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I was on a BA flight recently (LHR-JFK) and I was given a sealed cheese and tomato sandwich by a flight attendant about 90 minutes before landing. Everyone else was given a similar sandwich, probably as an afternoon snack. Because I was not hungry I kept the unopened sandwich on the empty seat next to me knowing that I would probably be hungry after immigration queues etc and I would eat it on the car ride into the city.

Just before the plane began its approach to JFK and the flight attendants were doing their last safety checks before landing, the same flight attendant told that I would be unable to take the sandwich from the plane and I would either have to eat it before disembarking or throw it into the bin! Not being hungry I left the sandwich behind.

Why can't I take food off the plane? Is this a USA thing or an international thing?

This similar question does not answer my question.

  • 1
    I don't know for sure (thus can't answer) but I'd guess it has something to do with customs. The sandwich, containing a dairy product, probably came from the UK or somewhere outside of the US. Since you can't import dairy into the US, they probably don't let people take the sandwiches to avoid issues at customs. – la femme cosmique Oct 25 '17 at 10:32
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    Note that the airline itself doesn't really care if you take out the sandwich. They're just warning you about how US laws work. Otherwise you are free to put the sandwich in your jacket, eat it before immigration/customs and nobody would care. – JonathanReez Oct 25 '17 at 13:28
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    When I came back from Germany they took all my chocolate covered kinder eggs. Kids were bummed. – JonH Oct 25 '17 at 20:15
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    Actually, the linked-to question does answer your question. Contrary to popular belief, tomatoes are not vegetable but fruit. Fresh fruit is prohibited, so there you go (now of course there's "fresh" and there's "fresh" as on a sandwich... but what they really mean with "fresh" is "not dried, not heat-treated"). – Damon Oct 26 '17 at 10:12
  • @JonH Kinder Eggs are actually banned due to a law from the 30s since they are candy containing non-food items. – navigator_ Oct 26 '17 at 16:51
44

The USA has restrictions on the import of food items. Some information is given here.

I have on one occasion forgotten items I bought before boarding, intending to snack on the flight. These were detected by a sniffer dog in the immigration queue and the items confiscated - I was not otherwise penalised, but I could have been fined.

In your case I guess that the tomato would have been the issue.

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    I think the US doesn't allow members of the public to import dairy products, either. – David Richerby Oct 25 '17 at 13:16
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    @DavidRicherby: Most cheeses are acceptable for "personal use." From the US CBP website: "Solid cheese (hard or semi-soft, that does not contain meat) ... [is] not restricted. Feta cheese, Brie, Camembert, cheese in brine, Mozzarella and Buffalo Mozzarella are permissible. Cheese in liquid (such as cottage cheese or ricotta cheese) and cheese that pours like heavy cream are not admissible from countries affected by foot-and-mouth disease. Cheese containing meat is not admissible depending on the country of origin." – Michael Seifert Oct 25 '17 at 14:05
  • ... The real restrictions are on produce, eggs, and meat. – Michael Seifert Oct 25 '17 at 14:06
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    @jkej your almonds were most likely already from the US, and having been processed (roasted) would be unlikely able to grow any kind of invasive plant or harbor parasites. Tambre's apple on the other hand could have contained viable seeds, insects, or yeast cultures living on the skin. While the US might import the very same apples from the very same farm, the official import process is carefully regulated/documented to try and minimize the risks associated with bringing in foreign produce. – CactusCake Oct 25 '17 at 15:34
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    @MichaelSeifert if that’s not what it’s referring too, what ungodly cheese does have meat in it then? – OrangeDog Oct 26 '17 at 13:20
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The airline is required by US law to follow a pretty complex set of rules relating to international garbage in order to prevent pests from entering the US. Many airports have incinerators on-site to comply with USDA requirements, and it's the responsibility of the crew to collect the trash so it can be destroyed.

They're not going to account for every edible item on the plane, especially prepackaged candies and snacks, and if you stuff the thing in your bag, they aren't going to start searching the plane for it. But if they see you with something that needs to be disposed of, they will want to ensure the regulations are complied with and dispose of it properly.

Specifically, you can refer to 9 CFR 94.5(c). To simplify (and, you know, consult a lawyer or something if you need legal advice on garbage for your airline), regulated garbage includes all "meals and other food that were available for consumption by passengers and crew on an aircraft but were not consumed" from international flights (except: Canada is excluded and Hawaii included). If you've got regulated garbage on your plane, it "may not be disposed of, placed on, or removed from" the plane unless it is disposed of properly (in this case, that's a fancy way of saying "very expensively"), in a way that ensures it won't introduce agricultural pests and disease. This even applies to leaving food on the plane for the return flight. "Passenger takes the food home and eats it later" is, sadly, not listed as an approved form of disposal.

So as I read the regulations, the crew was following the required procedure to ensure that all regulated garbage was collected for proper disposal.

7

While the other answers raise some good points, I think it is important to point out that technically the flight attendant is wrong. You are allowed to bring food into the USA, as long as you declare it to customs, and as long as it is not on the list of forbidden food products (which can change rapidly, for example in response to specific diseases/health hazards).

Many (most?) passengers do not declare any food. Bringing an undeclared sandwich can indeed result in fines and other unpleasant consequences. So, the flight attendant is giving some simplified advice to help you avoid these consequences. Declaring food (even food that is allowed) may delay your passage through customs, and may sometimes result in bags being opened, increased questioning, etc, so probably not worth it for a sandwich.

However, I often travel with lots of other food that I'm going to declare anyways. In situations like this, I've always just included food that I'm taking from the plane in my declaration, and never had any issues with it. The worst that can happen is that they'll throw it away.

  • 2
    "Declaring food (even food that is allowed) may delay your passage through customs" - one time (in New Zealand) I got through customs faster by declaring food, because then I didn't have to go through the line to have my baggage scanned to make sure I wasn't not declaring food. – user29850 Oct 25 '17 at 23:02
  • @immibis, shhhh! that tactic is known by few! (I did it yesterday). – Lamar Latrell Oct 26 '17 at 16:20
1

djna is correct but not complete and it is very country specific "The USA (...)".

To answer your last question: no, it is a general rule, that you are not permitted to bring sandwiches outside airplane (so not just US stuffs), for few reasons:

  • custom: food (also animals and plants) is very regulated in all countries, mostly because of possible disease (to agricultural sector).

  • sanitary consideration: plane food is carefully controlled, safe and keep in cold, before to serve it to you, but after some hours on air temperature, the food could not be edible, and if you will have some problem, you will blame the airline. You should also consider that the food was not prepared on the airplane, so it is "relatively" old, so after is warmed up, it should be relatively eaten quickly.

For chocolates and snacks, usually the airlines are less severe. Such food is prepared (heated and sealed) so it should not be a concern for both the above points. Customs could not agree, but still safe to eat before you pass the custom. [tomatoes and cheese cannot be disinfected with heat]

  • 2
    Airline food (especially a sandwich!) isn't going to become dangerous to eat within a few hours of being in your bag. And, even if it did, I really doubt that customs and immigration authorities would care that you might blame the airline if you ate it and got sick. Also, chocolate and many kinds of snacks can't be sterilized by heating. – David Richerby Oct 25 '17 at 14:33
  • I don't know. I would not eat them, also on normal shops (I mix cheese and vegetable late in case of hiking). Sandwiches are stored in refrigerators, for a reason. You will find billions of bacteria on cheese, many thousand in tomatoes and salad (and mixing.. bad), and nearly none in snacks. It is not 100% sterilized, but just count the bacteria. Then think about fecal bacteria and other nasty bacteria. Preparation of tomatoes, cheese and sandwich requires much manual work and non sterile environment. Check also custom rules, on some countries they distinguish them. – Giacomo Catenazzi Oct 25 '17 at 14:47
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    So you're prepared to eat a cheese sandwich on a hike after carrying it in your pack for a few hours, but not prepared to eat a cheese sandwich after carrying it off a plane? Sorry, but that makes no sense. – David Richerby Oct 25 '17 at 15:26
  • @DavidRicherby: But it is so. Check food preparation best practices. Entire tomatoes can be stored for weeks, cheese for more time. Just preparing and combining has additional problems (check biology for the reason, or you taste, if it is not health, it is the taste that is bad). You see it also at McDonalds: hamburgers are trashed after few hours, but not the original ingredients used to make them. On food industry there are many "after doing this you should consider food as that" (or "expiry date is that") – Giacomo Catenazzi Oct 25 '17 at 15:45
  • @DavidRicherby The original question did not say that Customs prohibited the sandwich, but that the airline did. While customs may not care about a lawsuit against the airline, the airline absolutely does. Also, the specific number of hours before the sandwich is eaten, and how and where it is stored cannot be known. Giacomo is also correct about prepared foods having shorter lifespans than the ingredients themselves. – barbecue Oct 25 '17 at 17:08

protected by JonathanReez Oct 26 '17 at 9:02

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