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Can You Bring Food on a Plane? TSA Rules You Need to Know

Whether you want to bring snacks on your flight or take home edible souvenirs, knowing these TSA food rules will help you breeze through security.

man going through xray at tsa security checkpoint in airportМихаил Руденко/Getty Images

Don’t ignore these TSA food rules

Sometimes the most stressful part of flying is getting through security. Do you keep your shoes on or off? How about a belt? And then there’s the issue of snacks and drinks. You probably already know (we hope) that it would be a travel mistake to bring a bottle of water through a TSA security checkpoint. But what about if you’re not flying on an airline with the best food and want to bring a bagged lunch or a healthy snack so you don’t have to purchase overpriced nibbles from the airport? Can you bring food on a plane?

Whether you’re wondering if you can bring dinner with you for a long flight, you’re traveling for the holidays with goodies, or you’re returning home with edible souvenirs, we’ve got the answers you’re looking for right here. Don’t leave home without reading this list of the top foods you may be tempted to bring on a plane and the TSA food rules that govern them. And to speed the process of getting through security, be sure to sign up for TSA Pre-Check before your next trip.

Can You Bring Food On A Plane ChartRD.com, Getty Images

Overhead view of items being packed for travelingGary John Norman/Getty Images

Can you bring food on a plane?

The short answer is, yes, you can bring food on a plane, but…not all food. According to the travel experts at Next Vacay, it helps to remember these two general TSA food rules: If it’s a solid item, it can go through a checkpoint. However, if it’s liquid-based and greater than 3.4 ounces, it should go in a checked bag. After that things get a little trickier. Can you bring food like a sandwich on a plane? Yes. What about cheese? It depends. PB&J? Yes, for the combo on bread, but as for the individual ingredients, maybe not. Confused? We feel you, and we’ll go into the specifics below.

One important note: Most of these rules apply only when you’re traveling within the United States; international rules may vary. If you’re traveling abroad, you’ll also want to check with customs about declaring any foods you’re bringing back from another country. The TSA’s website has a complete list of food items that you can and cannot bring on your upcoming trip. You may be shocked learn that these surprising items actually made it through security.

young woman eating and drinking on airplanemartinedoucet/Getty Images

Can you eat on a plane?

First things first. Before you start packing a mile-high picnic, will you even be able to eat it in the air? As you may already know, since January 29, 2021, the CDC has required that face masks be worn on public transportation, including airplanes, and while at transportation hubs such as airports. There are a few exceptions, and one is that you can remove your mask “while eating, drinking, or taking medication for brief periods of time,” according to the CDC. This means lowering your mask for a quick sip or bite and then raising it back up. So feel free to bring approved food on board, but do follow the rules.

Close-Up Of a Sandwich on an airplane tableMarkus Gann/Getty Images

Can you bring a sandwich on a plane?

Feed the family while you fly with homemade sandwiches, because PB&Js are cleared for takeoff! So is ham and cheese, bologna and mustard, a hoagie you buy at the deli, avocado toast, and more. If it fits in your bag and has layers of food in between bread, you can bring it on to the plane, although your seatmates will probably be thankful if you leave the egg salad and other fragrant options at home. (That’s just one of the things you can do to be polite when flying.) Note that something you spread on bread, like mayo or mustard, is fine in sandwich form, but you can’t bring a big jar to DIY in the air.

Close-Up Of red jelly on a piece of toastPetra Urbath/Getty Images

Can you bring spreadable foods on a plane?

What if you want to bring peanut butter and jelly on board, or a jar of mayo or mustard to make your own sandwich while in transit? Not so fast. According to the TSA, creamy dips and spreads, as well as jelly and jam, fall under the “gel” section of the “liquid, gel, aerosol” 3-1-1 rule: 3.4-ounce containers that fit in one one-quart bag. Or, as the TSA helpfully says: “If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it, or pour it,” then check it. So keep your PB&J in small containers, check it, or leave it behind. The same goes for your onion dip, hummus, cream cheese, and even brie—yup, brie is spreadable, says the TSA, although you’d be fine bringing a hunk of cheddar. Note that if you’re flying from one domestic airport to another, you’re allowed to bring any food you buy in the airport on board to consume. FYI, these are the foods and behaviors that are more likely to get you flagged by the TSA.

person holding bottle of water against airplane windowd3sign/Getty Images

Can you ever bring drinks on a plane?

Any liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces are off-limits to bring through security, which means you can’t bring a super-sized drink from home or outside the airport. But if you manage to come up with small bottles of 3.4 ounces or less and they fit in your single one-quart bag, you could take them through security with you. Of course, once you’re through security, the world of high-priced airport beverages is at your disposal. Everything from a latte to a smoothie, bottled soda to overpriced water, is OK to bring on board and to your airport seat to imbibe.

If you want to avoid the airport-drink money grab, there is one work-around: ice. Water or juice in a solid frozen form is actually allowed through security since it’s not a liquid…yet. So you can freeze a water bottle or juice box, take it with you, and then drink it after it’s thawed. However, says the TSA, if frozen liquid items are partially melted, slushy, or have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they must meet the 3-1-1 liquid requirements. So perhaps consider a reusable water bottle instead and fill it up after you’ve cleared the security check.

That said, according to the TSA, “medically necessary gel ice packs in reasonable quantities” are allowed, regardless of their physical state of matter (e.g., melted or slushy). The same holds true if you’re bringing baby supplies. (See below for more on that.)

leftover pumpkin pie2GreenEyes/Getty Images

Can you bring holiday food on a plane?

If you’re getting ready to travel for the holidays this year, you’re not alone. According to Naveen Dittakavi, founder and CEO of Next Vacay, searches for “Christmas vacations 2021” have increased by a staggering 5,233 percent over the last 12 months. Whether you’re in charge of bringing the gingerbread house, you’re traveling with gifts of the edible variety, or you can’t resist taking home leftover stuffing, it’s important to know the rules, says Dittakavi.

First, the good news: Gingerbread houses are fine to bring, as are cakes, pies, cookies, and other baked goods. So are meats (including the holiday ham), fresh fruits and veggies, and, yes, stuffing. Casseroles are fine to bring, too (though probably a little tough to transport). However, runny icing, cranberry sauce, eggnog, canned sugar plums, and other canned fruits have to be less than 3.4 ounces or they’ll need to go into checked luggage. And, adds Dittakavi, while you might be your family’s designated Christmas ham carver, remember that sharp objects won’t make it through security, so it’s best to leave those at home.

Assortment of mini bottles of alcoholInstants/Getty Images

Can you bring alcohol on a plane?

Just about the only flat-out no for food and drinks you can’t bring on a plane? Alcohol over 140-proof. It won’t make it through security in your carry-on or your checked bag. Less potent mini-bottles under 3.4 ounces can be brought through security; anything larger should be checked. Alcohol you purchase in the airport, like at a duty-free shop, can be brought on the plane, but it needs to be stored for the duration of the flight and absolutely cannot be consumed in the air. Believe it or not, it’s actually illegal to drink your own alcohol that you bring onto the plane while en route, so keep those minis securely stashed in your carry-on.

Father holding and feeding a bottle to his baby daughter during flight on airplaneromrodinka/Getty Images

Can you bring baby food on a plane?

Thankfully, the TSA makes exceptions to the 3.4-ounce liquid rule for parents of young children. As long as you notify an officer, you can bring formula, breast milk, and juice for babies and toddlers onboard in “reasonable quantities,” as long as you’re willing to put them through extra screening. 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 will undergo additional screening procedures, to include a pat-down and screening of other carry-on property.” This is also one of the few times passengers can get away with going through security with partially melted ice packs. In general, these are the things you should never say to a TSA agent.

Flat lay of delivered pizza in the boxKarl Tapales/Getty Images

Can you bring a pizza on a plane?

A Domino’s pickup sure is cheaper than any meal options you’ll find in the terminal. Luckily, the TSA gives its official thumbs-up to pizza…though good luck getting a whole pie to fit in your carry-on. You’ll probably want to stack the slices in a smaller container before going through security. Now that you know which foods you can and can’t bring on a plane, find out what you should never wear on a plane, according to flight attendants.

Sources:

  • TSA: “What Can I Bring?”
  • CDC: “Requirement for Face Masks on Public Transportation Conveyances and at Transportation Hubs”
  • Naveen Dittakavi, founder and CEO of Next Vacay
  • TSA: “Traveling with Children”

Melissa Klurman
Melissa is an intrepid explorer and award-winning travel journalist with more than 25 years of experience. She covers topics ranging from family travel and Disney to honeymoons and romantic beaches, and everything in between.