The TSA Wants You to Check Your Frozen Tamales (and Other Frozen Food)

Jun 5, 2018

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We follow airline websites pretty closely. That’s how we know when to share weather/volcano flight change fee waivers, when United cuts meals and drinks without notice or when American Airlines slashes award earnings on 180 partner fare classes.

That’s how we saw a new notice that posted on United’s travel notice page last week:

Additional TSA screening of perishable items at San Juan (SJU)
TSA has implemented additional security measures at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) that requires all wet or frozen food items to be removed from carry-on baggage and inspected. While food items are permitted in carry-on baggage, travelers departing San Juan are advised to allow extra time at security or to check bags containing wet or frozen food items to expedite the screening process.

Knowing that sometimes the TSA will do pilot programs in certain airports before deciding whether or not to roll them out nationwide, we checked with the administration to see if this new initiative was just limited to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

A spokesperson explained Monday afternoon that this isn’t just a change limited to SJU, but a new nationwide program starting May 31 to inspect food items more closely. While fully frozen foods (and drinks) can still be safely screened and carried on, when passengers take partially melted foods through security there can be an issue.

The TSA gave the SJU airport and airlines operating there an extra heads up about this policy, as the issue of partially melted food is a particularly big there. Turns out a lot of passengers out of SJU bring frozen pasteles on board with them. However, the brutal Puerto Rican heat often turns these frozen pasteles into not-so-frozen pasteles.

Under the new guidelines, if TSA scanners find liquids in the food container, the container will be pulled aside for secondary screening. Once agents clear the item as food, it can be carried on. However, the TSA is more than aware that no one wants agents browsing through their food — which is why it’s trying to inform travelers about the new program.

So, what should you do if trying to take food with you? Well, the TSA recommends packing frozen foods in a checked bag instead of carrying them on. If you’re set on trying to carry frozen food on-board, make sure to freeze it completely before leaving and drain any melted liquids from the container before passing through security.

I’ve personally carried a tray of (amazing) banana pudding on board, and I know how Chrissy Teigen needs to travel with an emotional support casserole. So, I made sure to ask the TSA spokesperson if there have been any changes to the screening of pies, casseroles and puddings. Good news: These can still be carried on, and there’s been no change to how they are screened.

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