Travel What Foods You Can and Can’t Pack For Your Next Flight

18:05  08 april  2021
18:05  08 april  2021 Source:   cntraveler.com

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Can you bring food on a plane? It's a question we've all asked, whether we're trying to smuggle home a local delicacy or just plain forgot about the cured meats in our carry-on until we were in the security line.

The simple answer is yes, you can take pretty much any kind of food on to a plane—you'll just hit trouble the closer the foods are to a liquid. And if your follow-up question is wondering if it’s okay to then eat your food on the plane, know that new federal air travel regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic complicate matters.

Whether your food meets airport security's requirements comes down to a few simple guidelines. “If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it, or pour it, then it’s considered a liquid or gel,” says Mark Howell, regional spokesperson for the TSA. That means it falls under the 3-1-1 liquids rule, which mandates that any liquid, gel, cream, aerosol, or paste in a carry-on must be 3.4 ounces or less, and fit in one quart-size resealable bag (only one such bag is allowed per passenger).

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There is one recent (and super specific) exception to the 3-1-1 rule, and it’s regarding hand sanitizer. In March 2020, when the U.S. declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency, the TSA relaxed the limitation on hand sanitizer in carry-ons, raising the allowance from 3 to 12 ounces (one bottle per traveler). And having that hand sanitizer on you will pay off when and if you decide to snack, for cleaning your tray table and hands before eating.

Still, even if a food item is generally permitted, it may be subject to additional screening or not allowed through the checkpoint if it triggers an alarm during the screening process, appears to have been tampered with, or poses other security concerns.

Here's everything you need to know about bringing food through airport security and onto your flight:

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Can you even eat on a plane during COVID-19?

The short answer is yes, but with limitations. As of February 2, 2021, federal law mandates the wearing of a mask on airplanes. So, you do have to wear a mask throughout your flight.

Removing your mask is permitted, but only if you’re actively drinking or eating. Sitting with a water bottle or coffee cup on your tray table and using that as an excuse to remove a mask won’t fly, however; flight attendants may request that you mask up between sips or chews to reduce your exposure and the exposure of others.

Further complicating matters is the decrease in meal and beverage service on flights, also a direct result of the pandemic. Something as simple as multiple hands touching a can of soda as it’s passed to you in the window seat—an occurrence that wouldn’t have caused the average air traveler to think twice before taking a sip, pre-pandemic—is now a no-no. Standard economy class snack options on many U.S. domestic flights have been reduced to a small bottle of water and a tiny, pre-packaged bag of pretzels or cookies, both within a larger bag. That’s not going to quiet a rumbling stomach on a cross-country flight, so carrying on your own food may be unavoidable.

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What foods are—and are not—allowed on a plane?

1. Spreadable foods and cheese

If a cheese or other foodstuff is spreadable, like cream cheese, peanut butter, or Nutella, then traveling with it in your carry-on means packing in line with that 3-1-1 liquids rule explained above (unless it's in a sandwich, in which case you should be fine.) Solid cheese, solid chocolate and, well, solid peanuts, are treated as dry snacks and allowed in your cabin bag without limit so long as your bag stuffed to the seams with blocks of extra sharp Vermont cheddar doesn’t exceed the airline’s carry-on weight and size allowances.

2. Canned or bottled items

Cranberry sauce may be integral to a holiday meal, but unless you’ve decanted it into a bottle of 3.4 ounces or less, its gelatinous consistency puts it too far into liquid territory to be allowed in a carry-on. Cans of cranberry sauce—along with other similarly jiggly and pourable foods—must be in checked luggage. These include gravy, containers of frosting, jams, jellies, soft butter, honey, syrups, salsa, dips, chutney, spreads, soup, pudding, salad dressing, and other food items that resemble these, such as mustard or hummus, which respectively qualify as a spread and a dip.

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As always, alcoholic beverages and other liquids are allowed in your carry-on, provided they are in containers of 3.4 ounces or less, all fitting inside that clear, quart-size baggie.

3. Seafood and meats

Meats, whether cooked, raw, whole, or sliced, are fine to bring onboard your flight. Nonetheless, be courteous when traveling with meat and seal it up well, with an aim to keep any smells or juices contained. Pack extra packaging materials, just in case the Saran wrap hits a snag. Eggs are also allowed onboard, and they don’t even need to be hard-boiled—but again, packaging here is crucial.

As we discovered in 2017 when the TSA found (and cleared) a 20-pound lobster in luggage, the clawed crustaceans and other frozen seafoods are allowed as carry-on or checked luggage, with proper packaging. Some airports, like those in Boston and Halifax, even sell ready-to-fly boxes of lobsters, fitting up to ten in one box and packing them with bags of frozen peas instead of ice or gel blocks.

4. Pies and cakes

Taking a fresh-baked pie or cake onto a plane may tempt TSA agents into a weak joke about taste-testing, but pies and cakes are allowed as carry-ons, whether whole or sliced. Apple dumplings, cupcakes, brownies, fritters, donuts (filled or not), cookies, gingerbread, dry baking mixes, and even fruitcake are okay to fly in the cabin. They do count as a carry-on item, though, and you may be asked to put them underneath the seat in front of you as opposed to the overhead bin.

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Sweets still must pass through the X-ray machine at the security checkpoint, so the TSA agents will quickly determine if there’s anything more dangerous than ganache at the center of those truffles.

5. The other stuff

Still not finding your answer? Double-check that the food item that you want to fly with isn’t in the TSA list of prohibited items. If still in doubt, try the “Can I Bring?” feature on the MyTSA app or snap a photo of the item and send your question directly to the TSA via Facebook Messenger or Twitter. During business hours, it only takes someone at the TSA about a half-hour to determine whether or not you’ll be allowed to bring a box of durian custard tarts on your flight.

Foods you shouldn't bring on a plane

In general, we recommend abiding by a version of the "Golden Rule" modified for air travel: Only bring onboard food that you yourself wouldn't mind smelling if someone else brought it onboard.

Traveler editors have a lot to say when it comes to the controversial topic of what foods are socially acceptable to bring and consume on a plane. In summary? Leave the very crunchy, pungent, sticky foods at home. As for problematic foods, anything which could cause another passenger to have an allergic reaction—such as peanuts—is always a risk, so opt for another impulse snack at the airport grab-n-go.

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Remember: you can always check it

Whether it’s ingredients for mom's famous casserole or a batch of brownies, tucking your food into your checked luggage is almost always a safer bet. Checked bags aren’t party to the liquid rules of carry-on luggage, so liquids and foods like honey, salsa, jam, and creamy cheese—the ones that fall into that questionable gray area between a liquid and solid and won't be let through at TSA security checkpoints—are always best checked.

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When deciding how to puzzle piece food into your luggage with clothes and other items, pack assuming your suitcase will end up manhandled and at the bottom of a heap of suitcases. Almost no foods, nor food packaging, are designed with turbulence in mind: this means packing delicate items—like the layers of an unassembled cake or cookies—in sturdy boxes, tins, or Tupperware, and surrounding them tightly with clothes, the same way you would with china or glassware.

If your food needs to stay cold, pack it in your checked luggage with frozen gel packs (or use bags of frozen peas), but remember to be careful to always pull them out of the freezer the moment before you leave for the airport to ensure maximum frozenness.

As with any food you bring into the cabin, be mindful of the odor of foods you check into your luggage, too. If you’re flying with food that has a strong scent—say, onion bagels or certain cheeses—wrap them well or place them in a sturdy freezer bag so the other contents of your luggage don't spend the flight simmering in the stench. That Roquefort you purchased in Paris may taste great, but it's not as nice as a perfume.

Additional reporting by Louis Cheslaw.

This article was last published in September 2019. It has since been updated with new information.

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