Last Updated on November 5, 2021
Most of us are aware of the strict requirements for liquid toiletries, we are much less clear about food.
When is a type of food considered a liquid by the TSA and when is it considered a solid?
Can you bring your own food through airport security in your hand luggage?
In this short guide, I’ll explain which foods can and can’t pass through airport security. I’ll also cover the exceptions there are for special items such as baby food, and what else you should be aware of when traveling with food.
Now that you’ve had the starter let’s move on to the main course.
TSA Food Rules
There are three Transportation Security Administration rules that impact taking food in a plane:
- The Liquids rule – Only liquid foods up to 100ml (3.4 oz.) are permitted through airport security. You know the drill by now. You need to place these together in one clear quart-sized plastic bag.
- The Powders Rule – You can bring powdered food in hand luggage but containers over 12 oz must be placed in separate bins at the x-ray machine for additional screening.
- The Infants & Baby Food Rule – Liquid foods and drinks for infants can be brought in containers larger than 3.4 oz. They must be placed in a separate bin for additional screening at TSA security checkpoints. Baby formula is also permitted in hand luggage.
Foods such as jams, pastes, spreads will not get through the security checkpoint unless they are in 3.4 oz or less containers.
If the food is solid (think cakes, biscuits, fruit etc.) then it is fine to pass through security.
The TSA often likes to say, “If you can squeeze it, smear it, pump it, spread it, spray it, or spill it then it’s considered a liquid.”
Solid foods that are made with liquids as an ingredient count as solid foods and are permitted.
We have covered individual foods in more detail on this site. Here is a summary and links to the blog post.
Solid Food Items Are Fine To Take Through Security Even If They Contain Gels, Creams, Or Squishy Fillings:
- Cake – Cake is treated as a solid, even if it has frosting or a cream filling.
- Pies – Pies are considered solid even if the filling is spreadable.
- Beef Jerky – Beef jerky is a solid food and can be packed in hand luggage or hold luggage.
- Gum – Gum is treated as a solid.
- Frozen Foods – Frozen food is permitted in hand luggage. Foods that are usually liquid at room temperature are permitted in hand luggage if they are frozen solid when going through the security checkpoint.
- Cooked Meats & Raw Meats – Meat is a solid and permitted but check customs rules if you are flying internationally.
- Sandwiches – Sandwiches are considered as solids even if the filling is a paste or can be spread.
- Chips – Chips are solid so you can pack them freely in hand luggage or hold luggage.
- Fruit – Even though there may be juice inside fruit is considered solid by the TSA.
- Candy – Solid candy is permitted in hand luggage.
- Snacks – Most snacks are dry solids and can be brought on to the plane.
- Popcorn – It’s a solid whether it is popped or not.
- Vitamins – You can pack vitamins in carry-on luggage or checked bags. Gel capsules are not considered to be liquids.
- Brownies and other edibles – If you are caught with edibles the TSA will report you to the police even in states where they are legal.
- Chocolate – You can bring solid chocolate in hand luggage even if there are liquid fillings like caramel.
- Takeout Fast Food – You can half eaten takeaway food in to planes but liquid sauces, dressings, or dips must follow the liquids rule. Ketchup on a burger is okay, ketchup flying solo is restricted.
- Fresh Eggs – Even though they are liquid inside fresh eggs are considered solid by the TSA.
Liquid Foods Flying Solo Have Restrictions:
- Honey – Honey is considered a liquid and limited in carry-on bags.
- Nutella – Nutella is considered a liquid and you can only pack 3.4 oz containers.
- Syrup – Syrup is a liquid and must be packed in your quart-size bag.
- Salsa and Sauces – Sauce is considered a liquid so can only be packed in 3.4 oz or less containers.
- Applesauce – Applesauce is a liquid, but if you are traveling with an infant it is permitted.
- Canned Foods – Canned food usually has some liquid inside the can, so the 3.4 oz liquids rule applies.
- Peanut Butter – Peanut butter can be spread so it’s a liquid, but this one weird trick will allow you to bring more than 3.4 oz in hand luggage.
- Cheese – While solid cheese is permitted in hand luggage, spreadable cheese is limited to 3.4 oz containers.
- Wine – Wine in containers under 3.4 can be packed in your quart-size bag. Not all airlines permit you to pour your own alcohol.
- Beers – Only beer in tiny travel size containers would be able to go in hand luggage.
- Alcoholic beverages – Very strong liquor over 70% ABV is prohibitted in carry-on and checked luggage. Only mini bottles of liquor like nips can be brought in your quart-size bag.
- Baby Food – Food or drinks for a baby or infant are exempt from the TSA liquids rule. When a child can walk unassisted through airport security they no longer qualify for the liquids exemption.
- Jams, Jellys, Preserves – Jams and Jelly are treated as liquids by the TSA.
- Yogurt – The TSA treats yogurt as a liquid, even greek yogurt.
The TSA powders rule applies to powdered foods:
- Salt – Salt is a power, containers greater than 12 oz must be removed from your carryon bag and placed in a separate bin for x-ray screening.
- Protein Powder – Protein powders under 12 oz can go in carry-on bags. Protein powders over 12 oz are allowed through the security checkpoint if they pass additional screening by the TSA agents.
- Coffee – If you’ve bought a coffee after the checkpoint you can bring it on a plane. Coffee beans are fine but for instant coffee the powders rule applies.
For further checking, you can make use of a tool from TSA to search for a specific food item (or any other item!) you want to check. This is very comprehensive!
The TSA rules of course are in force at all US airports. The rules in many other countries are very similar. The liquid restrictions have become standard around the world. There may be differences in some countries though. So you should check with local authorities if you are departing from international destinations.
Don’t Forget The Airline Rules On Food
You should also be aware of any extra rules imposed by your airline. Remember airlines will count any food carried on as part of your carry-on allowance. Airlines don’t give extra allowance (of weight or second bags) for food items!
Airlines do not usually restrict further taking food on board. None of the main US-based airlines do, but check if you are traveling in other countries.
Yet, airlines do not allow you to consume your own alcohol on board for safety reasons.
So leave that bottle of Absinthe behind! JetBlue is the only US-based airline that will pour your own alcohol for you.
And What About Food When Traveling With Babies, Infants, & Young Children?
If you are traveling with a baby or a young child you can also bring food in containers larger than 3.4 oz. This applies to baby food, baby formula, breast milk, milk, juice, and milk formula.
There is no need to keep these products in a clear plastic bag. But you must declare them to the security staff, and are subject to separate screening, place them in a separate bin at the security checkpoint.
When a child is able to walk through airport security unassisted by an adult then they no longer qualify for liquid rule exemptions.
Remember Arrival Rules If Traveling International
Taking your food onboard the plane may be no problem, but don’t forget customs rules for your arrival country. Lots of countries have strict rules about what food items you can bring in. Lots of countries forbid fresh foods. For example fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, seeds, and nuts.
Of course, if you are taking food on board to eat this is not a problem. But, if it’s a gift for someone else or you are taking it home with you make sure you can legally import it.
You also risk delays at the airport and possible fines for breaking regulations. If you want to test this theory try smuggling a Kinder Surprise Egg into the US.
You can usually find the rules on the government or airport websites of your destination. For example:
For travel to the UK the rules you can find the rules here:
The rules for arriving in the USA from another country can be found here:
You need to declare fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, flowers or animal products. And some countries ban them altogether.
If You Can’t Take It Onboard Pack It In Checked Baggage
Don’t worry if you can’t take your food on board, there are much fewer restrictions on bringing food in checked bags.
TSA permits you to pack any amount of food in checked luggage. But again, make sure customs will allow this on arrival for international travel.
TSA do restrict alcohol amounts in checked luggage. For standard spirits (between 24% and 70% alcohol) the limit is 5 liters. Drinks with higher than 70% alcohol content are not permitted. And there is no restriction below 24%.
Packing food well in your carry-on bag is important. It can prevent it from getting damaged in an often tightly packed bag.
Also, it is a TSA requirement that food is packed securely enough to “avoid spilling during the screening process and damaging security equipment and other passengers’ belongings.”
Items such as sandwiches, rolls, or hamburgers are fine as long as you package them well. Food items may also be subject to additional screening by TSA staff. So having them easily accessible is a good idea!
Some Products To Help
Whenever I take food on a plane I like to make use of a strong, sealable plastic box. This keeps my food intact and will meet any TSA requirements. You can pick up suitable boxes cheaply in most supermarkets.
If you are looking for something, I have a couple of recommendations:
Saving space is a huge priority of mine, and these collapsible food boxes are an appealing option.
I use them for my paleo salads! It helps me keep on my diet even when I’m traveling.
And I also want to mention these options for carrying liquids. You can take “liquid food items” as well as toiletries, gels etc. as carry-on in bottles up to 100ml.
This travel bottle set is a great option for that.
You can fit several travel-size bottles in your quart-size bag. So if you need to bring more than 3.4 oz of liquid food in hand luggage one way is to divide it up into several smaller containers.
You could even fill one of them with mom’s homemade jam or marmalade if you can’t live without it!
There is no problem taking food onto your flight whether it is to eat on board, or take it to your destination. If you follow these simple guidelines you’ll be fine:
- Make sure your food is not liquid in style
- Ensure what you carry on fits within airline weight and space limits
- Ensure your food is secure during screening process
- If travelling internationally, check the customs rules for importing food at your destination
And, of course, if you are taking food on board in your carry-on bag then make sure you pack it sensibly. Keep it safe but of course, minimize weight and space.