Figuring out how to pack souvenirs can be a tricky business, especially when you’re taking home anything remotely edible. While the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has stringent rules for liquids, you may be surprised by how many things you can bring along in your carry-on, including hard cheese, frozen seafood, and even fresh eggs.
Confused? To help you avoid having to toss out your purchases at the airport, we’ve broken down the regulations for common foodstuffs. Certain creamy or liquid foods, such as peanut butter, olive oil, and salsa, simply have to comply with TSA’s 3-1-1 rule or be placed in a checked bag. Bear in mind that while the organization has a handy list of foods you can and cannot fly with on its website, in practice it’s often the TSA agent in your security line who makes the call about a particular item.
Take It With You
The following foods are all TSA-approved, so you should have no issue taking them in your carry-on. Just note that some items, like baby formula, require extra screening. If you want to be on the safe side, make sure you label any food items that may not be easily recognizable, such as protein powder or spices.
Vacuum-sealed Meats and Hard Cheeses
Since both of these items are non-liquid, they are perfectly fine to fly in your carry-on or checked bag. To be safe, ensure they’re in vacuum-sealed packaging. Shops all over the world have pre-sealed products or even equipment to seal them for you, according to My Recipes. Creamy cheese products can be carried on if they’re less than 3.4 ounces.
Since spices are dried, they’re generally good to go. Make sure they’re clearly labeled and unopened, so they’re not mistaken for other substances. Pro tip: Only buy spices that you can’t find at home if you’re looking for a good souvenir for a foodie. These can be in your carry-on or checked bag.
This includes pasta, dry beans, grains, and other pantry items that contain no liquid. These can be in your carry-on or checked bag.
Good news for travelers who want to bring home interesting snacks from great food destinations around the world: as long as everything is sealed, you’re good to go. Unopened snacks such as granola bars, nuts, chips, crackers, and cookies are safe in your carry-on or checked bag.
Chocolates and Candy
Confectionary candy and chocolate (hardened) are perfectly alright to carry on your flight. Keep everything neat and packaged, and feel free to pack the sweets in your carry-on or checked bag.
Yes, you can even take home that baguette. Ask the bakery to give you some packaging so you can avoid crumbs in your bag, but otherwise, bread of any kind is good to fly in both carry-on and checked luggage.
Coffee Beans and Tea Leaves
Coffee beans, loose tea leaves, or dry tea sachets are all considered dry goods, so the same rules apply.
Cooked Food (Non-liquid)
Tell your family that you’re happy to take home extra Thanksgiving turkey, but leave the gravy in your checked bag. Cooked foods of any kind, as long as there are no liquids, are safe to fly in both carry-on and checked bags.
Fresh fruits and vegetables can be a little tricky, but in their dried form, they’re officially A-OK. The same rules for dried goods and packaged snacks can be applied here.
Yes, even fresh eggs are okay in both carry-on and checked bags, oddly enough. Even though they’re technically liquid on the inside, they’re still solid food by TSA standards. It can be a little risky to take them, though, for obvious reasons.
Juice and Baby Formula
There are special guidelines for parents traveling with baby formula and juices in carry-on bags. These items are fine in checked luggage, but if you want to bring them on the plane with you, they will need a special screening.
Feel free to take that extra-large pepperoni pie with you, because TSA is pizza friendly. It might be a little messy to pack as a souvenir, but this is good news for people who want to pick up a quick bite before getting into the security line.
Pies and Cakes
Pies and cakes are cleared for take-off as well, so holiday travelers can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s unclear how TSA feels about fruit filling, but according to its website, these items are OK in both carry-on and checked bags.
Protein and Energy Powder
Even though these need to be mixed with liquid to be consumed, they are still a dry product, much like a spice. Therefore, the same rules apply here. Just make sure everything is labeled and sealed properly.
That episode of “30 Rock” where Liz had to scarf down an entire Teamster sub is accurate, but only because she couldn’t give up the dipping sauce. Feel free to stop by the deli for a sandwich before getting on your flight, but leave the liquid dipping sauce behind (if it’s over 3.4 ounces, that is).
Pack It, Ship It, or Leave It
If you want to travel with something on the list below, your only option might be to pack it in your checked luggage. In some cases, there are items you are not allowed to fly with no matter what, such as high-proof alcohol.
Anything over 70 percent alcohol (140 proof) is not permitted on planes. This includes liquors like Everclear, grain alcohol, and certain types of whisky, vodka, absinthe, and rum, so make sure you know what you’re buying before you fly. When in doubt, just ship it home.
Canned goods are fine to fly in a checked bag, but they are usually subject to TSA’s 3-1-1 rule. This can be a big problem because most cans are more than 3.4 ounces and they would require additional screening. It’s best to check it or ship it home.
Oils, Vinegars, and Honey
Olive oil, special cooking oils, vinegars, honey, and similar items make excellent foodie gifts, but there’s just one problem: They’re all liquids. Feel free to put them in checked luggage, but if you want to carry on you’ll have to buy the small size to comply with the 3-1-1 rule.
Dips, Jams, Creamy Cheese, and Spreads
Sadly, the 3-1-1 rule isn’t just for liquids, it also applies to creamy or spreadable items, since they have a soft consistency (like a gel). Salsa, creamy cheese, dips, peanut butter, jams, preserves, and other items like these are all OK to put in checked luggage, but can only be carried on in containers less than 3.4 ounces.
Yogurt, Gravy, and Other Liquid Food
If you can bring these in solid form (by freezing them, for example), that’s great. But if not, liquid foods like yogurt or gravy aren’t allowed in carry-on luggage if they’re in containers larger than 3.4 ounces and are best put in checked baggage or shipped home.
Fresh Fruits or Vegetables
Packing these items needs to be done with care. Fresh fruits and vegetables are cleared by TSA in checked bags, and most of the time TSA is OK with bringing solid, fresh foods in carry-ons. If they are soft, mashed, or liquid, they are subject to the organization’s 3-1-1 rule. Passengers flying from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands cannot travel with most fresh fruits and vegetables. These rules may change for people traveling internationally.
Fresh Meat or Seafood
According to TSA, these foods must be packaged properly and completely frozen at the time of screening. This rule also applies to ice and ice packs used to keep the food frozen in its container. If you comply with these rules, you should be able to bring these items in both carry-on and checked luggage.
Wine or Other Alcoholic Beverages
Beverages, including wine, that are over 24 percent alcohol (but under 70 percent alcohol) are fine in checked luggage only. However, there is also a limit of five liters (1.3 gallons) per passenger. Mini bottles are okay to bring in your carry-on as long as they are under 3.4 ounces and fit comfortably in your single, one-quart bag. But remember that the FAA restricts passengers from drinking alcohol on board planes unless it is served by a crew member.
If you are entering the United States from another country, you will have to go through customs where your bag might be screened. The rules and regulations about what you can and cannot bring into the U.S. are different from what TSA allows. Check the latest regulations from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for a list of permissible items. If you want to know what foods you’re allowed to travel with outside of the U.S., you will have to check the regulations for your destination country.