On some airlines, the meals are distributed based on hierarchy.
More than 30 years ago, back in 1984, on board the ultra-luxe Concorde supersonic flight between London and New York, 120 passengers and crew members fell victim to salmonellosis—"an intestinal ailment caused by a bacterium called Salmonella enteritidis," according to the New York Times, with symptoms that include "fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea." As it turns out, everyone affected—including one passenger who may have died as a result—had eaten the same thing. They'd all fallen victim to food poisoning.
While contaminated in-flight meals are rare, they're not unheard of—the Telegraph cites a report from the Civil Aviation Authority that, on British-registered airlines alone, there were "32 occasions in which a pilot was incapacitated" in 2009, and 39 reported instances in 2007. And while guidelines for in-flight crew food consumption vary from airline to airline, these days, it's conventional practice for the pilot and co-pilot to eat different meals—to prevent situations in which both become ill and unable to fly.
In a 2012 CNN interview with a Korean Air pilot, a senior pilot reveals that that the different pilot / co-pilot meals are even selected and differentiated based on hierarchy. "The pilot an the co-pilot...eat different meals," according to the pilot. "Usually the pilot gets the first-class meal and the co-pilot the business class meal. This is just in case one of the meals might cause food poisoning."
A report in the Independent reveals that some airlines prepare entirely different foods for the cockpit: "Pilots get their own separate meals prepared for them in order to limit the chance that they'll get sick from it. Both pilots are served different meals to avoid food poisoning affecting the flight."
All these precautions might seem over-the-top, considering the more than 320 million meals that are served in-flight annually. But it's reassuring that airlines are taking these measures for passenger safety.
Just remember, whatever you do, don't drink the tea or coffee.
[h/t Travel + Leisure]