Everyone who’s traveled before knows that airline food is often not the greatest. Especially if you’re flying with a low-cost carrier. Sometimes, you’ll even go through a 3-4 hour flight without any meals offered mid-flight. Not to mention that even if you do, the meals are usually pretty expensive.
And that’s why many frequent travelers choose to bring their own food.
But which types of food are safe to bring? And which types are banned? And what about international flights?
In here, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about bringing food on planes, so next time you can show off your culinary skills to the person sitting next to you.
Can You Bring Food on Planes?
According to the TSA (Transport Security Administration), you can bring almost any foods on planes that aren’t in a liquid form. If any food is in a liquid form, you’ll have to follow the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule for liquids in hand luggage.
If you don’t know the 3-1-1 rule, essentially, all liquids must be stored in 3.4 oz containers or less and packed inside a transparent, resealable quart-sized bag. Each passenger has to fit all of their liquids in only one bag. Hence, the name 3-1-1 (3 oz containers, 1 bag per passenger, 1 quart-sized bag.)
Most foods and liquids are allowed in checked bags in any quantity, without any limitations.
Also, it’s worth noting that most airlines will allow you to bring food in disposable containers for free in addition to your carry-on and personal item. This means that if your carry-on is completely full, you can purchase sandwiches and snacks meant for consumption on the plane, and they’ll let you inside without making you pack them inside your luggage.
Vegetables, Fruits, and Berries
Fresh vegetables, fruits, and berries are allowed on planes in hand luggage and checked baggage, as long as they’re in a solid form. Smoothies, and other liquid-state vegetables, berries, and fruits can’t be brought in hand luggage unless they’re in 3.4 oz containers.
That said, coconuts are banned by a few airline regulators around the world. Apparently, whole coconuts and even dried coconuts are banned because sometimes they’re classified under dangerous goods.
Dry Grain, Nut, and Bean-Based Dry Foods
Bread, cereal, ground coffee, coffee beans, cookies, crackers, dry beans, nuts, pies, pizza, and similar dry foods are allowed in hand luggage and checked luggage without any limitations. So pack as many as you’d like.
Meat and Seafood
Cooked or raw meat, fish, and eggs are allowed in checked baggage and hand luggage without any limitations. The problems start once you start using ice for cooling down fresh meat and fish. Completely frozen ice is allowed to go through the screening, but if it’s partially melted, you’ll have to check-in your meat.
You can use dry ice instead, but this technique has a few limitations. You can bring only 5.5. pounds of dry ice on board, it has to be properly packaged, vented, appropriately market, and the airline must approve it first.
Solid cheese, cakes, whey, protein powders, and other dry dairy products are allowed in checked bags and carry-ons without any limitations. And creamy cheese, salad dressings, yogurt, ice cream, dairy-type sauces, dips, and spreads, and other liquid-type dairy products have to follow the 3-1-1 rule.
In hand luggage, alcohol must follow the 3-1-1 rule. In checked baggage, there are no quantity limits for beverages with 1%-24% alcohol. Beverages with 24%-70% alcohol are limited to 5 liters per passenger, and alcoholic beverages over 70% alcohol are banned. Also, all alcohol on flights, both checked and hand luggage, has to be unopened and in the original retail packaging.
Water, Juices, Sauces, Creams, Gravy, and Other Liquids
All liquid-type foods have to follow the 3-1-1 rule in hand luggage. There are no limits for liquids in checked baggage.
Cans under 3.4 oz (100 ml) are sometimes allowed in hand luggage together with your other liquids, but because of security concerns, sometimes they’ll only be allowed in checked baggage. Essentially, canned foods are very hard to screen and verify, so TSA recommends always packing canned foods in checked baggage.
Sweets, Snacks, and Other Dry Packaged Foods.
Dry fruits, nuts, solid chocolate, sweets, snacks, and other dry packaged foods are allowed on planes in hand luggage and checked baggage. In fact, these are usually the best and most efficient foods to bring on airplanes for satisfying your hunger.
Baby Food, Baby Formula, Baby Juices, and Breast Milk
Baby food, formula, juices, and breast milk is one of the only exemptions from the 3-1-1 rule. Any of these foods are allowed in reasonable quantities when traveling with your children and don’t have to be packaged in 3.4 oz containers. Before security, you should remove these items for separate screening and explain the TSA officer that these are meant for your child during the flight.
Dry pet food is allowed in hand luggage and checked bags, without any limits. Wet pet food must follow the 3-1-1 rule for liquids, even for service pets and for pets with medically-prescribed food.
Can You Bring Food on International Flights?
When you’re flying domestically, you can bring basically any type of food in checked luggage and hand luggage. However, when you’re flying internationally, upon arrival, you also have to go through the customs in your destination. And the customs usually have a whole set of different rules when it comes to foods.
That said, if you’re living within the U.S., there are still a few limitations even when flying domestically. If you’re arriving from the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico, you won’t be able to bring most plants and vegetables through the customs. This rule is enforced to avoid transferring any invasive plant pests to the mainland, that could have devastating consequences.
What Foods to Avoid When Traveling Internationally
Specific types of foods are banned through most customs because they could contain invasive plant species, invasive plant pests, specific types of bacteria, and other things that could be harmful to the current ecosystem.
Most of the times, the Airlines won’t confiscate any items when going through the security or check-in. You’ll be notified of banned foods only upon arrival, just before going through the customs. I remember I was bringing cheese to a friend in China, and only upon arrival, the Chinese customs agents made me throw it out because you can’t bring dairy products.
Here’s a list of foods that are banned through most customs when flying internationally:
- Fresh or dry fruits, berries, and vegetables.
- Seeds and nuts.
- Fresh or cooked meat, fish, and eggs.
- Dairy products.
- Any plants or live animals that you intend to prepare as food.
Which Foods Are Allowed When Traveling Internationally
Here’s a list of foods that you’ll most likely be allowed to bring in through any customs because they don’t pose any threats to the ecosystem:
- Wheat-based prepackaged dry foods.
- Sweets and snacks.
- Alcohol and most liquid drinks.
- Most pre-cooked and packaged foods.
Can You Eat Your Own Food During Flights?
As we discussed earlier, most solid foods are allowed in your hand luggage. But even if you can take them on board, can you eat them?
Well, we looked at quite a few airlines, and aside from a few budget airlines, most airlines will allow you to eat your own food during flight. So yes, we’d say that on around 99% of the times you’ll be allowed to eat your own food during flights.
And we’d even encourage people to take their own food on planes. It’s an old stereotype that only poor people take their own sandwiches to save some money. First of all, there’s nothing bad with saving money, because most of the times airlines are basically stealing from you by charging so much for the food. And second, plenty of frequent travelers, including the flight staff, bring their own food, just because often airline food is quite unhealthy and bad.
But just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should eat every type of food on airplanes. You should follow the airplane etiquette, and avoid stinky foods, like Dor Blue salad, food with garlic or onions, most fishes, and similar foods. Also, you should avoid bringing soups, chicken wings, and other foods that aren’t that easy to consume in cramped spaces. Instead, bring something easy to consume, like a sandwich, packaged snacks, granola bars, apples, e.t.c.
How to Pack Food for Air Travel?
Some airlines will allow food packed in disposable containers in addition to your hand luggage. In other words, the food meant for consumption on the plane isn’t counted towards your hand luggage limit, which is nice if you’re overpacked.
You should be using regular zip-lock bags for your sandwiches, nuts, and other dry items. For salads, pasta, pizza, and other messy foods, you might want to use a plastic container instead. Remember to leave some room in your carry-on if you plan on reusing it.
And if you’re bringing something organic that could become bad after a few hours in room temperature, you should bring some ice on your way to the airport. Throw in a few pieces of ice cubes in a zip-lock bag, and place the bag next to your food in a plastic container. Before you go through security, throw out the zip-lock bag with melted ice cubes, because they’ll be in a liquid form by now. When you have your meal after a few hours, your meal should still be cool enough.
Can You Bring Frozen Food on a Plane?
According to the TSA, frozen food on planes is allowed in hand luggage and checked baggage. When going through the security, all frozen liquids in hand baggage need to be completely frozen. If there’s any liquid residue, or if the item is in a half-solid form, it won’t be allowed on the flight and will have to be checked in.
That said, many people said that it’s not worth it to try to bring frozen food in your hand luggage. You can’t guarantee that it will be in a frozen state when you’re going through security, and if it won’t, you’ll be forced to throw it out. That’s why most people put frozen food only in checked baggage.
People said that they’d transported frozen meats, frozen pre-cooked meals, sauces, and other foods. The best way of doing this is to cook your food, and then put it inside a zip-lock bag, making sure to get as much air out as possible. Then throw it in the freezer for a day, and right before you’re leaving for the airport, take your food out of the freezer and put it in the middle of your checked bag. This will be enough for shorter trips that take up to 6-10 hours. For longer trips, you should put your frozen food in a small, insulated cooler with a re-useable cooler ice pack. This will be enough for longer flights that take up to 24 hours.
Do You Have to Remove Food from Your Bag During Security?
During the security screening, you should remove all food items from your hand luggage and place them in a separate bin. Although it’s not a rule yet, most TSA officers will make you remove any food from your bag anyway, so you might as well do it every time. TSA says that food is hard to screen through the X-ray machines, and it clutters the resulting image. Having passengers remove all food from their carry-on eases the screening process, and the security lines move faster.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
We get questions about bringing stuff on planes all the time. So we’ve written a lot of other guides, where we answer the most commonly asked questions.
You can check them out over here:
- What Can You Take on a Plane in Checked Luggage?
- Can You Bring Laptops on Planes?
- Can You Bring Toothpaste on Planes?
- Can You Bring Umbrellas on Planes?
- Can You Bring Wine on Planes?
- Can You Bring Mini Liquor Bottles on Planes?
- Can You Bring Hairdryers, Curling Irons, and Hair Straighteners on Planes?
- Can You Bring Razors on Planes?
- Can You Bring Cologne on Planes?
- Can You Bring Scissors on Planes?
- Can You Bring Lighters on Planes?
- Can You Bring Plants on Planes?
- Can You Bring Knives on Planes?