Thanksgiving Foods You Can And Can't Get Through TSA

Hands down, the busiest travel time of the year in the U.S. is the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving. It's undoubtedly one of the most family-oriented holidays of the year, and folks will be packing up the car and heading around the country to get together with family members spread far and wide. In fact, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, aka the TSA, estimates that this year they'll screen more than 30 million people going through security checkpoints at American airports during the Thanksgiving holiday season. If you're heading to the airport during this time and you're planning on bringing your favorite Thanksgiving dish with you, don't count on being able to take just anything through airport security. The TSA has very strict rules about what foods you can get through airport security, and many Thanksgiving foods might have to go into checked bags (if you bring them at all).

Take a look at this list of what you can and can't bring through TSA this Thanksgiving so you can plan ahead because nothing's worse than taking the time to pick out a perfect bottle of wine only to have to toss it in the trash in order to get on a flight. Remember, too, that these rules count in reverse, so don't count on being able to bring a doggy bag of grandma's stuffing in your carry-on. It might be better to eat at an airport restaurant instead.

Thanksgiving foods you can't bring on a plane

Here's the bad news first. The TSA is clear about what foods you can bring through a security checkpoint, especially liquids and gels. This applies to any sauces, gravies, syrups, and gels like cranberry sauce. According to the official TSA website, the following foods are off-limits and should be carefully packed into your checked luggage if you plan to travel with them:

  • Cranberry sauce (homemade or canned)
  • Gravy (homemade or canned)
  • Wine, Champagne, or sparkling cider
  • Alcoholic beverages over 140 proof
  • Canned fruit or vegetables
  • Jams and jellies

When it comes to alcohol, the standard 3.4-ounce sizing that applies to other liquids also applies here. These must fit in the single quart-sized clear bag that is removed from your luggage at the security checkpoint. Regardless of whether you pack alcohol in your checked or carry-on luggage, it must be no more than a 70% (140 proof) variety, and must not be more than 5 liters. TSA has a strict policy on opening these bottles during your flight: "FAA regulations prohibit travelers from consuming alcohol on board an aircraft unless served by a flight attendant."

The TSA has more information on its website if you're unsure if your item(s) fall into these categories. You can also download the TSA app and use the "What Can I Bring" feature to ask about specific items, reach out to the TSA via Twitter for a quick answer, or text "Travel" to AskTSA (275-872). When in doubt, pack it in your checked bag or just order your Thanksgiving meal when you get to your destination.

What you can bring on a plane

It's not all bad news at the TSA checkpoints. There are several Thanksgiving goodies that you can carry on your flight if you want to travel with a pie in your lap. You can easily bring solid food items, and TSA says you can bring the following items through security at the airport:

  • Baked goods (homemade or store-bought)
  • Meats: Turkey, chicken, ham, steak (frozen, cooked or uncooked)
  • Stuffing (cooked, uncooked, or boxed)
  • Casseroles
  • Mac 'n cheese (cooked or ingredients)
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (from the mainland only)
  • Solid cheeses
  • Creamy cheeses and dips (less than or equal to 3.4 ounces)

Keep in mind that anything you use to keep your food cold is also subject to TSA screening, so things like cold packs need to be completely frozen when they go through security. Any melted liquid is cause for disposal. Food screening takes TSA agents longer, and the permission to carry some items may ultimately be at their discretion, so be patient if you bring food items through the busy security lines this season. TSA urges you to arrange your carry-on luggage in an orderly manner in case you need to remove or separate any items. With some planning and smart packing, you won't have to throw any of your Thanksgiving feast away to get through the airport.