Visiting home often means your parents will insist you bring back enough food to stock your fridge until the next December holidays. It may also mean you want to bring your favorite neighborhood pastries home for your family to experience themselves. But there are specific food rules and regulations you’ll want to keep in mind before checking in for your flight.
Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to navigate what you can and cannot bring with you when traveling through the airport. It ultimately comes down to the rules of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and whether what you’re looking to bring on board is a solid or a liquid. Above all, you’ll want to keep in mind the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule for liquids, which means you can bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces or less per item — including food.
If you’re unsure about taking anything through security, you should consider packing it safely in your checked luggage rather than in your carry-on bag. Here’s what you need to know about traveling with your favorite foods.
The rules about what you can and cannot bring on an airplane vary largely depending on what it is you’re looking to travel with and if you’re looking to carry the food on board or place the food in your checked bag. Thankfully, the TSA has an extensive list detailing what you are — and are not — allowed to bring in both your carry-on bag and checked bag. Here are some highlights of the rules.
The TSA allows for unlimited cooked meat to be transported in carry-on bags as well as in checked bags. Note that TSA officers might ask you to remove the leftover turkey, fish or vegetables from your bag if they obstruct other items in the X-ray machine.
Are you bringing creamy or solid cheese along with you? It’ll make a difference when it comes to the TSA screening process. While solid cheese is allowed, you cannot carry creamy cheeses more than 3.4 ounces. For both solid and creamy cheese, it may require additional security screening.
Mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables
Mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables are allowed in both your carry-on bag and your checked luggage as long as they’re separated from any sauces or stews. If you do have liquid in your veggies, you’ll want to ensure it’s less than or equal to 3.4 ounces.
If you happen to have fresh vegetables or crudités in your leftovers, you’ll want to be a little more careful. Travelers flying from Hawaii, Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands to the US mainland will not be permitted to bring most fresh vegetables due to the risk of spreading invasive plant pests.
Both baby food and baby formula as well as breast milk are allowed “in reasonable quantities” when you’re carrying them on. You may need to remove these items from your bag in order for them to be screened separately.
Pies and cakes
Good news for those looking to bring something sweet with them: Both pies and cakes are permitted through the security checkpoint. They may require additional screening.
Catching an early flight? Unfortunately, a fresh cup of coffee isn’t permitted through the TSA checkpoint unless it’s under 3.4 ounces. Coffee beans, on the other hand, are allowed through security either as grounded or full beans. You can, however, bring an empty travel mug through security and fill it up once you’ve cleared the checkpoint.
Generally speaking, canned foods are allowed. However, the TSA recommends keeping them in your checked bag, as some canned foods may be subject to additional screening because of how they look on the X-ray machine or because they don’t meet the 3-1-1 rules for liquids, gels and aerosols.
Wine and other alcoholic beverages with less than 70% alcohol by volume are allowed in checked luggage in limited quantities (up to 1.3 gallons per passenger) and must be unopened and in original retail packaging. Note that mini bottles of wine or alcohol are permitted in carry-on luggage as long as they fit into a single quart-sized bag. And remember, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules, passengers are not permitted to drink any alcohol on board unless it’s been provided by the airline.
If you’re traveling across the country with leftovers, it only makes sense that you’ll want to keep them fresh in transit. Frozen ice packs are allowed through security as long as they are frozen solid at the time of the security screening. If your ice pack is even partially melted or slushy, it won’t pass inspection.
If you’ve ever wanted to bring a live lobster on a plane, you’ll be pleased to know that they are allowed through security, though they must be transported in a clear, plastic, spill-proof container. However, you’ll need to check with your airline beforehand to see if they’ll permit the lobster to travel on board.
Understanding the rules and regulations of traveling with food is one thing, but you’ll also want to ensure all that good stuff is properly sealed and won’t leak in your luggage. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite reusable travel food containers to ensure your leftovers arrive safe and sound.
$13 $12 at Amazon
You don’t need a cupboard full of reusable containers if all you’re planning on packing is a couple of turkey sandwiches for the road. Think of the Stasher storage bag as a more eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to a single-use Ziploc-style plastic bag — it’s one of our favorite eco-friendly food storage options out there.
$45 at Amazon
This multiuse food storage container set is a game changer for traveling with leftovers. Not only is it completely see-through and easy for TSA officers to instantly see what you’ve packed, but it’s also crafted from high-quality glass and BPA-free plastic.
$45 at Amazon
If you’re planning on bringing back a fair bit of leftovers or you’re hoping to check most of the goods in your suitcase, you might want to consider something with an additional snap closure. The Rubbermaid Brilliance Storage offers a 100% leakproof design that’s both BPA-free and dishwasher-safe.
$13 $9 at Amazon
This “twist and seal” food storage solution from Rubbermaid is a great option for everything from small snacks and veggies to sauces and gravies. The leakproof design mimics that of a childproof medicine bottle and won’t come loose or open up in your bag.
$30 at Amazon
This pie carrier by Sweet Creations is large enough to fit an entire small pie, and the locking system allows for easy transport through the airport and beyond.
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