Food52 Life

Jam is a Liquid (& Other Fun Things to Keep in Mind When Traveling with Food)

May 28, 2015

What you need to know about packing food souvenirs in your carry-on luggage—so you won't end up throwing away $45-worth of jam at airport security.

I once found a good deal on Peanut Butter & Co.'s Cinnamon Raisin Swirl peanut butter in Chicago and packed it in my carry-on to take back to the East Coast. At airport security, a T.S.A. officer confiscated the offending jar (but not before asking me where I had found something that looked so delicious) as tears collected in my eyes, imagining all those peanut butter-and-bananas that would not be. 

It was then that I learned that "creamy dips and spreads (like cheeses, peanut butter, etc.)" are not permitted through the T.S.A. checkpoint.

Lest the same thing happen to you, here's a reminder of what food souvenirs you should skip out on, stow in your checked baggage (taking note, if you're traveling internationally, of what might not make it through customs), or ship home ahead of time. (Keep in mind that if your food is under 3.4 ounces, it's permissable.) We're including our staff's own airport security sob stories, too—because we've all been there. 

1. Creamy dips and spreads, including peanut butter, mayonnaise, and soft cheeses (firm cheese are okay—bring on the cheddar!).

2. Jams, jellies (this includes honey), maple syrup, oil, and vinegar.

  • Haley had to give up a jar of honey in the Savannah airport.
  • Leslie said goodbye to five bottles of Guatemalan rum (but she snuck one in her coat).
  • And as for Kenzi? "I always forget that jam counts as a liquid. (Any chemistry majors? Does it really? The feistiness in me always wants to contend!) So, when I stashed two jars of (very expensive) Blackberry Farm jam to bring back for the office, the woman in the Knoxville airport had to throw them in the trash. I told her to wait until I could turn away."

  

3. Alcohol, like wine, liquor, and beer.

  • Rachel's story involves her dad and a medical emergency (drama!): "He was on a flight from France to New York that had a connection in Boston. There was a medical emergency (I think a flight attendant twisted his ankle) and because my dad's a doctor, he helped out. They gave him a bottle of wine as a thank you, but then they took it away when he got to customs in New York."
  • Victoria was stopped for Smirnoff: "My friends and I still like to 'ice' each other every Fourth of July because we still think it's 2010. A few years ago, we snuck one Smirnoff in my friends carry-on and T.S.A. was not happy. I have an amazing photo of the T.S.A. agent holding up the Smirnoff and my friend's shocked face."

More: Don't worry—this carry-on cocktail kit is designed to make it through security.

  

4. Salsa, salad dressing, sauces (including cranberry sauce and hot sauce).

5. Yogurt, pudding, and custard.

6. "You can bring pies and cakes through the security checkpoint, but they are subject to additional screening."

7. Wrapped gifts may have to be opened.

  

8. And remember, sharp objects—meat cleavers, knives, razor-like blades, and ice picks all included—are not permitted.

  • Amanda once dashed from a photo shoot to the airport, forgetting that she had this prop in her purse. "Not easy to explain, especially when there was no cheese to go with it," she says.

So what's the best solution if you're in line at airport security and realize that your souvenir won't make it past the checkpoint? Eat it—fast. 

  • Ali says: "I almost had to give up mangoes at an airport in Hawaii, so I decided to sit on the curb and eat all of them instead."
  • And Leslie chimes in: "Oh, I did that once with a bunch of friends with a vodka bottle when we were leaving Russia. Kind of like mangoes, but way, way worse."
  • Or, make like Bridget's mom, who "used to stuff blood sausage and kelp from Ireland (which she chewed like gum...) into her nylons to get past customs." 

What souvenirs have you lost in the name of flight safety? Please share with us in the comments below!

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32 Comments

Steven P. November 21, 2016
Just lost homemade pepper jelly and strawberry jelly
 
Pamela August 4, 2015
TSA considers jams nut butters and such a gel, not a liquid, but both are subject to the same rules. As for taking it frozen, that's permitted-frozen liquids=solid. Not subject to 3-1-1 rules. And many TSA agents will allow small yogurts, etc. of the 4 oz. size, but not the larger 6 oz. and keep in mind, rules for Customs are not the same as TSA-two totally different agencies with different purposes. Hope this clears up a couple of questions!!
 
Douglas D. August 3, 2015
TSA has a ban on not jus liquids but creams, gels and aerosols as well...you can find more info on what is prohibited at www.tsa.gov<br />
 
Nancy H. June 5, 2015
I bet I know where Haley got her honey in Savannah - I still have some creamed Winter White from the Savannah Bee Company purchased in March, which makes its way onto special toast in rationed amounts. So glad that it went into the checked baggage! (which got searched by the way..... the bulk bag of black rice, maybe?)
 
kalispelldude June 4, 2015
I travel a couple times a year, and always pack my own lunch, because airport prices are so expensive. I've never had a problem, other than agents saying they wanted my food. Salads with quinoa, snack bars individually wrapped, even homemade cookies and brownies.
 
Marzanne H. June 4, 2015
I found a gorgeous fish carving at a Mozambique street market. It was found in my survival fanatic Hubby's vehicle. I took an axe to it once they explained they could do what they pleased with it. I decided it would nnot adorn another's coffee table if it were up to me. *grinning still!
 
Matilda L. June 1, 2015
I was also incensed when I was forced to throw out unopened bottles of water I bought AT THE GATE, past security, in Tel Aviv.
 
Matilda L. June 1, 2015
I lost a bottle of piri-piri sauce at the Lisbon Airport.
 
Will C. June 1, 2015
Returning from Seattle, I was able to pass Ellenos Greek yogurt through TSA.
 
karen June 1, 2015
I had to give up special Monastery Mustard made by the Benedictine sisters in Mt. Angel, Oregon. Luckily, at the time, my brother worked at the airport and I had time to get out of the security line and meet up with one of his friends, who then took the Heavenly Jalapeño to his desk.
 
Jan W. June 1, 2015
I put a bottle of olive oil AND a bottle of wine in my backpack that I bought in the Lisbon Portela duty free before a flight back to Newark. Nobody bothered me, I walked right through customs and out the door of the airport.
 
Jaye L. June 1, 2015
I had to give up a bottle of pineapple hot sauce in Puerto Rico. And no, I did not try to consume it prior to going through TSA! I have been unable to find it stateside.
 
Melissa B. May 29, 2015
I've lost a small container of hummus for a snack, but I found out if you put a scoop in a larger container and mush some veggies in it, you can sneak it through!
 
cookinginvictoria May 29, 2015
I travel back and forth between Canada and the States a couple of times a year, and I have learned to pretty much pack all edibles in my checked luggage unless they will be consumed during the journey. And even then I wouldn't bring anything that could be interpreted as a liquid by security personnel. (In my experience, the airport security is usually far more concerned about toting fresh fruit and vegetables back and forth, even if one plans to eat them on the airplane, rather than jars of homemade jam.) However, I would rather not live dangerously since many items I transport are difficult to replace. Instead I now pack into my checked luggage homemade jam, pickles, condiments, baked goods, hard cheeses, ethnic foodstuffs, and even occasionally bottles of wine and artisan olive oil. They all make the journey pretty much intact. I just make sure that everything is very carefully cushioned in my luggage and usually double wrapped in newspapers and Ziplocs, in case of spillage. <br /><br />However, I do remember that when I flew to Seattle a few years ago for the first Food52 cookbook party, I didn't check luggage and handcarried homemade goodies, including AJ's Gingerbread Bars with Hard Sauce Glaze and fiveandspice's Yogurt Cake with Pear and Dark chocolate. I was very relieved when Security didn't raise an eyebrow at the homemade treats in my carry on bag. :)<br />
 
AntoniaJames May 29, 2015
I have noticed that different airports seem to have very different standards. The first (and last) time I gave my son a jar of homemade jam to take with him, the staff said he would have been allowed to take it on had it been labeled commercially and not opened. <br />My only confiscation of note was not a food item, but a darling pair of Gingher embroidery scissors with blades of no more than 1 1/2" inches, in its well worn tiny leather sheaf - one of the first things I bought as a newly-minted, employed college graduate, when I at last could use my paycheck for something other than school expenses. <br />Incidentally, if you're in the US and can get to a post office, you can use the flat rate priority boxes that are self-sealing, and send everything back for under $15. Tightly balled up old newspaper serves as fine packing material (as it has for generations), provided that you put enough to ensure that all the jars are wedged in so they won't move around. ;o)
 
arcane54 May 29, 2015
Yael Elmatad -- I've had yogurt confiscated too (rather they made me eat it before I could fly). Good flora for a long flight. Just wish my seat-mate had attended to his flora a bit better....
 
Niknud May 29, 2015
Oh but don't forget that you can get those delicous little one ounce bottles of booze from your local liquor store before you go. Three ounces or less, baby! Of course, the TSA agents give you funny looks when you slap your quart bag down filled with about 10 of them (as you're trying to herd 2 children through the line), but they've never stopped us. We don't fly without them. Of course, you may want to hide them from the flight attendants, but the TSA doesn't care.
 
Sweta A. May 29, 2015
One trick I've used many times to bring my parents some home made jam -- it's allowed in your carry on if it's frozen!
 
Yael E. May 29, 2015
I have a Ph.D. in physical chemistry (and specifically in supercooled liquids/glasses). To me, a liquid has the follow criteria: 1) it must be amorphous and have no discernible crystalline structure. 2) it should flow (you have to define a timescale here -- that timescale should be significantly less than the age of the universe) to fit the shape of its container. Now jam contains what I would say is solids suspended in liquid (assuming there are some kind of solid chunks of fruit in it that if you removed would not take the shape of the container). But the interstitial syrup-y stuff is DEFINITELY a liquid as it has no crystalline structure and takes the shape of the container. Sorry Food 52, there's no escaping the TSA on this one. I've always wondered why they let people through with other liquid like things -- like yogurt for example, that should also be considered a liquid. Or nut butters for that matter.
 
Yael E. May 29, 2015
nm. didn't read the nut butter thing. Yeah creams and spreads should be considered liquids.
 
Yael E. May 29, 2015
I've always wanted to try freezing my liquids. A completely solid frozen thing is NOT a liquid. A lot of the mentioned liquids will require you to carry around some kind of cooling mechanism well bellow normal freezer temps, so that's probably an issue. (Jam freezes at temperatures below water because the sugar lowers the freezing point, same goes for alcohol but that's due to the alcohol rather than the sugar). In principle though, if you pack a cooler full of frozen soup I think you are justified in arguing with them, then again, not sure how many TSA agents have a good grasp of the phases of matter.
 
garlic A. May 29, 2015
I've had artisinal whipped honey confiscated as well as a beautiful corkscrew that was a special gift. Now I just check the bags -- way too much incredible food swag to worry about TSA.