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Packing food for airline travel
November 11, 2005 3:51 PM   Subscribe

Can I check a cooler full of food when flying state to state?

For Thanksgiving I was hoping to bring some food (mix of cooked and raw) from California to Pennsylvania. Though it doesn't say anything about food on the TSA permitted/prohibited list(pdf), I'm worried that I'm going to show up at the airport and it will be a problem. Also, assuming it is allowed, are there any special precautions I should take (both to ensure food safety and minimize security hassles)? Will they get pissy if I duct tape it shut? Are there any foods that you aren't supposed to take to another state? Any other tips?
posted by rorycberger to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
 
Call your airline and ask them. They're going to be the first people who get to make a call on this, when you try to check the baggage.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:06 PM on November 11, 2005


I don't know about regulations specific to food. However, I'd advise you to pack it in something that does not rely on duct tape for sealing. I recently traveled from PA to OR and found a "this bag has been opened" notice inside the suitcase that I checked. If you are relying on the tape to keep it shut, it might not stick as well after they have opened it.
posted by necessitas at 4:06 PM on November 11, 2005


Fresh fruits and vegetables can be an issue to transport across state lines. I would check with the PA dept of agriculture on that if it concerns you, although its generally a bigger issue entering CA rather than leaving CA. Duct tape might not be a good idea as they might cut it open and then your cooler won't be secured. I would use some form of straps that can be opened and the closed again. A block of dry ice should help as well. Regular ice is too messy.

This is a good question; I have never heard of anyone trying this, or being denied. Fresh food, such as live lobsters, is certainly shipped by air all the time. I would certainly check with the airline. I wouldn't worry about TSA so much; they are after people who are a danger to the flight, not someone who might bring plant diseases across state lines, or make a mess out of the luggage compartment with rotting food in leaking coolers.
posted by caddis at 4:15 PM on November 11, 2005


Yes, check with the airline. But, my father does fly with groceries occassionally. Which I'm assuming consist of both raw and canned goods in paper bags. He just carries them on (American Airlines).
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 4:18 PM on November 11, 2005


Instead of tape, use-strap things which they can open and close if they want to search your turkey. Something like REI has here (they also have less heavy-duty ones in their stores).
posted by aubilenon at 4:25 PM on November 11, 2005


Pressurized containers are not allowed (soft drinks, aerosols like whipped topping).

There's no guarantee that things won't freeze at some point along the way.
posted by winston at 4:30 PM on November 11, 2005


There's an episode of the documentary show Airline where someone tries to check a cooler of frozen chickens on Southwest. They were turned away.
Definitely check with the airline, and be 100% honest about what you are doing - Murphy's Law and all that.
posted by clh at 4:37 PM on November 11, 2005


If its frozen be sure to use dry ice. They won't check it in if you use regular ice. I successfully (and recently) flew from Seattle to Oakland on Southwest with a duct-taped cooler full of frozen ocean fish and dry ice in my checked baggage.
posted by prettyboyfloyd at 4:53 PM on November 11, 2005


Thanks for the suggestions. I'll call the airline (United I think) and look into using straps or something. I'd still be interested to hear about other people's experiences/suggestions, and I'll post back what the airline tells me after I call. Where can I buy dry ice?
posted by rorycberger at 4:56 PM on November 11, 2005


At the ice store, silly.
Seriously. An ice store.

And now that I think about it, my dad has brought frozen fish on dry ice as well as pounds and pounds of cheese from WI to CA with no issues.
posted by clh at 5:01 PM on November 11, 2005


Where can I buy dry ice?

Your profile says "San Jose". Go to San Jose Ice Company. They, and many others like them are listed in the yellow pages under "ice".

Some grocery stores sell it too, but getting it from an ice company will be cheaper.
posted by toxic at 5:01 PM on November 11, 2005


Dry ice is common in grocery stores. Just check the front where regular ice is.
posted by artifarce at 5:02 PM on November 11, 2005


i'm pretty sure dry ice is regulated on airlines. often times i ship biological speciemens on dry ice for work. there is separate paperwork and accompanying labels to be filled out for both. check IATA and DOT guidlines for shipping dangerous goods. i think dry ice may be explosive under pressure so it needs to be packaged correctly.
posted by brandz at 7:08 PM on November 11, 2005


If you do use dry ice make sure your cooler isn't too airtight.
posted by Opposite George at 8:22 PM on November 11, 2005


If the quantity is large and frozen it will stay frozen. I've taken 50 lb boxes of fish from Alaska to Denver and they stayed frozen the whole time. Of course they airport in Anchorage is pretty used to people flying out with fish so YMMV.
posted by 6550 at 10:28 PM on November 11, 2005


My friend brought a big ol' cooler of various frozen meats home from Texas on Continental last Xmas. It was a softsided, wheeled cooler, and just plain full of good old Texas huntin' fodder. The airline apparently didn't have a problem with it, because my pal came rolling out of the terminal at LAX with her cart o' meat. Oh, and it stayed frozen. I don't know if she used dry ice, though. She started with rock-hard frozen food and ended up with the same.
posted by bedhead at 12:49 AM on November 12, 2005


The people responsible for such things are the state departments of agriculture and the USDA...you might want to check with them, just in case. (This is especially important if there's any chance you might be unintentially transporting insects.)
posted by nekton at 9:11 AM on November 12, 2005


Having shipped all sorts of stuff by air, I don't think you'll have too much trouble as long as:
- you tell the carrier (most---all?---baggage is x-rayed now so they'll probably find out if you don't tell),
- stay away from the carrier's proscribed items list,
- pack securely,
- and don't try to ship internationally (it's almost impossible to ship meat across boarders).

The person with final discretion over whether to take it or not is the pilot. Even if the baggage handlers ok the package, the pilot can leave it on the runway. The airline will probably try to ship it next flight though.

If the airlines hassle you, try air freight. Non-passanger aircraft have less restrictions on what they'll carry. Fed Ex is the transporter of choice in NA.
posted by bonehead at 10:28 AM on November 12, 2005


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