Before you agree to bring a family favorite food item to contribute to the Thanksgiving holiday table, it’s important to think about how you’re planning to transport it if you are flying to spend the holiday with family or friends. Most foods can be carried through a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint, but there are some items that will need to be transported in checked baggage.
If it’s a solid item, then it can go through a checkpoint. However, if you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it, and it’s larger than 3.4 ounces, then it should go in a checked bag.
Food items often need some additional security screening, so it is best to place those items in an easily accessible location of the carry-on when packing them and then removing those items from your bag and placing them in a bin for screening at the checkpoint.
Travelers who are unsure if a food item should be packed in a carry-on or checked bag can check the TSA homepage, which has a helpful “What can I bring?” feature. Type in the item and find out if you can carry it through a checkpoint or if it should be checked. Another option is for passengers to tweet their question to @AskTSA to find out how best to travel with a specific food item or inquire via Facebook Messenger.
Here are examples of the most commonly asked questions about which food items are permissible through a checkpoint and which ones need to be packed in checked baggage. It is also important to remember food safety by storing the food properly while traveling to prevent foodborne illness. If you need to keep items cold during your trip, ice packs are permissible, but they must be frozen solid and not melted when they go through security screening. Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also has recommendations on holiday food safety. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has tips for handling food safely while traveling.
Thanksgiving foods that can be carried through a TSA checkpoint
- Baked goods. Homemade or store-bought pies, cakes, cookies, brownies and other sweet treats.
- Meats. Turkey, chicken, ham, steak. Frozen, cooked or uncooked.
- Stuffing. Cooked, uncooked, in a box or in a bag.
- Casseroles. Traditional green beans and onion straws or something more exotic.
- Mac ‘n Cheese. Cooked in a pan or traveling with the ingredients to cook it at your destination.
- Fresh vegetables. Potatoes, yams, broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, beets, radishes, carrots, squash, greens.
- Fresh fruit. Apples, pears, pineapple, lemons, limes, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, kiwi.
Thanksgiving foods that should be carefully packed with your checked baggage
- Cranberry sauce. Homemade or canned are spreadable, so check them.
- Gravy. Homemade or in a jar/can.
- Wine, champagne, sparkling apple cider.
- Canned fruit or vegetables. It’s got liquid in the can, so check them.
- Preserves, jams and jellies. They are spreadable, so best to check them.
- Maple syrup.
Thanksgiving travel begins Friday, Nov. 18 and concludes Sunday, Nov. 27. Travel volumes this year have been notably higher leading up to holiday weekends, and this Thanksgiving travel period, travel volumes may reach pre-pandemic levels. The three busiest days during the Thanksgiving travel period are typically Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving and Sunday after the holiday. TSA could screen as many as 2.5 million passengers at checkpoints nationwide on Wednesday, Nov. 23, and may surpass 2.5 million passengers on Sunday, Nov. 27.