TSA Rules for Traveling with Food

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Most frequent travelers know that they need to streamline what they’re carrying in order to make it through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoints at airports quickly and easily. If you’re a frequent traveler, the 3-1-1 rule for liquids should be old-hat to you by now. According to the 3-1-1 guidelines, travelers are allowed to bring on most liquids—from shampoo to hand sanitizer gels—as long as they meet the requirements of the 3-1-1 rule. Typically this means you can carry up to 3.4-ounce bottles of shampoos, contact lens solution, and other liquid necessities (3) as long as they are all contained within one 1-quart zip-top bag (1) and are carried by one passenger (1).

However, if you have something unusual that you’ve picked up as a gift for someone during your business trip or want to bring a little bit of food with you on the plane, there are certain items that are allowed through the TSA security checkpoints.

When it comes to bringing food through a TSA security checkpoint, you need to keep the 3-1-1 rule in mind, and either pack, ship, or leave behind anything that has a high liquid concentration, and keep in mind that certain liquids and foods are not allowed.

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Foods to Pack While Traveling by Airplane

Surprisingly, the TSA allows almost all food items through the security checkpoint, so long as none of them are liquids in amounts exceeding 3.4 ounces. This means you can even bring pies and cakes with you through the checkpoint—though they will be subject to additional screening.

Items allowed for travel in your carry-on include baby food, bread, candy, cereal, cheese, chocolate, coffee grounds, cooked meats, cookies, crackers, dried fruits, fresh eggs, meat, seafood, and vegetables, frozen foods, gravy, gum, honey, hummus, nuts, pizza, salt, sandwiches, and all sorts of dry snacks; even live lobsters are allowed in special clear, sealed, spill-proof containers.

There are some exceptions to the rule, such as breast milk and baby formula, and some special instructions for liquids. Be sure to check out the official TSA website if you have any questions about the specific foods you plan to travel with during your trip.

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Foods That Are Banned on Airplanes

As with non-food items, you cannot bring any food item in liquid or cream form that is over 3.4 ounces. This rule, known as the TSA liquids rule, stipulates that you can only carry cranberry sauce, jam or jelly, maple syrup, salad dressing, ketchup, and other condiments, liquids of any type, and creamy dips and spreads including cheese, salsa, and peanut butter in a container under that quantity. Unfortunately, your liquid will be thrown out if its quantity exceeds this amount.

Canned foods, partially melted ice packs, and alcoholic beverages provide the most trouble in getting through security checkpoints as these come with specific stipulations on when they can and cannot be transported in carry-on luggage.

For example, alcoholic beverages over 140 proof (70 percent alcohol by volume) including grain alcohol and 151 proof rum are prohibited from checked baggage and carry-on luggage; however, you can bring small bottles of alcohol (the same you would purchase in-flight) as long as they do not exceed 140 proof. Note that many airlines will not allow you to consume your own liquor on board.

On the other hand, ice packs are completely fine as long as they are fully solid while going through security. If they have any liquid inside of them at the time of screening, the ice packs will be taken out. Similarly, if canned food items that contain liquids appear suspicious to TSA security officers, they may be taken out of your checked bag.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Can you bring food through airport security?

    Yes, you can bring most food items through airport security, including baby food, cheese, chocolate, coffee grounds, cooked meats, meat, seafood, and vegetables. However, foods that come in liquid or cream form—think peanut butter, ketchup, and maple syrup—must be left behind if they exceed 3.4 ounces.

  • Can you bring frozen food on a plane?

    Yes, frozen food is allowed in both your carry-on and checked luggage. However, if you're using ice to keep your food cold, keep in mind that it must be completely frozen at the time of security screening.

  • How much food can I take on a plane?

    You can bring however much food as you want, so long as it all fits in your carry-on and personal item, and the liquid food items (e.g. peanut butter, jam, salsa) follow TSA's 3-1-1 rule.