Inching your way through the airport security line the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is stressful and time-consuming enough. The last thing you want to do is be pulled aside by a TSA agent and forced to toss that great bottle of wine you got Dad simply because you forgot the liquid laws.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) estimates that 2.4 million passengers will pass through security checkpoints each day leading up to Thanksgiving. And holiday travel is expected to be up throughout the whole 2017 season.

“Last year was a record breaking year for the airline industry, and this year is expected to break that,” said Michael England, TSA National Spokesman.

Food and drink play a big role in the holidays, so it’s likely that many of these millions of travelers will attempt to take with them edible gifts, baked goods or maybe even a side dish of some sort.

Fortunately for travelers, agency stipulations don’t have to hamper the holiday spirit. There’s a way to pack nearly everything edible you’d like to bring. It just takes a little planning.

10 things to keep in mind when flying with food items this holiday season:

1. Liquids. Being mindful of the liquids rule will save you from most food-related security situations. TSA stipulates you may not carry any more than 3.4 ounces/100 ml of any single liquid in your carry-on. Water, carbonated beverages and juices are obvious, but England reminds us to consider other food items, too. “Gravy or a jam, sauce or creamy dips — anything gel-like counts as liquid and would have to be packed away in a checked bag or it would be tossed at the security checkpoint.” *The one exception is breast milk when traveling with infants.

2. Alcohol. Alcohol tends to flow freely around holiday get-togethers, however, it doesn’t fly freely. Passengers must check full-sized bottles in their checked baggage, but total volume must not exceed 5 liters (1.3 gallons). No alcoholic beverages over 140 proof are allowed in either carry-on or checked bags. Mini-bottles can travel in carry-ons, but must fit comfortably inside a quart-sized bag.

3. Cakes and Pies. Cake and pie are allowed through security and on board the airplane, but England suggests otherwise. “Some people think that carrying cakes and pies on board is safer, but in our experience, if you carefully pack it in your checked baggage, you increase your chance it will arrive in one piece.”

4. Gift baskets. If you’re carrying a gift basket, make sure you know every items that’s inside. Gift baskets containing prohibited items are not allowed to pass through security. You may be forced to tear the package apart and toss those artisan jellies or salad dressing. Save the hassle and check them.

5. Cutlery. If you planned on taking forks or knives for any reason, think again. This falls under the “nothing sharp” rule, says England. “It’s definitely something we have to ask people to put in checked baggage.”

6. Frozen ice packs/gel ice packs. The TSA website says that ice packs are permitted in both carry-on and checked bags. The packs must be completely frozen when brought through screening. Any melted slush or liquid at the bottom of the container and they must be tossed.

7. Holiday favorite foods that get the green light include chocolate, candy, firm cheese, pastries, sliced fruit, sandwiches, cookies and gum. Bring these items on board or check them. Your choice.

8. Checked baggage only. Some common foods that must fly below deck include oil and vinegar, soup, salsa, yogurt, jelly, honey, creamy spreads and salad dressing.

9. Not so fast. The TSA website stipulates that even if an item is generally permitted, it might be subject to additional screening or not allowed through the checkpoint if it triggers a security alarm or poses security concerns.

10. Know ahead of time. According to the TSA website, “The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.” If you’re debating whether or not a food item is allowed through security, TSA has an app where passengers can search for nearly any type of food and get an on-the-spot response.

A rule of thumb: If you’re not sure about an item, check it. You don’t want to spend all that money on gifts or food only to have them end up in the airport garbage.

Or better yet, ship your gifts and goodies to your destination a few days in advance, and let Santa be the only one hauling heavy bags this holiday season.


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Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.