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Food at SFO takes nosedive in dietitians’ annual airport ranking

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Travelers already groan a lot about airline food. Now, a physicians group warns, people who fly in and out of San Francisco International Airport might find the food at SFO’s restaurants distasteful as well.

In the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s 2012 ranking of restaurant menus at 18 of the country’s busiest airports, SFO’s score plunged 19 points from last year. The nonprofit group called SFO “the biggest loser” on this year’s report card, which was released Monday.

SFO tied for ninth place on the 2012 list, with 77 percent of the 69 restaurants checked selling at least one low-fat, cholesterol-free vegetarian meal. The committee pointed out that SFO does offer some healthy dining options; for instance, PIQ (Terminal 1) provides the Vegan-O panini, Amoura Café (International Terminal) serves a falafel sandwich and Perry’s (Terminal 1) sells a vegan burger.

In 2009, 2010 and 2011, SFO ranked second on the restaurant report card, just behind Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.

Here are SFO’s scores since the committee launched its airport restaurant review in 2001:

2012 – 77 percent.

2011 – 96 percent.

2010 – 95 percent.

2009 – 94 percent.

2008 – 77 percent.

2007 – 77 percent.

2006 – 96 percent.

2005 – 88 percent.

2004 – 82 percent.

2003 – Not available.

2002 – 96 percent.

2001 – 96 percent.

While the committee’s scoring for SFO does fluctuate, airport spokesman Doug Yakel says, the airport remains “committed to providing healthy food and beverage choices for our passengers.”

The committee’s ranking came 10 days after SFO announced the Airports Council International-North America gave the airport two first-place awards for the airport’s concession program. In the large airport category, SFO took first place for “Best Food & Beverage Program” for the offerings in Terminal 2, where Virgin America and American Airlines are located. It also took top honors for “Best New Food & Beverage (Self-Service Concept)” for Napa Farms Market, which is in Terminal 2.

In addition, SFO earned third-place awards for “Best Innovative Consumer Experience Concept or Practice” and “Best Green Concessions Practice or Concept.” In this category, the airport was recognized for its sustainable food policy, which sets a variety of objectives for all concessions, including portion sizes that support good health.

In a news release about the awards, SFO Director John Martin said: “We remain focused on our goal to be the airport of choice for customers, and this recognition demonstrates our commitment.”

Newark Liberty International Airport topped this year’s list from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, with 92 percent of eateries providing healthy menu items meeting guidelines of the committee’s dietitians. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport held the bottom spot, with just 58 percent of restaurants fitting the bill.

“Healthful vegetarian meals at airports across the country are just the ticket for traveling light this holiday season,” Susan Levin, the committee’s director of nutrition education, said in a news release. “But some airports still serve too many greasy cheeseburgers and slices of pepperoni pizza that leave passengers feeling grounded.”

An airport restaurant was rated as healthful if it served at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free breakfast, lunch or dinner entrée.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine advocates for preventive medicine, particularly good nutrition; conducts clinical research; and promotes higher ethical standards in research.

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