(Reuters) - Delta Air Lines Inc said it was taking new steps to ensure the safety of food it serves and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it began a criminal probe after what appeared to be sewing needles were found in sandwiches on four flights from Amsterdam to the United States.
The sandwiches were supplied by Gate Gourmet, Delta's caterer out of Amsterdam, the airline said.
"Out of an abundance of caution, the security around meal production in Amsterdam has been increased," Delta spokeswoman Kristin Baur said on Tuesday. "We're still taking this matter extremely seriously."
Baur said the sandwiches, which are provided to business travelers free of charge, have been replaced as menu items with prepackaged pizza on flights from Amsterdam. Attention and corrective action was primarily being focused on Amsterdam, where all four flights on which the foreign objects were found originated, she said.
FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett said his agency has started a criminal inquiry into the matter, led by its Atlanta field office. "It's too early into the investigation to provide additional details," he said on Tuesday.
Gate Gourmet, a subsidiary of Swiss-based gategroup Holding AG, said it had started its own investigation into "this disturbing incident" and added "we are treating this as a criminal act."
The Dutch food safety authority said it is investigating the incidents.
Six sandwiches on Delta flights that originated on Sunday were found to have foreign objects, Baur said. Suspected needles were discovered in food by two passengers flying to Minneapolis and one customer on an Atlanta-bound flight. A federal air marshal on another flight into Atlanta reported an affected sandwich, and inspections by Delta found foreign objects in two sandwiches on a flight headed to Seattle, she added.
The Minneapolis-bound Delta passengers talked about their experience on network television on Tuesday.
James Lee Tonges said he initially thought he had found a toothpick when he bit into a sandwich on his Delta flight. "When I pulled it out, it was a needle, about a one-inch needle," he told ABC's "Good Morning America" from Minneapolis.
Tonges said he had been put on Truvada, a drug produced by Gilead Sciences Inc that was recently approved for HIV prevention by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Shares of Delta were down 1 percent to $10.85 on Tuesday afternoon.
(Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta, additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington, Caroline Copley in Zurich and Ivana Sikularac in Amsterdam; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)