Jell-O Molds, Gravy: Thanksgiving Foods You Can Take On Flights

HANOVER, MD — Airports nationwide will be jam-packed with fliers this Thanksgiving week through Nov. 26, and some of those passengers are going to cart turkey, pies, gravy, Jell-O molds and other holiday goodies with them. So brace yourself as Transportation Security Administration screeners try to educate airline customers about what foods can go in carry-on bags, and what must be checked — all with more than 2.4 million passengers per day expected to pass through TSA checkpoints each day leading up to Thanksgiving.

Authorities estimate 40,000 travelers a day will pass through Baltimore-Washington International Airport during the Thanksgiving travel period. On a typical day at BWI, about 30,000 passengers and crew members go through security checkpoints, which is why travelers are encouraged to get to the airport early during Thanksgiving week.

From Nov. 19-26, the TSA says more than 25 million travelers — one of TSA’s busiest Thanksgivings on record — will be screened at airport checkpoints during the holiday travel period, nearly a 5 percent increase compared to last year. The busiest travel days will be the Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 20 and 21, and the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, which is expected to break into TSA’s top 10 busiest days ever.

Travelers want to bring some of their favorite food items — bakery items, a homemade family recipe — so how do you know which food items are permitted to go through a TSA checkpoint?

Food can travel with passengers, according to a TSA news release. Some foods may be carried through a checkpoint; others must go in a checked bag. Generally, if the item is a solid, such as pies, cakes and other baked goods, it can be carried through a checkpoint, but may require additional screening. Liquids such as eggnog and maple syrup and gels such as preserves and jellies should go into checked bags. Liquids in carry-on bags must follow the 3-1-1 liquids rule.

The TSA says a general rule of thumb is that if you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it, then it should go into a checked bag.

Travelers at this time of year often lug along a turkey, baked goods, stuffing, casseroles, and vegetable side dishes, all of which are permitted through an airport checkpoint. Thanksgiving-themed foods that should be packed in a checked bag include wine, gravy, cranberry sauce, canned fruits and vegetables with liquid in the can, and mashed potatoes.

Items that need to go in a checked bag should be packed in plastic tubs that are tightly sealed, perhaps even with duct tape to keep the lids on. Goodies in glass containers, such as a bottle of wine, should be wrapped in bubble wrap.

The most common foods brought to checkpoints are pies and cakes, says the TSA. And after Thanksgiving, it is common to see fliers bringing leftovers home.

Checked bag only foods include: Gravy; cranberry sauce, wine and other beverages; creamy dips and spreads; mashed potatoes/sweet potatoes; whipped cream; canned vegetables or fruit with liquid (yams, green beans, corn, crushed pineapple, etc.); salad dressing; jams, jellies, preserves; egg nog; maple syrup; soup; and Jell-O molds.

Carry-on or checked bag foods include: Turkey, chicken, fish, meat, ham; casseroles; cookies, brownies; cakes and pies; stuffing; breads/rolls; flour, sugar, and other dry ingredients; raw vegetables or fruit (carrots, beets, potatoes, green beans, apples, pears, etc.); nuts; and candy.

Passengers can reach out to TSA to inquire as to whether a food item should go into a checked or a carry-on bag by downloading the free MyTSA app or using the “What can I bring?” tool on This allows travelers to type in an item to find out if it can be brought in a carry-on bag, checked bag or either. Travelers can also get an answer in real time by submitting their questions to @AskTSA on Twitter or Facebook Messenger on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET and on weekends/holidays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET.

Tips to easily get through the airport security checkpoint include:

Be ready when you enter the checkpoint line: Have an acceptable ID and boarding pass out of your wallet and ready to hand to the TSA officer. Once you get to the tables, remove laptops, any electronics larger than a cell phone and the 3-1-1 compliant liquids bag, from carry-on baggage and place those items in a checkpoint bin.

Be prepared to remove all electronics larger than a cell phone from your carry-on bags and place them in a bin with nothing above or underneath them.

Tweet or Message AskTSA. Issues receiving TSA Pre✓® on your boarding pass? Unsure if an item is allowed through security? Get live assistance by tweeting your questions and comments to @AskTSA or via Facebook Messenger on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on weekends/holidays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. You can also reach the TSA Contact Center at 866-289-9673.

Prepare for security when packing. Put large liquids, gels, creams and aerosols into checked bags such as shampoo, conditioner, suntan lotion, shaving cream and anti-perspirant. If you’ve only got a carry-on bag, make sure all of your liquids follow the 3-1-1 rule outlined below. And it’s important to make sure that you’ve got no prohibited items in your luggage. Check TSA’s web site feature “Can I bring my ________?” at Type in an item to find out if you can bring it in your carry-on bag, checked bag, either or neither.

Follow the 3-1-1 liquids rule for your carry-on bag. When packing a carry-on bag, remember that liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes must be 3.4 ounces or less and all bottles must fit in a single quart size plastic bag and placed in a bin for screening. This includes sun block and tanning sprays. Let the TSA officer know right away if you’re traveling with larger quantities of medically-necessary liquid medications or breast milk or formula for an infant as those can be screened separately.

If you are carrying powdered substances, it is recommended (not mandatory) to remove them from your carry-on bag and place them in a bin for easy screening. Many powdered substances result in an alarm, which will result in a bag check. Removing the powder items is likely to reduce the need for a bag check at the checkpoint.

Consider minimizing items that you wear to the airport such as bulky jewelry, scarves, hair accessories, large belts and other bulky items since they are likely to require additional screening. Remove all items from your pockets and put them into one of your carry-on bags so you won’t lose them.

Check the bins: Equally important, travelers are reminded to check the bins when collecting all belongings after going through screening and before leaving the checkpoint screening area. Often, travelers leave behind laptops, wallets, ID, phones and loose change.

The TSA Contact Center is available to answer questions by email and phone at 1-866-289-9673. Staff is available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends/holidays; and an automated service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Call TSA Cares. Travelers or families of passengers with disabilities and/or medical conditions may call the TSA Cares helpline toll free at 855-787-2227 at least 72 hours prior to flying with any questions about screening policies, procedures and to find out what to expect at the security checkpoint as well as arrange for assistance at the checkpoint.

Apply for TSA Pre✓® or other trusted travel programs like Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI. To find the trusted traveler program that best suits your travel needs, use the DHS trusted traveler comparison tool. These programs help improve security and provide a more convenient travel experience by affording travelers access to TSA Pre✓® expedited screening lanes. Travelers using the TSA Pre✓® lane do not need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets at more than 180 U.S. airports. To get more information about TSA Pre✓®, visit the frequently asked questions page on the TSA website.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport TSA Officer Brasilia Anderson-Barrett explains that pies can be brought to checkpoints in a carry-on bag. (TSA photo)

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