Whether you’re planning a trip to visit loved ones or taking a vacation, you might be contemplating bringing a few of your favorite foods along like a treasured recipe or baked goods.
If it’s a road trip, then all you really need to do is to stow your perishable items in a cooler or bag, pack them into the car and you’re good to go.
If you're traveling by air, however, it's a different story.
It’s one thing to stow a bag of chips or granola bar in your carry-on. But if you’re hoping to bring Grandma’s gravy and are wondering if you can take homemade food through airport security, there are a few things to know before you go.
You might be surprised to learn what the TSA will — and won’t — allow you to bring through security checkpoints.
If it’s a jar of gravy, you may run into trouble because much like you can’t bring any liquids greater than 3.4 ounces through security, you also can’t pack other liquids larger than 3.4 ounces, either. And that includes gravy.
Fortunately, all hope isn’t lost. To ensure your favorite family recipes arrive at your destination with you, TODAY.com spoke with the TSA and here’s what you need to know.
TSA food rules 2022
When deciding whether a food item can go through airport security or not, the first thing to determine is if it’s solid, spreadable or liquid, because it’s the consistency of what you’re bringing that matters.
“If people want to travel with food or drinks, what they really need to do is focus on whether the item is solid, because if it’s a solid item, then it can go through a checkpoint,” TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein tells TODAY.com.
Baked goods can typically be taken through security without a problem. That said, if any of those items qualify as “spreadable,” they need to go into your checked luggage.
“Brownies are solid. Cakes, cookies and pies are solid. Casseroles are considered a solid,” says Farbstein. “If you look at something like cranberry sauce, whether it’s homemade or store-bought in a jar, that’s a spreadable.”
Along with spreadables, things packed in liquid aren’t permitted through security checkpoints either. For example, canned goods packed in juice will not be allowed in your carry-on.
“A can of corn, a can of string beans, a can of pineapple. If you can shake the can and hear the liquid inside, then it would go into your checked bag,” Farbstein explains.
Other things that must be placed in your checked baggage are items like wine, beer and other liquids in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces.
If you plan to packed those items in your luggage, Farbstein suggests doing so with extra care. “If you’re bringing a special bottle of wine or Champagne, definitely put that in your checked bag and just wrap it up, whether it’s in your extra clothing or putting bubble wrap around it,” she says.
Another thing to note is if you're packing mini bottles of alcohol in your carry-on bag, you should check with your airline first to see if they are permitted. Even so, you won't be able to drink them on the plane.
Per FAA regulations, travelers are prohibited from consuming alcohol on an airplane unless served by a flight attendant.
How to bring liquid or spreadable items through security checkpoints
If your liquid or spreadable items aren't 3.4 ounces or less and you can't put them into a checked bag, there’s one thing you can do to carry it with you: Freeze it solid in advance.
“As long as it’s frozen, that’s OK,” Farbstein tells TODAY.com. “Then it’s a solid.”
Should your frozen items melt in the bag on the way to the airport, then, unfortunately, you’re out of luck. But if it’s frozen and solid when you’re passing through TSA security, it can travel with you.
If it melts while you’re on the plane, that’s yet a different matter.
“We’re not checking how far you’re flying with your frozen gravy,” Farbstein says. “We’re just checking that it’s frozen when it comes through the checkpoint.”
She also says to be prepared to put any food items you’re traveling with into a bin when passing through airport security. And don’t be surprised if the TSA takes a quick swab of your cake or pie to ensure there are no traces of explosives on them.
“That’s what we are focused on,” she says. “That nothing catastrophic is going to happen on that flight as a result of something coming through the checkpoint.”
Foods you can take through airport security
While there may be exceptions, here’s a sampling of foods that the TSA allows through airport security checkpoints:
- Baby food
- Baby formula (inform the TSA officer you are carrying breast milk, formula or toddler drinks, at the beginning of the screening process)
- Canned goods that are solid (not packed in liquid)
- Cheese (solid, not spreadable)
- Chocolate (solid, not liquid)
- Coffee beans and grounds (not liquid)
- Cooked meat and seafood
- Dried fruits
- Fresh eggs
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Frozen food (must be solid and ice packs must also be solid)
- Pet food (solid)
- Pies and cakes
- Protein or energy powders
- Snack or protein bar
- Tea (leaves or bag)
Foods and drinks that should go into a checked bag
Many of the following items can go into your carry-on bag if they are 3.4 ounces or less. However, you’ll still need to take them out while going through airport security checkpoints.
All liquids or spreadables over 3.4 ounces will need to be placed into checked luggage.
- Alcoholic beverages (Note: All alcoholic beverages over 140-proof are not allowed in either carry-on bags or checked luggage.)
- Bottled water
- Canned foods (in liquid)
- Cheese (cream or spreadable)
- Chocolate (liquid)
- Coffee (liquid)
- Dips and spreads
- Frozen or gel ice packs (melted)
- Ice cream
- Jam and jelly
- Maple syrup
- Oil and vinegar
- Peanut butter
- Pet food (wet)
- Salad dressing
- Tea (liquid)