All the Holiday Foods You Can and Can't Travel With on a Plane

Hot tip: If it jiggles, it's gotta get checked.

After a long weekend visiting your extended family, the only thing getting you through the extra-long airport security line is the thought of the epic sandwich you plan to craft out of the homemade Thanksgiving leftovers currently jammed into your backpack. But as you approach the front of the line, you start sweating. Is gravy a liquid? Should the cranberry sauce have been packed in your checked luggage? And wait — is there a limit on the food you can bring through TSA? Suddenly, your dream sandwich that you look forward to every year might be thwarted because you failed to do your research. Don’t let this happen to you; read on for a guide to exactly which Thanksgiving leftovers you can and can’t take through airport security.

Almost as exciting as the actual holiday meal itself, Thanksgiving Day leftovers are also something that many look forward to. However, if you fly to your destination, it’s essential to know which side of the line your favorite dishes fall so you can pack appropriately and avoid the disappointment of having to forfeit them. According to a recent press release from TSA touching upon this precise subject, more than 30 million people are expected to fly during the Thanksgiving holiday (Friday, Nov. 17 - Tuesday, Nov. 28).

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

The TSA website makes things very clear: “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.”

That’s all fine and dandy, but there are always items that toe the line between liquid and solid. For instance, what if you want to tear into some canned cranberry sauce mid-flight? It’s jiggly yet solid, but technically, you can also spread it, so is it carry-on compliant, or should you shove it in your checked bag and just opt for the dry pretzels on board?

Thankfully, TSA has shared guidelines for popular Thanksgiving meal foods that can and can’t go through security, and if you have an obscure item that you’re still unsure about, there’s an app for that. With the free myTSA app, you can use the “What can I bring?” feature to find your food-flying answers.

Thanksgiving foods that can go through a TSA checkpoint

  • Turkey is a yes, as well as other meats like chicken, steak, and ham, and in any form (cooked, raw, or frozen).

  • Stuffing is allowed cooked or uncooked and can be stored in a box or bag.

  • Casseroles: apparently, the sky’s the limit for these, as the TSA website’s guidelines state, “traditional green beans and onion straws, or something more exotic.”

  • Macaroni and Cheese: while the TSA website states that it can be cooked in a pan or you can travel “with the ingredients to cook it at your destination,” it seems like you should probably leave the milk at home and use some at your destination.

  • Fresh veggies such as potatoes, broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, yams, cauliflower, beets, radishes, squash, and greens.

  • Fresh fruits such as apples, bananas, limes, lemons, cranberries, pears, pineapples, and more.

  • Spices.

  • Desserts: baked goods such as homemade or store-bought pies (but hopefully homemade), cookies, brownies, etc.

  • Candy, if that’s your thing.

Thanksgiving foods that should be carefully packed with your checked baggage

  • Cranberry sauce: homemade and canned are both considered spreadable, so in the checked suitcase they go. (Pretzels onboard it is, ugh.)

  • Gravy: it doesn't matter if it's thick and congealed or in a jar. It's a no for TSA.

  • Adult beverages: wine, champagne, and sparkling apple cider will have to be checked, but that's always the case.

  • Canned vegetables or fruit: they almost always have liquid in the can.

  • Jam, jelly, and preserves: more spreadables that aren't allowed through.

  • Maple syrup: definitely a liquid.

When packing, make sure your food items can easily be pulled from your checked luggage for quick screening as you go through TSA too. The wait times are going to be long enough; don't add to them because you have to dig deep to find that Tupperware of "exotic casserole."

Now that you're armed with the travel information for these Thanksgiving culinary staples, it's key to make sure you pack each food item properly to prevent potential foodborne sickness. The TSA suggests, "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." You can also check the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration website for more recommendations regarding holiday food safety.

So, go ahead and gnaw on that turkey leg mid-flight. Just don't put gravy on it.

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