3 Guidelines for Taking Food on a Plane

03.23.23 by Travelex Insurance
Image credit: Getty Images

Can you take food on a plane? With fewer and fewer meals being served on airplanes, we have to plan ahead more than ever before. Either we eat before we get on the plane or take something on with us. What's allowed on a plane these days can be confusing though, and changing airport security levels often ramp up anxiety about what you bring.

In reality, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has relatively liberal food guidelines for carry-on items. While there is no limit to food packed in your checked suitcase (except for a 1.3 gallon limit on alcohol), there are a few guidelines you should know about carrying food and beverages on the plane with you. Before you pack for your next travel adventure, keep our three guidelines in mind when planning what snacks you’ll be bringing on the plane.

1. Remember the 3-1-1 rule

By now, we are all pretty familiar with the 3.4 oz. container rule for liquids, an important first step in knowing what can be taken on the plane. In the eyes of the TSA, liquids constitute anything you can “squirt, spray or spread." The sum of all liquids must fit into one clear quart-sized plastic bag — one bag per passenger.

Most of the time we think of water and bottled drinks, but be aware the 3-1-1 rule includes peanut butter, yogurt, hummus, dressings, creamy cheese and spreads, liquid chocolate, and other common foods that may fall into this category. Either leave these at home or plan to only carry less than 3.4 oz. of them with you. Baby food, formula, and breast milk are the exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule. Declare these at security so they can be screened separately, and be sure the amount is reasonable for the length of your flight. You can find more specific information on TSA’s traveling with children portion of their website. Pet food must also adhere to the 3-1-1 rule, and no exceptions are made for pet prescription food — even for security animals. Plan to have your pet eat before you leave or bring along some dry food.

2. Cold packs or ice must be 100% frozen

You can bring ice or a frozen gel pack through security, but not if it's getting to the squishy stage. Cooling packs and ice must be 100% frozen when passing through security. If you’re bringing something home from your travels, dry ice is a good solution. Be sure it’s marked as such and wrapped in a ventilated container.

3. Food options are abundant

Other than what the TSA considers “liquids," most solid foods are permitted on the plane or in your carry-on. However, TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate these items from their carry-on bags while going through security. Certain foods, powders, and other materials can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on their X-ray machines. To keep the line moving, place your small food items and snacks outside of your bag in the provided security bin.

Generally any solid, dry food — such as bread, sandwiches, salads, candy, dry cereal, spices, tea, solid cheeses, solid chocolates, coffee beans, cookies, baked goods, pizza, crackers, and the like — are acceptable. Even cooked meat, seafood, vegetables (without liquid), and fresh eggs can be transported in your carry-on.

Keep in mind, certain food items can be carried with you but require special TSA instructions. Foods such as canned goods, fresh fruit and veggies, jams or jelly, frozen food, and more have restrictions depending on quantity, where you're traveling to or traveling from. We suggest checking these special instructions before you travel. The TSA even has a service where you can snap a picture or send a question to AskTSA via Facebook Messenger or Twitter. Everyone gets hungry on the plane from time to time, so go ahead and eat! Just be sure to follow these food guidelines and if necessary, check for any changes online before you go.

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