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FBI investigates needles in airplane sandwiches

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands >> The FBI and police at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport have opened a criminal investigation into how needles got into turkey sandwiches served to passengers on Delta Air Lines flights from Amsterdam to the United States, a spokesman said today.

Delta said what appear to be sewing needles were found in five sandwiches on Sunday. One passenger on a flight to Minneapolis was injured. The other needles were on two flights to Atlanta and one to Seattle.

The sandwiches were made in the Amsterdam kitchen of catering company Gate Gourmet. The company’s listed address in the Netherlands is in the Schiphol area, where the Dutch capital’s airport is based.

Tjitte Mastenbroek, a spokesman for the Dutch government’s Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, said the agency also was investigating "from a food safety point of view." He said the agency would share its findings with the criminal investigation.

Gate Gourmet’s website calls the company "the world’s largest independent provider of catering and provisioning services for airlines and railroads," with 122 flight kitchens serving 250 million meals each year and 9,700 flights per day. The company was founded in 1992 to cater Swissair flights and grew by taking over other airline caterers including that of British Airways. 

The company issued a statement Monday saying, "We take this matter very seriously, and we have launched our own full-scale investigation." It also said it was "heightening our already stringent safety and security procedures, to prevent any recurrence."

The FBI said its Atlanta office has opened a criminal investigation.

Passenger Jim Tonjes of Plymouth, Minnesota, told the Star Tribune newspaper that he felt a sharp poke in his mouth after biting into his sandwich.

"I figured it might be a toothpick," he said. But instead it was a one inch (2.5 centimeter) needle that had punctured the roof of his mouth.

"It looked like a sewing needle but without an eye. … I was in shock," he told the newspaper. "I thought, ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s the last thing you expect in a sandwich."

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