The Vile High Club

Airline food isn't just an old joke - FDA records show the prep facilities can be alarmingly dirty.
3:00 | 11/16/12

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Transcript for The Vile High Club
Long lines at the airport getting through security, plane delays, what could be worse about flying home for thanksgiving? Well, a lot of people might say the food that is served on the plane. Survive that, you can survive anything, even your in-laws. Here's jim avila. Always good for that cheap Reporter: Airline food, always good for that cheap laugh. So how about that airline food? Reporter: But how bad can it really get? North korea's state airline served a meal befitting its drab dictatorship. Check out this sad onboard burger videotaped by rocketnews24. It's topped with two pathetic onion slices and mayo, served cold and incredibly dry. Even here at home. This u.S. Airline meal wasn't much of a prize winner. It's rock hard. Reporter: Over in europe some flyers may eat this kind of miserable meal of ham and eggs if they're bored enough or hungry enough. Why do they want to eat on the airplane? I don't know. Reporter: Flight attendant heather poole is amazed that passengers are desperate to eat just about anything. I HAD AN egg McMuffin stolen out of my jump seat, and the most surprising thing, the guy didn't even seem to care when I told him it was mine. Reporter: And how many times have you heard big jokes about puny packages of peanuts? Each passenger will be given a single peanut. Reporter: Lucky enough to make it to first class? Those is the cheap seats might be drooling by now. Perhaps it's best to close that first class curtain before serving these fabulous desserts under construction here in the kitchen of one asian airline. But even the airlines know it's easier to make food look good than taste good at 30,000 feet. Delta airlines brought in celebrity miami chef michelle bernstein to struggle with the challenge of high altitude cuisine. Well, just due to altitude, you lose a little bit of all of your senses. You lose about 30% to 50% of your palate when you do go up in the air due to altitude. Reporter: That's because the air pressure numbs your taste buds and the lack of moisture in the cabin air dries out your nose. So chef bernstein adds extra spice, not salt, to her airplane meals. And since open flames are impossible in flight, almost everything is cooked in advance, then reheated in warming ovens or microwaves. Can reheated food actually taste good? Is that another challenge you have? Yeah, it's the only way you can eat food on a plane. Before the recipe comes, the idea is what reheats well? What can weigh enough for you to be sated but light enough to fit into this container? Reporter: But taste may be the last thing to worry about. 20/20" is the first to reveal these government documents exposing a mass of airline industry health violations. The fda inspects airlines and their food caterers, and the results were not pretty. Over 1,500 health violations in less than 4 years. Significant problems were found at a much higher rate than other industries the fda looks at. Food industry consultant and former health inspector roy costa weighed in. You put that all together, and you've got a time bomb. Reporter: Is it really that bad? How about the evidence of mice found on delta planes? The airline called that an isolated incident, but then there's industry giant lsg sky chefs serving food to many airlines. Records showed food facilities infested with ants, crawling over discarded food, flies both dead and alive, roaches all over. You can't have insect remains and feces of rodents and dead flies. Reporter: So if the flies are there in the room, it only makes sense that they're in the food? Oh, of course. Reporter: And at company after company, greasy, grimy and food-caked cooking areas, old or moldy products, employees not washing their hands. Gate gourmet serves many top airlines, but inspectors there found live gnats too numerous to count, workers with dirty hands, food stored at the wrong temperature. Gate gourmet told us, "none of the fda's observations indicated a threat to the health of the traveling public." Costa disagrees. Those things are direct threats to public health. Reporter: You can get sick from that. Oh, you can get sick or worse. Reporter: Gate gourmet, lsg sky chefs and other caterers and major airlines told us they take food sanitation very seriously and fix any problems immediately. They also say they serve millions of meals without incident. New this morning, a local family is suing american airlines. Reporter: That case filed late last year charged that a miami man died after eating bacteria-contaminated food on a flight, though american airlines told us his illness was unrelated to their food. Others may get sick later on, yet not realize it was that airplane meal that did it. And don't think that first class curtain will necessarily protect you. Does it matter at all whether it's first class or coach? No, no, fancy food isn't safe food. The bacteria really don't care. Reporter: Most passengers have no idea where their food comes from, and flight attendant heather poole says they're rarely satisfied. I've never, ever flown a flight where people were happy with food, whether we were serving it or not. Next, put on your blindfold and may the tastiest burger win. This weighs as much as a small child. Guess what it's made of? I'm kidding. Have your burger. What is it made of? Fast food patty versus the most expensive burgers in the world.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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