Thanksgiving is almost here, and chances are good that if you’re not already hosting the big dinner at your house, you’re probably traveling somewhere to enjoy the day with loved ones.
In fact, according to AAA, more than 54 million people plan to travel for the holiday this year, making it the third busiest since AAA began tracking the data in 2000.
If your pilgrimage (Thanksgiving pun totally intended) involves a road trip, then bringing a Thanksgiving side dish or dessert to share with friends and family doesn’t require much more than packing it in the car.
However, should your plans involve flying and you're wondering what food you can bring on the plane (think Grandma’s cranberry sauce), there are a few things to know about the Transportation Security Administration’s food rules before you go.
TSA checkpoint food rules
“If people want to travel with food during the Thanksgiving holiday, what they really need to do is focus on whether the item is solid,” Lisa Farbstein, spokesperson for the TSA told TODAY in a phone interview. “If it’s a solid item, then it can go through a checkpoint.”
Farbstein said that examples of solid food include things like pie, cake, brownies or cookies. Liquid or spreadable foods are a different story.
“Something like cranberry sauce, whether it’s homemade or store-bought in a jar, that’s a spreadable,” Farbstein said. “That needs to go into a checked bag.”
According to a TSA press release, along with anything spreadable, foods that can be spilled, sprayed, pumped or poured and are larger than 3.4 ounces also need to go into a checked bag.
Of course, any food or drink item going into your luggage should be packed with extra care to prevent it from leaking or breaking in transit.
Can you bring canned goods through security?
Canned goods are a bit tricky. Because of the packaging, you might think they’re considered "solid" and therefore OK to pack in your carry-on.
If the items inside a canned good are solid, then you’re good to go. That said, if the food item is packed in juice, then it must go in your checked bag.
“A can of yams, a can of corn, string beans, pineapple, if you shake the can and hear liquid inside, then that would go into your checked bag,” Farbstein said.
The same goes for things like Thanksgiving wine and beer. Even if they’re unopened, they’re considered liquid and must still be stowed in checked luggage.
Can you bring frozen food through security?
Here's a surprising food caveat: Frozen foods fall into the solid category.
So, if you’re transporting gravy to Thanksgiving dinner, you can freeze it prior to your flight. If it’s still frozen at the security checkpoint, you can bring it with you in your carry-on bag.
If it’s melted, then you’re out of luck.
Other frozen liquids like water can also come with you through security — as long as they’re still solid when you reach the checkpoint.
“We’re not checking how far you’re flying with your frozen gravy,” Farbstein said. “We’re just checking that it’s frozen when it comes through the checkpoint.”
Bringing food through security checkpoints
To help speed things up while going through airport security, Farbstein recommends taking out any food or food containers you’re carrying on the plane and placing them into a bin before reaching the checkpoint.
“We see tons of people traveling with cake and pie and dessert items, because people want to contribute something, and those travel well,” she said.
Keep in mind, however, that those items will be screened like everything else and could entail a quick swab by TSA agents. “We’re going to feed that swab into a machine, and we’re just testing to make sure there are no traces of explosives,” said Farbstein.
If you’re still unclear, see below for a sample list of foods the TSA permits at checkpoints and which ones need to go in your checked luggage.
Don’t see your food listed below? Visit the TSA homepage and type your item into the “What can I bring” feature for more help.
Foods approved for carry-on
- Baked goods, including pies, cakes, cookies and brownies
- Meats (frozen, cooked or uncooked) like turkey, chicken, ham and steak.
- Stuffing (in a box or bag)
- Macaroni and cheese
- Fresh vegetables, including potatoes, yams, broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots and greens
- Fresh fruit, including apples, pears, lemons, limes, pineapple and fresh cranberries
Foods that must be checked
- Cranberry sauce (homemade or canned)
- Nonfrozen gravy (homemade, canned or in a jar)
- Wine, Champagne and bottled drinks
- Canned fruit or vegetables packed in liquid
- Preserves, jams and jellies
- Maple syrup