Food safety expert: Dude, airplane ice is gnarly

Illustration for article titled Food safety expert: Dude, airplane ice is gnarly
Photo: SweetBabeeJay (iStock)

People will board airplanes in droves this week, heading to visit family around the country. While on board, they will be handed pretzels, Sprite, tiny cans of tomato juice to go with their tiny bottles of vodka, and depending on the length of the trip, the odd in-flight meal. CNBC spoke with food safety experts about how to avoid ralphing up your Thanksgiving dinner because you had some bad shrimp while soaring above the Catskills, and one such expert had what was, for me, a pretty surprising suggestion. I’ll paraphrase, for dramatic effect:

“What, airplane ice? Are you out of your freakin’ mind? Airplane ice is a shitshow.”


Melvin Kramer, a food safety expert with the EHA Consulting Group, was both more succinct and less dramatic: “I do not use ice on a plane… I find the flight attendants almost wash their hands in the ice.” That might sound weird, but the CNBC piece also points out that food safety training can be less rigorous for flight attendants than one might hope, and that as a result, hands may not always be freshly washed or gloved when ice is being scooped and drinks poured. And as bacteria can survive in ice, that’s what you might call “real damn gnarly.”

The other items on the list range from “wow, really?” to “yeah, that tracks”: Dairy (susceptible to spoilage); deli meat (lack of temperature regulation, which can lead to listeria); raw fruits and vegetables, especially melon (just read the article for that one); rice (needs to be reheated to 165 degrees, and cooking thermometers aren’t commonplace on airplanes); and seafood (yeah, no shit.)

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!


Jesus christ we are so insanely germ phobic. Millions (yes, millions, about 6 million in fact) of people fly every day. What percentage of those have ice? Even if it’s 10%, that’s 600k a day, or 219,000,000 a year. How many of those people are getting seriously ill from airplane ice? If it was more than a handful, we’d certainly hear about it.

Do you make yourself infinitesimally less likely to get sick by not using airplane ice? Sure. You also have to drink a room temperature beverage and be miserable. Hard fucking pass.

Oh, and you’re way more likely to get sick from that idiot 2 rows back sneezing everywhere, so either never leave your house or accept that you might get sick sometimes, wash your hands when you can, and move on with your life.