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TSA Food Rules - can you take food on a plane in hand luggage_

TSA Food Rules – can you take food on a plane in hand luggage?

by Jeremy B

Picture this. It’s time to head back to college after a nice visit with your parents. Mom has made you her famous double chocolate chip cookies and put them in a big plastic Tupperware container. As your Uber pulls away from the house you momentarily panic. Can I bring these cookies through security!? What are the TSA Food Rules? Can you take food on a plane in hand luggage? Do I have to check it? Throw it away!? Gasp!

Never fear…we’ve got you covered. In this article we examine the TSA Food Rules and discuss what is and isn’t allowed when bringing food through airport security. We also (because it’s helpful) discuss the TSA Liquid Rules, as well as TSA Alcohol guidance, TSA rules on medicine and the TSA rules on breastmilk.

TSA Food Rules: taking food on the plane (an overview)

Let’s start with an executive summary of sorts and then we will dive into the details. At the highest levels, the TSA Food Rules are actually pretty lax (and simple):

Liquids and Gels are really what that they are concerned about…not your mom’s cookies. Most food items are ok going through airport security. 

Remember that 3:1:1 Liquids rule you use for your hair gel and shampoo? Yep, that applies to food items as well. So, if you want to bring that 40z oz bottle of Old English Malt Liquor through security and stick in the overhead bin, well, that’s a hard nope. Same goes for that 16 oz tupperware container of gravy (you know, in case you get the urge for some taters somewhere over Kansas…).

Speaking of gravy, you might like this story: Is Cold Gravy TSA Approved? Chrissy Teigen Finds Out

There are some nuances to these rules which we will dig into below, but again, at the highest levels, Food = good. Liquid = bad / less good (or at least it has to be 3.4 ounces or less).

TSA Liquids Rules

Let’s review the TSA Liquids Rules because it will help inform the rest of our discussion regarding the TSA rules for food items. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is mostly concerned about liquids and gels and they’ve provided very clear (and mostly well enforced) guidance about what you can bring / not bring through security.


Their guidance is simple, 3 or small containers of liquid (it’s actually 3.4, but 3.4 -1-1 doesn’t roll off the tongue) can be carried through airport security. It must be in a clear 1 quart sized plastic bag and preferably placed in the security bin. The TSA has relaxed the last part of their rules and no longer requires passengers to remove their plastic bags from their hand luggage (most of the time…).

This also applies to gels (like toothpaste, shampoo…or jelly). It does not apply to breast milk or formula or medications all of which have special considerations. We will get to that in moment. Any non-prohibited liquids (e.g. fuel is not allowed…) must be checked.

Learn why I buy all of my Travel Toiletries in Bulk!

When applying the TSA Liquids Rules to food items the same size limitations apply. Have an 11 ounce container of mom’s homemade apricot jelly? Nope…gotta check it, or ship it. Big bottle of water? Nope, dump it or check it (which would be dumb).

If you need even more information on this subject use this TSA video and get yourself learned real good!

TSA Alcohol Rules

Is that duty free booze cart calling your name? Did you find the PERFECT bottle of wine on your trip to Temecula’s wine country? But, can you travel with booze? What are the TSA Alcohol Rules?

Not to worry (well, maybe a little…lol), the TSA Alcohol Rules are fairly clear:

“Alcoholic beverages with more than 24% but not more than 70% alcohol are limited in checked bags to 5 liters (1.3 gallons) per passenger and must be in unopened retail packaging. Alcoholic beverages with 24% alcohol or less are not subject to limitations in checked bags. Mini bottles of alcohol in carry-on must be able to comfortably fit into a single quart-sized bag.”

In other words, you are not bringing too much booze on the plane with your hand luggage, but you can check that nice bottle of wine you found. But…should you? What if it breaks? Personally, I’d ship the booze back.

Note: there are some international exceptions regarding duty free purchases of larger quantities of liquids (usually this would be alcohol or perfume). The TSA notes this clarification:

“You may carry duty free liquids in secure, tamper–evident bags, more than 3.4 oz or 100 ml in your carry-on bag if:

  • The duty free liquids were purchased internationally and you are traveling to the United States with a connecting flight.
  • The liquids are packed in a transparent, secure, tamper-evident bag by the retailer and do not show signs of tampering when presented to TSA for screening.
  • The original receipt for the liquids is present and the purchase was made within 48 hours.

The items inside the secure, tamper-evident bags must be screened and cleared. Any item that alarms or is unable to be screened will not be permitted in your carry-on bag. We recommend packing all liquids, gels, and aerosols that are over 3.4 oz or 100 ml in your checked baggage, even if they are in a secure, tamper-evident bag.”

TSA Rules on Medications


Travelers with medications are granted special consideration for their meds. The TSA Rules on Medications are clear:

“TSA allows larger amounts of medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols in reasonable quantities for your trip, but you must declare them to TSA officers at the checkpoint for inspection.

Remove them from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings. You are not required to place your liquid medication in a plastic zip-top bag. If a liquid, gel, or aerosol declared as medically necessary alarms, then it may require additional screening and may not be allowed.”

In other words, you can bring your liquid / gel based medications on the plane (and through security) including those that exceed 3.4 ounces. Pro tip: Make sure it’s your prescription medication and you can prove it. 

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TSA Rules for Breastmilk and Formula

Mothers still nursing children can bring their breast milk or formula (and even other “nourishments”) through TSA security and onto the plane with some exemptions to the aforementioned 3-1-1 rule.

TSA Rules for Breastmilk and Formula

The TSA Rules for Breastmilk, Formula and other related liquids is as follows:

Formula, breast milk and juice for infants or toddlers are permitted in reasonable quantities through the security checkpoint. Remove these items from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings.

Inform the TSA officer at the beginning of the screening process that you carry formula, breast milk and juice in excess of 3.4 ounces in your carry-on bag. These liquids are typically screened by X-ray.”

Furthermore the TSA rules clarify:

“Formula, breast milk, juice in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters are allowed in carry-on baggage and do not need to fit within a quart-sized bag. Remove these items from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings. You do not need to travel with your child to bring breast milk.

Ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk and juice are allowed in carry-on. If these accessories are partially frozen or slushy, they are subject to the same screening as described above. You may also bring gel or liquid-filled teethers, canned, jarred and processed baby food in carry-on baggage. These items may be subject to additional screening.”

In other words, moms, you are good to go. Bring what you need. Let them know what’s up, and enjoy that trip!

TSA Food Rules – can you take food on a plane in hand luggage? Can I check food in my luggage?

Now that we’ve got all the liquid stuff out the of way let’s talk about food items. Can you take food on a plane in hand luggage? What are the TSA Food Rules? As noted in the beginning, the TSA Food Rules are actually pretty simple: Most are allowed.

Solid foods in particular are allowed. Liquid or gelatinous items must follow the TSA Liquid Rules. Other rules still apply too (meaning, if you try to say: “Well, I like to eat TNT” – you are not going to be be able to bring that through…..)

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To help you decipher how the TSA Food Rules apply in practical terms we’ve provided a few examples:

  • Can I bring bread? yes (in both hand luggage and checked luggage)
  • Can I bring canned corn? yes, in checked luggage, special instructions for hand luggage (liquid rules apply)
  • Can I bring mom’s cookies? (in both hand luggage and checked luggage)
  • Can I bring a pie? yes (in both hand luggage and checked luggage, but be careful because a TSA agent might decide they are gelatinous and apply the TSA Liquid Rules)
  • Can I bring eggs? yes (in both hand luggage and checked luggage) – but honestly, why would you?
  • Can I bring fruit? Yes (in both hand luggage and checked luggage, but be careful as sometimes fruit restrictions may apply and of course, canned fruit must comply with TSA Liquids Rules). You can visit the Dept of Agriculture website for more info on traveling with fruit.
  • Can I bring salad dressing? Yes, in checked bags, yes in hand luggage (but liquids rules apply)

Ok, so you get the idea. Can you take food on a plane in your suitcase? Yup. Basically, food is fine in both hand luggage or checked luggage provided it’s not liquid / gelatinous and of course meets any other TSA requirements that may apply.

For more information on the TSA Food Rules visit the TSA Website here.

What can I bring? The TSA Catch All List

The TSA has conveniently built a list of items that can / cannot be brought through security and identified any (if applicable) special requirements that may exist.

Use this link to verify what the TSA will allow you to bring

The End…thanks for checking out our TSA Food Rules (and Liquids Rules)

We appreciate you stopping in and hope this information was valuable for you in your next trip and we hope we answered the burning question can you bring food through airport security!

Always be sure to check with the TSA for the latest news and information as the regulations do change from time to time. And don’t forget, you can always ask the TSA what’s allowed by hitting them up on Twitter @AskTSA.

Curious what the TSA Rules on traveling with guns or ammo are? Check out our article: Traveling with a gun – 14 Practical Tips to safely travel with a firearm

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Sara July 17, 2019 - 11:32 pm

I’m curious about CBD/THC drugs for patients with cancer or multiple sclerosis, are allowed (of course with prescription)?

@traveltipsbylaurie July 18, 2019 - 8:22 am

Such a thorough blog! Great job and funny!


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