According To TSA, Peanut Butter Is A Liquid

If you've never heard of a "peanut butter firearm," then you've likely never worked for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In 2022, officers discovered pieces of a handgun and ammo tucked inside jars of peanut butter at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Incidents like this are part of the reason why professional speaker and podcaster Patrick Neve couldn't enjoy the Jif Natural Creamy Peanut Butter he'd packed as a simple snack before a talk he was giving in Tulsa. Hidden weapons preventing Neve from eating his peanut butter may call to mind the phrase "This is why we can't have nice things." 

Neve wrote in a viral tweet, "TSA: Sorry, no liquids, gels, or aerosols. Me: I want you to tell me which of those things you think peanut butter is." Neve said his peanut butter was confiscated at his local airport in Pittsburgh and that he'd also packed instant rice, chicken, and an oatmeal bar in his carry-on bag.

"I'm a simple man. I eat peanut butter and oatmeal every day," Neve told the Washington Post. He added that despite having TSA PreCheck, he thought his computer or podcast gadgets were the reason his carry-on bag had to be searched. Neve argues that he considers peanut butter a solid. But others disagree, including the TSA.

Does the TSA consider peanut butter a liquid?

Patrick Neve told the Washington Post, "Some people [on Twitter] were saying, 'Oh, it's a non-Newtonian fluid,' and I'm like, 'Stop making up words.'" According to the TSA, passengers are allowed to bring "liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes" in their carry-on bag, as long as they are in a different container and less than 3.4 ounces. In other words, any type of peanut butter in a jar will not make it through security. 

Following Neve's viral tweet, the TSA clapped back on Instagram with a photo of peanut butter and this definition: "Peanut butter ... a liquid has no definite shape and takes a shape dictated by its container." They captioned the photo, "You may not be nuts about it, but TSA considers your PB a liquid. In carry-on, it needs to be 3.4oz or less." Neve planned to reduce his carry-on amount of his favorite snack, telling the Washington Post, "I hate checking bags."

TSA spokesperson R. Carter Langston wrote in an email to The New York Times that peanut butter can also be defined as a gel and that the TSA has to be strict with its labeling process. "As we frequently seek to remind travelers: If you can spill it, spray it, spread it, pump it, or pour it, then it's subject to the 3.4-ounce limitation," he said. 

Will the TSA continue to ban liquids?

With many passengers declaring that they refuse to eat "plane food," it's understandable why travelers may want to pack their own food in a carry-on bag. However, the TSA has to be especially careful because of liquid explosives. The TSA began limiting liquids after the September 11 attacks in 2001. In addition to weapon-stashing favorites like peanut butter, other items whose shapes are determined by their containers — like perfume, peroxide, and soup — are confiscated as well. In the U.K., airports are hoping to limit liquid restrictions by 2024, thanks to better technology. However, the TSA in the U.S. said that the technology that is available is not fast enough to screen for liquids and would cause lengthy lines at the security checkpoint. 

Passengers' confusion may also stem from seeming outlier cases like birthday cakes being allowed as a carry-on item, or the TSA declaring that airplane snacks are no longer safe. Varying rules may have travelers questioning where TSA draws the line. "I understand the discretion thing, but TSA rules feel so strange," Neve said. "If this security measure is so necessary, then why are we dispensing with it?"