Flying cross country with perishables and meltables?
April 20, 2006 9:46 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to transport frozen food (ice cream) and refrigerated food on an airplane from San Francisco. Is this possible? I think the optimal plan will involve dry ice for the ice cream. Where can I get it in San Francisco?

I'm thinking one cooler for the ice cream. One cooler for the refrigerated stuff. Both packed in the same piece of luggage. But I don't really have a suitable piece of luggage. What can I pack this in? I can't duct tape closed a cardboard box, can I? TSA would rip it open, right?

Is dry ice going to freak out the TSA? Where can I get it? I'm leaving Sunday night. I can't really think that this will work out unless I can pick up the dry ice that evening. Is there a better way to manage the ice cream?
posted by stuart_s to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
Best answer: Find a popular seafood place. There's probably one at the airport. Many of them will pack things like lobsters and crabs for people to take on a flight. At least this is how it is in Boston. They'll have containers and dry ice with which to pack it. Perhaps they can pack it for you or sell you the stuff you'll need to do it.

If this ice cream is some super-famous stuff that is only available there, the place you bought it from might even be able to pack it to travel.

You could also Fed-ex it to yourself in a similar manner, if you're worried about TSA.
posted by bondcliff at 9:56 AM on April 20, 2006

posted by SteveInMaine at 9:57 AM on April 20, 2006

Best answer: How far are you traveling? My family and I have often had to transport Swedish delicacies from Chicago to Reno and then overland from Reno to Tahoe. The whole trip takes 6 - 8 hours depending on delays, etc.

We usually pack things that need to be kept cool around items that are frozen, all of it in a big box. If it's not too big, we carry it on and stash it in an overhead bin.

Usually, the cool food remains cool, and the frozen remains relatively frozen. If the ice cream is sealed up well, you might be able to pack it similarly without much trouble. If you put it in a proper cooler, it should last even longer. You can probably transport all of your food without using the C02 if that's going to freak out the TSA.
posted by aladfar at 10:08 AM on April 20, 2006

Most supermarkets' seafood sections will have dry ice.
posted by ShooBoo at 12:32 PM on April 20, 2006

I brought a 20 pound freezer bag of frozen raw tuna from DC to Chicago without incident.
posted by brownpau at 12:51 PM on April 20, 2006

there is a pizza place in NY that my good friend says there is no other pizza like it. When he is in NY he buys a few, packs em in Dry Ice and takes them home on the plane. The go in the cargo hold though, not the passenger cabin.
posted by adnauseam at 5:29 PM on April 20, 2006

Best answer: Make sure the frozen stuff is reallly cold. You may need to put the freezer on its coldest setting and put it in the back on the bottom shelf - coldest spot. Wrap the frozen stuff really well and add several bluepacks. Put that in the cooler with the cold stuff and a couple frozen bottles of water. That should last @ 12+ hours.

If you use dry ice, put it in a ziplock baggie or sealed container, so it doesn't make fog, but I don't think it's necessary. My Mom brought a roast beef from Ohio to Maine and kept it frozen with 1 refill of ice. Cause, you know, we can't get beef in Maine.
posted by theora55 at 5:32 PM on April 20, 2006

Best answer: dry ice is for FAA purposes a hazardous material, but one which is exempted from the "no hazardous materials" rule. you can bring on board a plane up to 5 lbs of dry ice, provided it is in a non-airtight container that is clearly marked "dry ice" or "solid carbon dioxide". i think you have to declare it to the TSA inspectors though.

that the FAA allows it does not necessarily mean that your airline does, though. best to just call them up and ask.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 5:47 PM on April 20, 2006

We ship scientific samples on dry ice quite frequently. Probably the least-hassle way is to pack it in a cheap cooler and FedEx it, keeping in mind that they have to label it specifically as dry ice. I don't believe this incurs any extra charge, though. Something also to keep in mind is the relatively high cost of dry ice. Enough to fill a cooler can run as much as $70, but you probably will need quite a bit less as long as it's not shipped ground or some other exceedingly long transport method. Pack everything in a cocoon of newspaper inside the cooler and it'll stay frozen no problem.

We usually buy dry ice at the local supermarket, which has a big cooler full of it at the front of the store near the wet ice. It's sold by weight.
posted by heydanno at 7:20 AM on April 21, 2006

Best answer: Partial melting of ice cream will cause a big change in texture - so I'd advise you to do everything you can to keep the ice cream completely frozen the whole time.

The texture of ice cream comes form air being mixed in during the freezing process. When it melts slightly, the air escapes, and when the remaining liquid refreezes you get flavored ice, not ice cream.
posted by AuntLisa at 9:35 AM on April 21, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks. Lots of good advice for what in retrospect was probably a silly question. I bought two cheap coolers being careful that they would both fit within the carry-on limits. And a duffle bag to carry them. I had to cut out the fabric that seperated the main compartment from the side compartment so that they would both fit and so that one could be inserted through the top and the other through the side. I bought some of those blue, hard plastic artificial ice things. One didn't fit in the cooler. I left if loose in the duffle bag. It was mostly still frozen about 12 hours later.

I asked the restaurant in the hotel to store everything for the couple days between purchase and flight departure. (BTW, the Houlihan's in the Holiday Inn in South San Francisco is sharp looking but apparently they keep their meat "refrigerated" in a wet sack. When I got my food back it was cold enough that I was certain that they weren't lying to me but it was noticably less cool than I think a refrigerator should have made it.) I gave them a couple pints of gelato for their help.

I put two quarts of ice cream in the smaller cooler and two quarts in the larger cooler with all of the non-frozen items. The ice cream went from the shop's refrigerator to the car to the cooler after about a half hour delay. After flying with one layover and driving home, everything was still nicely cold. The ice cream was partially melted. I scooped off the uppermost and softest and the remainder, about half, seemed to be in fair condition.

So, my advice to anyone reading this would be that it's easy to transport most foods. Just get a cooler and some ice packs. Ice cream, on the other hand, is more problematic. If there's a next time, I plan to freeze the ice cream to a lower temperature before packing it. If that doesn't work, I guess dry ice...

I'm planning to order some more ice cream (from a different store, one that ships) and if it comes in good condition, and I remember, I'll add some more information here.
posted by stuart_s at 10:16 AM on April 27, 2006

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