April 20, 2011 -- Rats may have become a real-life horror story for Delta Airlines. FDA investigators say they found "rodent excreta pellets" in some Delta planes.
The Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter on April 13 to Delta Airlines CEO Richard Anderson, citing violations found during an inspection that took place between January 26 and February 2 at a Delta hanger near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
"This clearly was an isolated incident and we cooperated with the FDA immediately to resolve it earlier this year," said Delta's director of communications, Ashley Black.
Orkin Pest Control's Director of Technical Services, Ron Harrison, agreed it was an isolated incident. "It's vigilance. It's being sensitive and aware."
The number of reported cases, he said, was "small, but unacceptable. Airlines have to take every precaution."
To comply with FDA regulations, all places where food is prepared, served, or stored -- including airline cabins -- must be kept free of flies, rodents, and other vermin.
The letter mentions "rodent excreta pellets (too numerous to count)" in ceiling panels and near food preparation areas.
"We believe a recurrence is likely without adequate preventive measures in place," said the FDA, calling for action to correct the violation.
Sometimes airlines will have one prevention program while their food vendors have another. "By having more than one pest control company, you need to have deterrence and monitors in all these spaces. You need correlation programs to ensure insuring populations are in none of the places airplanes will be," said Harrison.
"Rodents usually have four ways they can come into an airplane: the airports, jet ways, food carts or food vending companies, and cargo," said Harrison. "The challenge becomes a confined space like this, a perfect habitat for rodents."
Rodents and their feces can transmit over 35 different diseases to humans, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The health and safety of Delta's customers and employees are Delta's top priority. We take this issue very seriously and have an established routine servicing program to inspect our aircraft," said Delta in a written statement. "The aircraft was pulled from commercial service and the issue was resolved within a few days."
Read the FDA warning letter HERE.