Spending $20 for a half-wilted salad or small sandwich at the airport can be a real drag while traveling. The smarter move is to pack your own snacks and forego the airport’s inflated prices (and, let's face it, subpar fare). But can you bring food through TSA without an issue? Yes, but there are a few caveats. Before you pack a meal or snack in your carry-on, here are a few things to keep in mind.
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Rules and Regulations
The TSA — which stands for Transportation Security Administration — states on its website that food is allowed in both your carry-on and checked baggage. When it comes to solid foods like granola bars, apples, and sandwiches, you can bring as much as you want. But don’t pack a Tupperware carton full of soup just yet — liquid food items are restricted to the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule that allows for just 3.4 ounces, as are all liquid and gel items that you pack. This includes creamy dips and spreads, salad dressing, honey, gravy, peanut butter, and yogurt. It also includes wet pet food, so if you’re bringing a dog or cat on your flight, take note.
There are some exceptions to the liquid rule: Baby food, formula, breast milk, and juice for children are considered “medically necessary liquids,” and can be packed in carry-on bags in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces. Items that help keep these food and liquids cold, like frozen ice packs or gel packs, are also allowed. Travelers can also bring frozen meat and seafood, as long as any ice packs accompanying the food are completely frozen while going through TSA. As for cheese? Creamy cheeses must be less than or equal to 3.4 ounces, while a whole block of solid cheese is fine. Translation: Skip the brie, bring the cheddar.
Keep It Local
A lot of these rules apply to flights within the United States, but what about taking food on an international flight? Your safest bet is to check with customs upon arrival to determine whether you need to declare any food that you’ve brought from another country, both in your carry-on or checked bag. But even on a domestic flight, some produce can cause issues: The TSA states that passengers flying from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands to the U.S. mainland are not able to take most fresh fruits and vegetables on the plane with them, as it leads to a risk of spreading plant pests.
Packing a Live Lobster? That’s Fine, Too
Believe it or not, if you’re hoping to take a live lobster with you on the plane before cooking it at home, that’s allowed. According to the TSA, live lobsters need to be kept in a clear, plastic, spill-proof container. Just check with your airline first, since different airlines have different lobster policies.
What About Alcohol?
As with other liquids, alcohol can be taken through security in your carry-on luggage if it is less than 3.4 ounces (for reference, a “nip” or mini bottle of alcohol is usually 1.7 ounces). Alcoholic beverages that are more than 70% or 140 proof are not allowed in any capacity, whether via carry-on or checked luggage, so leave your overproof rum at home.
To successfully bring food on a plane, focus on snacks that are easy to pack (Stasher bags are a great option for transporting small bites) and veer away from liquids. Sandwiches, cheese and crackers, dried fruits and nuts, and jerky are all great options. Remember, you can always ask for hot water on the plane and add it to meals like instant ramen and instant oatmeal. And in an effort to be considerate toward your fellow passengers, let's all follow the cardinal rule: Leave the tuna at home.