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TSA Rules for Food in Your Carry-on & Checked Luggage [2023]

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Christy Rodriguez
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Christy Rodriguez

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After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a cer...
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Whether you like to plan healthy meals while you’re traveling, you have small children, or you have medical reasons for needing access to food during your flight, questions related to what food you can bring in your carry-on are extremely common.

A small bottle of water and a few snack-sized packages of pretzels or crackers are pretty much all you get on domestic economy flights these days — and that’s not going to cut it for a cross-country flight, making bringing your own food even more critical. 

In this guide, we’ll break down the rules regarding what food and drinks you’re allowed to bring through TSA security, highlight some notable exceptions, and let you know how the rules might change when you travel internationally.

TSA Rules for Food in Luggage — Carry-on or Checked?

The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, regulates what can pass through security checkpoints at the airport. Surprisingly, it allows almost all food items to pass through, so long as they are solid or comply with the 3-1-1 rule in the case of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes. 

Hot Tip: The 3-1-1 rule states that you can carry on items that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less in a 1-quart-sized bag.

There is no limit to the amount of food you can bring on board, as long as it can fit in your carry-on luggage! You can also pack your food any way you’d like — in a lunch bag, in resealable plastic bags, in Tupperware, etc.

As the TSA says, “If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it, and it’s larger than 3.4 ounces, then it should go in a checked bag,” or it will be thrown away.

Let’s dig into the details of what food is allowed through TSA security checkpoints and what food should likely go in your checked bag.

Baby Food, Formula, and Breast Milk

Thankfully, if you’re traveling with young children, the TSA makes exceptions to the 3.4-ounce liquid rule for breast milk, formula, juice, and baby food. You can bring these items on board in “reasonable quantities,” but be sure to notify the TSA officer as you’re going through the security checkpoint.

According to the TSA, “Inform the TSA officer if you do not want the formula, breast milk, and/or juice to be X-rayed or opened. Additional steps will be taken to clear the liquid and you or the traveling guardian will undergo additional screening procedures, [including] a pat-down and screening of other carry-on property.” This also applies to baby food pouches and jars.

This is also one of the few times partially melted ice packs are allowed through security.

Hot Tip: Our detailed guide to flying with breast milk has everything you need to know, plus tips for making TSA screenings easier!

Canned Foods

Generally speaking, canned foods are allowed in carry-on luggage. However, the TSA recommends keeping them in your checked bag because most contain more than 3.4 ounces of liquid and they are hard to view on the X-ray machine, meaning that they will require extra screening.

Cheese

Is the cheese you’re packing soft or solid? This will make the difference as to whether or not it will be allowed through TSA screening. While all solid cheese (like cheddar or manchego) is allowed, you cannot carry soft, creamy cheeses (like brie) that weigh more than 3.4 ounces in order to comply with the 3-1-1 rule. If you’re hoping to bring a larger quantity of soft cheese, it will need to be checked.

All types of cheese may require additional security screening at the discretion of the TSA agent.

Dips and Spreads

A snack-sized portion of dips — such as French onion or hummus — is fine to put in your carry-on. But if you’re hoping to bring a large container of your famous 7-layer dip, make sure you pack this in your checked luggage or just make it once you’ve reached your final destination.

This also applies to things like jelly, jams, honey, and peanut butter. So while your PB&J sandwich is allowed in the cabin, jars containing the individual ingredients won’t make it through TSA security unless they weigh 3.4 ounces or less.

Jars of Jam and Jelly
Jars of jelly must be checked if they are over 3.4 oz! Image Credit: Pixabay

Frozen Foods

If you are going to bring anything frozen (like gravy, ice cream, or soup) through airport security, it must be completely solid. This includes whatever you’re using to keep your item frozen, such as ice, gel packs, or ice packs.

The TSA notes that items that are presented at security that “are partially melted, slushy, or have any liquid at the bottom of the container…must meet 3-1-1 liquids requirements.”

An alternative is to pack the frozen or partially frozen item in your checked luggage.

Fruits and Veggies

Good news — fresh snacks, like fruits and vegetables, are allowed on the plane. Depending on your destination though, you may need to be sure to eat them all (or throw away any leftovers).

For example, if you are flying to/from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands from the U.S. mainland, you won’t be able to enter with most fresh fruits and vegetables due to the risk of spreading invasive plant pests. Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture website for more details.

International destinations may also have similar restrictions when it comes to fruits and vegetables. If you don’t finish or dispose of the items, you will need to declare them, and some items are prohibited altogether.

Mashed Potatoes

Any kind of mashed potatoes or mashed veggies are allowed in your carry-on luggage. Be sure that there are no liquids (like gravy or stew) of more than 3.4 ounces, though!

Meats and Seafood

Meat and seafood, whether cooked, raw, whole, or sliced, are fine to bring on board your flight. These items might be subject to additional screening, so be prepared for a TSA officer to ask you to remove the meat or seafood from your luggage.

Be careful — while meat and seafood items are allowed, you may still run into issues with any cooling equipment you bring. For example, if you bring an ice pack to keep your meat or seafood cool, it must be completely frozen or it will be subject to the 3-1-1 rule. It would be unfortunate for your meat or seafood to be spoiled upon arrival!

Pies, Cakes, and Baked Goods

Pies, cakes, and other baked goods are permitted through the TSA security checkpoint. They may require additional screening, so be sure they are easily accessible.

Bringing Baked Goods on Airplane
You can bring your homemade cupcakes in your carry-on luggage! Image Credit: Pixabay

Drinks on Airplanes

As we’ve noted, any liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces are off-limits to bring through security. This makes bringing water (or enough of it to make a difference) or even your morning cup of coffee on your travels difficult. Generally, you have 3 options when it comes to bringing drinks through TSA security checkpoints:

  1. Buy an overpriced drink once you pass through security. Everything from a latte to a smoothie or a bottled soda to overpriced water is OK to bring on board and to your airport seat.
  2. Bring frozen water or juice. See more details below.
  3. Bring your own water bottle or coffee mug and fill it up once you’ve passed through security.

Bottled Water and Drinks

All water bottles and drinks must be less than 3.4 ounces unless they are considered solid. Freezing your drinks may or may not help as they will obviously need to thaw before you’re able to consume them. If you have a long flight or are limited in your diet, this trick could definitely come in handy, though!

Hot Tip: If you have a medical condition that requires you to travel with liquids, you are allowed for these items to exceed 3.4 ounces. It is always best to inform the TSA officer before screening and be prepared for the liquid to receive additional screening.

Alcohol

Alcohol is actually allowed in your carry-on as long as it’s less than 140-proof, but …

While you are able to bring mini-liquor bottles under 3.4 ounces through security, you aren’t actually allowed to consume them during your flight. This applies to any duty-free alcohol you might purchase in the airport as well. So make sure you keep alcohol securely stashed in your carry-on!

Everything Else

As a reminder, once you’re through security, all food and drinks are fair game. This means anything you buy post-security, you can bring and consume on the plane. 

Still not sure about carry-on a specific item? Check out our article on what not to pack in your carry-on luggage according to the TSA or our more exhaustive list of items you can and cannot bring through TSA security

If you’re still not finding the answer you want, you can also try the “Can I Bring?” feature on the MyTSA app or send a message to TSA via Facebook Messenger or Twitter. Representatives usually respond within a few hours if you contact them during business hours.

Final Thoughts

We hope we’ve been able to break down what food and drinks you can (and can’t) bring on board your next flight. There are definitely a lot of options if you’re hoping to find some TSA-approved snacks for your next flight. Solid foods and smaller portions of soft cheeses, dips, and liquids are perfectly acceptable and will go through the screening process with no issues.

Just remember, if you’re in doubt, you can always put the item in your checked luggage or purchase some food or drinks after you go through the TSA security checkpoint.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you bring food through airport security?

Yes, solid food is allowed through TSA security in any amount. If the item is considered a liquid, paste, cream, gel, or aerosol, it is still allowed, but must be smaller than 3.4 ounces. Otherwise, you’ll be required to check the item or throw it out.

Can you bring snacks on a plane?

What snacks you can bring (and the amount) depends on what you’re hoping to bring. Fruits, vegetables, baked goods, sandwiches, chips, etc. are fine, but if the item you’re hoping to snack on is a paste or a cream (think dips or spreads), then it will need to be smaller than 3.4 ounces.

Can I bring food on an international flight?

You can bring food on an international flight, but for fresh fruit and vegetables, you’ll need to finish eating those before arriving at your destination. This also applies to certain domestic locations, like Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Always check your final destination’s rules and regulations before arriving to avoid any issues.

What food can’t you take on a plane?

Liquids, creams, and pastes that are larger than 3.4 ounces (like jars of peanut butter and jelly, honey, and big containers of hummus), won’t be allowed through TSA security checkpoints. You can always check these items, though!

Also, if you’re hoping to bring liquids that are larger than 3.4 ounces in your carry-on, they must be totally frozen.

Why is TSA checking food?

All items that pass through TSA security checkpoints are screened, including food and drinks. The TSA screens items to “prevent prohibited items and other threats to transportation security from entering the sterile area of the airport.”

It can be hard to tell exactly what an item is when items pass through the X-ray machine, so TSA might need to check your food items to ensure they are allowed.

Christy Rodriguez's image

About Christy Rodriguez

After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a certified CPA.

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