International travel and frozen food
June 8, 2014 5:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to depart to a foreign country with high priced, low quality, not kid friendly food. It is common for expats to bring meat with them and I want to do this too, with AskMe's help.

I bought a collapsible fabric cooler.
I want to bring smart dogs, chickn (soy) nuggets, maybe some frozen pizza dough, frozen tortellini, mozzarella, and maybe some other stuff. All will be factory sealed. (Happy to take other suggestions!)

Flight will be about 24 hours door to door.

Expats say to have some big cuts of meat to keep everything frozen, but I won't do that. So what should I do, AskMe?

Here's what one expat told me:
I do 2 meat containers every time I fly from Houston. We use a polar ice cooler that is collapsible. I bought off of It works the best and does not look like a cooler. You will not waste weight on putting it in a suitcase this way. It keeps everything frozen sold until I get to my apartment. We fly Houston to Frankfurt to city. You can not put any freezer packs/dry ice/wet ice in the container you are bringing. Make sure you have a few larger pieces of meat or other that has been deep frozen for a few days. Also freeze everything else you will bring in the container and it should be fine. Put everything separated in ziplock bags. And put large pieces in shopping bags Just in case they start to defrost. When you get your luggage in city it will probably have red tape around it, the officers will ask what is inside and you just tell them food for special diet or if you are traveling with a child just say it is for the child. They have never opened my cooler.
posted by k8t to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have a digital thermometer that will tell me the highest and lowest temperature in the last 24 hours. Maybe put one of those in the cooler with the food to make sure it hasn't gotten outside the safety zone. And maybe lay in on top since that will theoretically be the warmest spot in the cooler.
posted by Beti at 5:58 PM on June 8, 2014

Could you bring pizza dough _mix_ instead of the actual dough? Then a) it would be much lighter, and b) you wouldn't have to worry about it thawing out.

Of the other stuff you listed, only the nuggets might suffer if they thawed out (hot dogs, cheese, etc. are fine if they're just kept cool). Even then, the nuggets might be OK.

If you're not bringing actual meat, you don't have to worry as much about food safety. Score!

I'd still pack stuff frozen to keep it cool throughout. Just pack more of what you already know you'll like, and maybe some stuff for gifts.

If it were me (I'm vegetarian but no kids), I'd include a couple of Amy's dinners (which really should be kept frozen), some tofu, some Gimme Lean sausage. Depending on where you're going, you might consider lightweight but kid-friendly stuff like pasta/macaroni & cheese mix. I might also consider bringing spices/flavorings that will help a lot, like basil/oregano, lots of cumin (unless it's at your destination), and maybe miso and/or nutritional yeast.

I'm assuming that oil and salt will be easy to get.
posted by amtho at 6:15 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks. Bringing tons of non perishable food like Mac and cheese, pancake mix, etc. too. Basil is a great idea. Keep 'em coming!
posted by k8t at 7:05 PM on June 8, 2014

This is a followup to your question about traveling to Azerbaijan, isn't it? Because whatever the expats tell you is common, I can't find an authoritative source from Google about what to expect as far as customs restrictions goes.

Having been there, a lot of expats will tell you that whatever they managed to get away with is great advice for everyone, but I've seen that go so, so wrong. If I were in your shoes, I'd pack a few boxes of KD as emergency comfort food, and spend a lot of time talking my kid through the understanding that they're going to have to learn to eat local.
posted by mhoye at 7:09 PM on June 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

How much harder/expensive would it be to just FedEx everything? I know additional luggage space can be cheaper, but if you're going to pay for overweight charges for this, it may be the same cost and simpler to try a delivery service first. The advantage there is you could get smaller amounts regularly than have to do one big haul at the start. You need a friend or family willing to shop, pack and do the delivery on the US side though.

A friend shipped rice to France. I thought it was ridiculous but they had X amount of shipping from their employer and filled up the remainder with bulk brands of food, especially local rice they preferred. I've hand carried American-brand food to friends in Cambodia that weren't available locally and food back - jars are the worst because of glass cracking and getting everywhere, so avoid anything that requires extra handling unless you are willing to pack with lots of bubblewrap or hand-carry them.

Re: cheese, it is possible to make your own mozzarella at home easily if you bring over powdered rennet etc and have access to decent non-UHT milk. It sounds ridiculous but if your kid loves mozzarella often, try something like this kit to make it at home and then you could make a biiiiig pile of mozzarella (kid-friendly activity too) once every two weeks and not have to schlep it over. Ricotta and greek yogurt is pricey where I live, so we have made it with powdered milk when we needed it in bulk and it really was stupid-easy.

Ditto for pizza - the mixes are much lighter than bringing the prepped stuff, and you can prep and make calzones and mini-pizzas in batches for the freezer.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:26 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Look, they aren't subsidizing petrol anymore and food prices went up, so chicken breasts are going for like $18 for a pack of two. This isn't just picky kid, it is cheap mommy. :-)
posted by k8t at 8:13 PM on June 8, 2014

FedEx, etc. Isn't available. Thanks!
posted by k8t at 8:13 PM on June 8, 2014

You've probably already thought of this, but you might want to do some checking around to see whether "tipping" of customs agents, etc., will be expected, and whether you should bring some extra-easily transported food items that you _don't_ like (but that are valuable) to "tip" with.
posted by amtho at 9:45 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd try to double check on the supposed restriction on freezer packs. It wouldn't make much sense for them to allow chunks of raw meat, frozen pizza dough and other random food items, and not allow the frozen ice packs. They will do a lot to keep your food frozen.

What about some whey protein powder for smoothies? Some of them (like this one) end up tasting like chocolate milk. Or if it's vanilla or plain, you could mix it into oatmeal and other snacks.
posted by barnone at 10:34 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

From what I understand this food is supposed to last a while, right? Because frozen stuff that thawed outside the temps of a fridge (35 - 39 F) for more than 2 hrs should not be refrozen. That is why people pack large cuts of meat: It takes a long time to defrost, often longer than 24 hrs (24 hours for every 5 pounds). And the meat keeps the temps in the cooler stable for long periods of time.
It would be a pity if you arrived and had to eat through your stockpile in a few short days due to food safety issues.

Therefore, I advise you to take large cuts of meat with you! 1) It will keep your cooler at safe temps for the duration of your journey. 2) "Large cut" doesn't have to equal red meat. Think about big pieces of poultry (or even whole chicken/turkey) that you and your kiddo would eat yourselves. 3) Meat is expensive and scarce at your destination- you can sell it/trade it for other goods or services with fellow expats and locals.

The stuff you listed does not compare in size and texture to that of large cuts of meat and will therefore not provide the same benefits re: temperature stabilization. It takes little time to defrost nuggets, tortellini or dough, for example. Based on the list you provided, I doubt your cooler will remain cold enough for 24 hrs.

A note re: the pizza dough. I make pizza every week, and it only takes 4 ingredients to make a nice Italian style crust: flour, salt, oil and water. I am convinced that those four ingredients will be easy to find locally and therefore doubt the necessity of bringing frozen dough with you. Give this easy dough recipe a try at home before you leave, I think your kiddo will like it.
posted by travelwithcats at 3:45 AM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, I should probably clarify that I advise to pack the large cuts in addition to the stuff you want to bring (except the pizza dough maybe). Those large cuts will keep the temps low and protect your other goods. Big chicken or turkey breasts can be easily turned into poultry nuggets, for example.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:21 AM on June 9, 2014

Seal everything well and then wrap everything individually in several layers of newspaper. Stuff any empty space in the cooler with newspaper.

This is how my uncle transports fish and game back home to Florida from Alaska.
posted by phunniemee at 4:39 AM on June 9, 2014

travelwithcats, do you not use yeast in your pizza dough?
posted by kate blank at 6:35 PM on June 9, 2014

No, it's a thin crust and looks like this one. But you can add yeast to that recipe without a problem.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:43 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I kept thinking about your question because when I was a kid, pizza was magical but either had to made from scratch or bought at a restaurant because there was no such thing as frozen pizza dough or bases available. So my family used to use local bread as a quick substitute from the freezer, like naans or chapatis I think. Just flatbread that would get a scraping of tomato sauce and then veggies and cheese all over it. I loved it as much as 'real' pizza. If there's local bread in Azerbaijan that could substitute, maybe you can try that variation now in the US with your kid and see if he is okay with the substitute and save yourself hauling pizza dough over.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:28 PM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

viggorlijah, that is a great idea. I'll use it from now on, for quickie snacks and feeding hungry kids in a whiff
posted by mumimor at 2:39 AM on June 10, 2014

I ended up buying a fabric freezer cooler, doing ~10 gel ice packs, wrapping it in beach towels just in case, and bringing about 10 pounds of stuff.
I opened it 30 hours later and everything was fine. The gel packs were not rock solid frozen but were very cold. The food was very frozen still though.

Thanks all!
posted by k8t at 9:44 AM on June 28, 2014

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