This holiday season, know the rules for what foods you can—and can’t—bring through airport security.

By Mascha Tace/

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.

For starters, it’s worth noting the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’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; all must be placed into a quart-sized 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. 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. (Admittedly, you’ll also have to have impeccable timing to show up at the airport with a block of gravy frozen completely solid.) 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

Solid foods should have no problem sailing through security. These include fresh cranberries, bread, baked potatoes, green beans, yams, and pie. Dry stuffing is good to go in a carry-on, but if it’s more moist than it is solid, it’s better to 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.

Foods you should pack in your checked bag

Typically, spreadable foods like gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and cranberry sauce 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.

>> Next: How to Get Through Airport Security Quickly

Katherine LaGrave Katherine LaGrave is a deputy editor at AFAR focused on features and essays.

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