucks are in short supply at an airport the size of ORD, and any delay to a truck can cascade into hours of delays across the country. Remember airlines generally turn a plane within an hour of its arrival at the next destination.

I don't think it is really practical for an airline oriented company to service Amtrak because even though it is a similar field to what they currently do, the trains aren't serviced at the airport. Whereas a company like Aramark is accustomed to running many far flung commissaries and venues. So unless Gate Gourmet wants to go into a niche field with little gain to their bottom line we won't see Airline style companies coming to Amtrak.
How far away are the existing commissaries that supply Amtrak trains?
 

joelkfla

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Oct 16, 2018
Messages
183
ThirdRail can correct me if I am wrong on this. But I don't think it is possible to use Gate Gourmet or other airline vendors strictly because of the distance from the airports to the various rail yards.

For instance lets look at Chicago which services 8 long distance trains with "Full Service".

Distance: 19.4 Miles (Gate Gourmet)
Travel Time: 33 Minutes in current traffic 17:10 CT

From my personal knowledge of stocking a full service diner with real ingredients it takes roughly 20-30 minutes to stock a diner, and another ten minutes to do inventory to make sure you have enough for the trip. Now with a preprepared meal you can probably cut this time down to 15 minutes to stock it, with one person, and another 10 minutes to do inventory.

So the specialized truck that Gate Gourmet uses to help load airliners is for sure away from ORD for at least an hour and a half. Keep in mind that Gate Gourmet also services all UA, DL, AA, VS, BA, LA, AC, QF, AR, AV, IB, CA, AF, EK, TG, LX, AZ. Remember that even Regional jets rate catering and stocking from one of these trucks. So you are wanting to drive a truck for eight different Amtrak departures a day. Occupying a truck for 12 hours a day. I am sure these trucks are in short supply at an airport the size of ORD, and any delay to a truck can cascade into hours of delays across the country. Remember airlines generally turn a plane within an hour of its arrival at the next destination.

I don't think it is really practical for an airline oriented company to service Amtrak because even though it is a similar field to what they currently do, the trains aren't serviced at the airport. Whereas a company like Aramark is accustomed to running many far flung commissaries and venues. So unless Gate Gourmet wants to go into a niche field with little gain to their bottom line we won't see Airline style companies coming to Amtrak.
Why would they need to use a special truck? Wouldn't any refrigerated truck do? There's no need for the scissor lifts.
 

20th Century Rider

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Oregon Coast
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.



This is true,



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:



Unless something has dramatically changed, two of your three points are not supposed to occur.
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.



This is true,



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:



Unless something has dramatically changed, two of your three points are not supposed to occur.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS REGARDING THE THREE FLEX DINING CONCERNS

SUMMARY: Food content rates a ‘1’ however, overall, this cuisine non recommendable.
1] Carcinogenic properties of Polyethylene Terephthalate plate when heated.
2] Sodium at unhealthy level.
3] Waste is not recycled or reused.

REGARDING QUESTIONING ABOUT #1 ABOVE, IT WAS STATED:
“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.”

RESPONSE: The food content is contained directly within Polyethylene Terephthalate plates; these plates containing the food are heated directly; most show heat warping when served to the passenger. Perhaps the OBS employees misunderstood your question. Others on this forum will confirm that the food is contained within the plastic, and when looking at the recycling code underneath the plate, there is a #1 in the triangle confirming the composite to be Polyethylene Terephthalate. Disclosure required by law.

REGARDING QUESTIONING ABOUT #2 ABOVE, IT WAS STATED: This is true. Low quality processed foods tend to have much sodium to enhance flavor and as a preservative.

REGARDING QUESTIONING ABOUT #2 ABOVE, IT WAS STATED: “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.”

RESPONSE: Not sure I understand the lengthly response. But I did observe that all components of what is served goes directly to trash, including the plastic serving trays. I would be interested in knowing what others on this forum have observed. Finally, all is put in large trash bags and dropped off at designated points. I have talked with several administrative Amtrak officials who indicated they just go to landfill. Furthermore, it is hard to find more specific information regarding these food wastes and plastics on Amtrak’s website. Here, on page 25 “Amtrak-Sustainability-Report” details industrial waste but no mention of the tremendous food service waste.
Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 4.06.24 PM.png
Below is an interesting review by “Railway Age”

Garbage Served, Garbage Generated - Railway Age
 

Seaboard92

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Messages
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South Carolina
How far away are the existing commissaries that supply Amtrak trains?
Now that I wouldn't know actually because I've never been involved with anything outside of the commissary in the various yards. In particular the one in DC. And even then I've only gone to the door to request ice. The DC one in Union Station is over next to where the Marco Polo used to be parked before Anderson ran it out of town on a rail.


Why would they need to use a special truck? Wouldn't any refrigerated truck do? There's no need for the scissor lifts.
I'll answer your question with a question. Why would a company that specializes in the airline industry moving over to Amtrak and rail operations want to have a specialized truck for a small customer? For such a small customer it wouldn't make sense to have a small subset of your fleet for a small customer's use. If it were me I would use the same truck they use at the airport because then in the event of higher demand or a breakdown you could pull any other truck to replace them. In my example in Chicago Amtrak only has eight long distance trains needing servicing, and if you add the corridors an additional 14? departures a day. Compared to the hundreds of aircrafts that they are servicing on a daily basis. There is something to be said in having a standardized fleet.
 

OBS

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Messages
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Webster NY
ThirdRail can correct me if I am wrong on this. But I don't think it is possible to use Gate Gourmet or other airline vendors strictly because of the distance from the airports to the various rail yards.

For instance lets look at Chicago which services 8 long distance trains with "Full Service".

Distance: 19.4 Miles (Gate Gourmet)
Travel Time: 33 Minutes in current traffic 17:10 CT

From my personal knowledge of stocking a full service diner with real ingredients it takes roughly 20-30 minutes to stock a diner, and another ten minutes to do inventory to make sure you have enough for the trip. Now with a preprepared meal you can probably cut this time down to 15 minutes to stock it, with one person, and another 10 minutes to do inventory.

So the specialized truck that Gate Gourmet uses to help load airliners is for sure away from ORD for at least an hour and a half. Keep in mind that Gate Gourmet also services all UA, DL, AA, VS, BA, LA, AC, QF, AR, AV, IB, CA, AF, EK, TG, LX, AZ. Remember that even Regional jets rate catering and stocking from one of these trucks. So you are wanting to drive a truck for eight different Amtrak departures a day. Occupying a truck for 12 hours a day. I am sure these trucks are in short supply at an airport the size of ORD, and any delay to a truck can cascade into hours of delays across the country. Remember airlines generally turn a plane within an hour of its arrival at the next destination.

I don't think it is really practical for an airline oriented company to service Amtrak because even though it is a similar field to what they currently do, the trains aren't serviced at the airport. Whereas a company like Aramark is accustomed to running many far flung commissaries and venues. So unless Gate Gourmet wants to go into a niche field with little gain to their bottom line we won't see Airline style companies coming to Amtrak.
You are overthinking the whole concept. All they have to do is make one trip to the commissary during the early morning hours to drop off the order for all LD trains for that day. The commissary then keeps everything under refrig. until the proper quantity is issued to each train along with the rest of their supplies......no big deal.
ETA- The same method is used at NYP, WAS, and BOS for all the Acela food catering.
 

20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
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Jan 26, 2020
Messages
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Oregon Coast
You are overthinking the whole concept. All they have to do is make one trip to the commissary during the early morning hours to drop off the order for all LD trains for that day. The commissary then keeps everything under refrig. until the proper quantity is issued to each train along with the rest of their supplies......no big deal.
ETA- The same method is used at NYP, WAS, and BOS for all the Acela food catering.
Also consider the VOLUME of service would be a catalyst to create a production center with abundant adjacent space that is not being used.

But the larger question is... just who were the previous contracted food services? Hmmm... it appears that Amtrak administrativia management problems are dysfunctional. Above and beyond all that is being discussed... the germane
problem lies within management.

PLEASE! READ WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING RE AMTRAK MANAGEMENT:

 

20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
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Messages
706
Location
Oregon Coast
Hey there all... how can we get Amtrak management to view this important feedback regarding legitimate concerns and be receptive to it's most diligent railroad travelers??? Is Amtrak aware and listening???
 
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