These 5 Expert Takeaways on TSA's Rules for Food Will Make You Very Happy

Updated 11/28/18
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Stacie Flinner—TSA Rules for Food

One of Anthony Bourdain's most famous lines came from his star-making book Kitchen Confidential. He wrote, "Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride." This illustrative, rebellious sentiment embodies his perspective on travel and food—and that lesson lives on in anyone who taste-tests their way through the markets of Tokyo and Paris, or grabs a seat at an institution in London or New York City. It also counts toward those who try a local treat somewhere in Sydney or Lima, too.

Usually, eating your way through a destination is as important as seeing its most renowned sights.

But that stomach-driven adventure can come to a halt if you're unsure about what you're allowed to bring through airport security on your journey home. Can you wrap up fresh pasta from Rome? What's the consensus on steaks from Buenos Aires? Do the same rules apply for vodka from Moscow?

Before you leave your culinary souvenirs behind, consider researching the TSA's rules for food as you pack. "The TSA actually allows most food through security checkpoints, even when in a carry-on," says Brendan Dorsey, associate editor at The Points Guy. "It'll be easier to pack non-frozen items and avoid bringing spreads, like cream cheese or jam, in containers larger than 3.4 ounces. If a frozen item melts and there is liquid in its container, it will not be allowed through a TSA security checkpoint."

Dorsey notes that almost no foods or liquids are explicitly banned on airplanes. "It's just the size of liquids you can bring through a TSA security checkpoint that is regulated," he says. "The TSA even says you can bring a live lobster through security."

Now that you're probably imagining all of the different foods you can lug home from faraway places, we asked Dorsey to provide more information on the TSA's rules for food. Once you've reviewed his thoughts, feel free to connect Bourdain's advice from your travels to your home.

What is the most convenient way to travel with foods and liquids on a plane?

Follow the 3-1-1 liquids rule for food items in carry-on bags. "This includes bringing an empty water bottle to the airport so you can fill up after you get through security and avoid paying inflated prices at an airport retailer," he says. 

If your food or liquid is small enough to fit in your carry-on, then pack it separately. "If you're going to bring food and liquids through security, it'll be easier if they are packed in their own separate bag—a resealable, clear plastic bag—in case they need additional inspection," Dorsey notes.

That being said, sometimes you should simply check a bag with foods and liquids. "It's much easier to pack frozen or liquid food items in a checked bag," he adds. 

Don't argue with a TSA agent if you're not allowed to bring something after all. "Some food items may be subject to additional screening by TSA security officers, and the final decision rests with an officer on whether an item is allowed through security of not," Dorsey continues. 

Don't even think about bringing 140-proof alcohol on board. "The only food and beverage item the TSA explicitly states is not allowed through security is alcohol that's over 140 proof, or 70% or more—like grain alcohol or 151 proof rum," he says.

Pack these items on your next trip to make travel easier:

Bric's X-Bag 21-Inch Rolling Duffel Bag TSA Rules for Food
Bric's X-Bag 21-Inch Rolling Duffel Bag $200
S'well Traveler Onyx Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle TSA Rules for Food
S'well Traveler Onyx Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle $35
Violet Ray New York 3-Piece Cosmetic Cases TSA Rules for Food
Violet Ray New York 3-Piece Cosmetic Cases $40
Fjallraven Kanken Mini Cooler TSA Rules for Food
Fjallraven Kanken Mini Cooler $60
Smythson Hero Leather Luggage Tag TSA Rules for Food
Smythson Hero Leather Luggage Tag $170 $100

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