Most of us—yours truly included—have forgotten what they learned in high school chemistry class. But ahead of this holiday travel season, it pays to remember some of the basics. Allow us to explain.
The TSA allows frozen foods through security
For starters, it’s worth noting the Transportation Security Administration’s rules for bringing liquids through airport security: The TSA permits liquids, gels, and aerosols in containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or smaller; they must fit into a quart-size clear plastic bag, limited to one bag per passenger. But that’s not all.
The TSA also allows frozen items through the security checkpoint, “as long as they are frozen solid when presented for screening.” Frozen liquid items cannot be “partially melted, slushy, or have any liquid at the bottom of the container,” according to the TSA. Otherwise, they’ll be held to that 3-1-1 rule. Admittedly, this means you’ll have to have impeccable timing to make it through security with a block of gravy frozen completely solid (TSA PreCheck helps)—or a really good travel cooler.
Remember that all known liquids except helium freeze if the temperature is low enough, and suddenly, you’ve got a plausible way to bring home some of Grandma’s gravy from that holiday meal.
The TSA is quick to note that “the final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint,” which means this hack may not work every time. With this in mind, it’s worth diving into what holiday foods should be in a checked bag.
Foods you can bring through TSA in your carry-on
- Fresh cranberries
- Baked potatoes
- Green beans
- Dry stuffing, but only if it’s more moist than it is solid. Otherwise, pack it in a checked bag.
Turkey, too, is allowed to fly in your carry-on. But if you want to fly with an uncooked turkey, note that any ice packs around the bird must be completely frozen. Dry ice is permitted but limited to five pounds, and the container must be properly vented and labeled.
For any questions about what you can and cannot bring through TSA, its What Can I Bring? tool is an excellent source to consult.
Foods you should pack in your checked bag
Typically, spreadable or liquidy foods should be packed in your checked bag. This includes holiday favorites like:
- Mashed potatoes
- Sweet potato casserole
- Cranberry sauce
All of these items are better off in your checked bag, unless you’re game to gamble on a friendly TSA agent who is apt to forgive a little slush in your Tupperware of mashed potatoes, or you’re fine to fit the goods in 3.4-ounce bottles for an odd sort of mini-feast. Hey, we won’t judge.
Tips for flying with food
TSA aside, there are a couple other considerations for flying with food. Namely: how to pack it so it doesn’t make a mess or spoil before you get to your destination. For smaller items, we recommend using a lunch box, like the Puffy Lunch Bag by Baggu ($30) to keep them separate from your other travel items and provide extra temperature control while in transit.
If you’re bringing frozen gravy or sauce, make sure they’re in a well sealed, leak-proof container.
This article was originally published in 2019 and most recently updated on November 16, 2023, with current information.