How to Pack Healthy Food For Air Travel – TSA Food Rules and Regulations

Don’t let the TSA Food Rules prevent you from packing your own travel snacks.

Packing your own healthy food is a guaranteed way to keep your healthy lifestyle on track during a day of travel. It may sound overwhelming to pack your own food, but after you familiarize yourself with the TSA food rules, and review our packing tips, you will see it is no different than packing a lunch for work.

Check out our list of 30 Healthy Travel Snacks if you need some ideas for travel snacks.

3-1-1 Rule and Liquids 

It is important to be aware of TSA’s food rules and regulations when you are planning which food to pack.   There is nothing worse than prepping your food for a trip, getting to the airport and then watching TSA throw some of it away because it does not meet their guidelines. Unless you have avoided flying since 2001, you are likely aware of the 3-1-1 rule that states you have to pack liquids (like shampoo) in a clear, plastic zip lock to go through security. The liquids have to be 3.4 ounces or less as well. Unfortunately, TSA applies these rules to food that they consider to be liquid.

TSA Food Rules

The following items are listed as a liquid/gel on TSA’s website:

  • Nut butter (squeeze packs included)
  • Jam/jelly
  • Yogurt
  • Oil and vinegar
  • Creamy cheese
  • Salsa
  • Soups
  • See the complete list here.

Items that are not specifically identified as liquid or gel on the TSA website, but fit the same description include:

  • Pudding/ Jell-O
  • Hummus
  • Salad dressing
  • Fruit cups with syrup
  • Apple sauce

TSA Friendly Food Packing Tools

You may be more surprised to find out you can actually pack entire meals with you to take on the plane. Don’t worry, you will not be trekking through the airport with a gigantic cooler to accomplish this feat. You simply need a smaller, insulated bag that will keep your food cold and prevent it from spoiling. If you are interested in finding a multi-functional bag that keeps food cold, but can also hold other items, check out 6 Pack Bags.  These stylish bags are a healthy traveler’s dream come true with the ability to keep food cold for 8+ hours with room to store other item (laptop/tablet, shoes, magazines, etc.).

Whether you want to pack a few snacks or 5 meals, the following items make it easy to pack and store your food for travel:

Tips to Keep Your Food Cold During Air Travel

The good news is TSA will allow you to go through security with an ice pack, as long as the ice pack is frozen solid during screening. The TSA website states, “If frozen liquid items are partially melted, slushy, or have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they must meet 3-1-1 liquids requirements.”

  • Make sure you freeze your ice packs for at least 24 hours before your trip.
  • Pack your ice packs right before you head to the airport.
  • Leave your cooler bag in the trunk of your car (out of the sun) while you drive to the airport.
  • Keep everything in your bag colder by completely freezing at least one of your meals. Place the frozen meal container in the middle of the non-frozen items.
  • If you are concerned about your ice packs melting before you get to security, add some other frozen items to your cooler like frozen grapes, peas or carrots. This will help to keep the entire bag cooler, keeping the gel packs colder longer.
  • Pack a few extra Ziploc bags in case your gel packs do get slushy and you have to throw them away. You can fill the Ziploc bags with ice after you have been through security to keep your food cold.

Air Travel Food Packing Tips

  • While nut butter and jelly are considered liquids, you can take a pre-made sandwich or wrap through, as long as it is enclosed in saran wrap or a container.
  • If you are packing a salad with dressing, oil, or vinegar on it, add the liquid to your container first, then add the vegetables. Shake it up so the dressing spreads out onto the lettuce, then add whatever else you are putting in the salad. Don’t forget to dump out any excess liquid before adding other toppings.
  • Any food that will need to be cut with a knife should be cut while you are preparing your food.
  • You can pack a fork and spoon in your carry-on bag, but not a knife. It is often easier to pick up a plastic fork and spoon from a restaurant in the terminal after you have cleared security.
  • If you need any type of condiment, like ketchup, mustard, or barbecue sauce, remember that you can likely get it in a small packet post security.
  • If you anticipate leftover food when you reach your destination, call your hotel to request a mini-fridge and/or microwave. The majority of hotel chains will be able to accommodate your request.

These tips are based on the TSA Regulations. I have gone through security hundreds of times and I will be the first to admit, not all TSA agents are created equal.  You may slip through security with a slushy ice pack or container of nut butter in your bag, but I would recommend doing your best to follow the TSA guidelines to avoid delays and risk confiscation.

If you have a specific item you wish to pack but are unsure if TSA will allow it, check out this great search tool on the TSA website. If you are traveling internationally, please remember international travel has many different requirements for food than domestic. Contact TSA or your airlines to learn more.

meal prep guide for travel business travel life
Download this guide to learn to learn more about meal preparation at home and during travel. The guide will teach you how easy it is to prepare and pack meals at home to take with you during travel. You will also learn some shortcuts for preparing meals during travel, even if your hotel does not have a kitchen.

See 30 healthy air travel snacks.


tsa food rules business travel life 8


Business Travel Life

Business Travel Life is an online resource supporting the road warrior lifestyle. We give business travelers the tools they need to maintain their wellness and productivity when traveling. The topics we cover include business travel tips, travel workouts, healthy travel hacks, travel products, general travel tips, and industry trends. Our goal is to make business travel a healthier experience – and to make healthy travel practices more accessible to all road warriors.

Kristina Portillo, CPT, MS

Kristina is the founder of Business Travel Life. Her love of fitness and travel unified to create a resource for business travelers and road warriors who want to take a healthier approach to business travel. She has traveled for business on and off for the past eight years. Kristina received a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Colorado State University and received her Bachelors of Arts in Business Marketing from Chaminade University of Honolulu.

  1. Is there any rules/ regulation regarding to plastics material (PP,PS, etc) for plastic glass or tray airline inflight food service? if any please provide the links..
    Thank you

  2. 7/30/2017
    Am I allowed to take frozen chicken breasts, packed by a butcher shop on board? They would be in an insulated back pack with frozen gel packs that I would place into zip lock freezer bags. My intention would be to bring on board. My flight is with Southwest Airlines from Love Field, Dallas, TX Non-Stop to San Diego, CA.
    Southwest advised it would be okay with TSA as long as the gel packs were not thawing when I go thru security. After reading the 3.1.1 rule I’m not sure I can take 4 gel packs approximately 6″ x 4″. They would be completely frozen solid.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Barbara,
      As long as everything you plan to take through security is 100% frozen solid, you should be okay. If for some reason TSA confiscates your gel packs, you can always fill you cooler with ice when you get past security.

  3. We want to take several .04 packs of condiments(mustard, mayo)so we can have picnics on our trip. Is this allowed? Will that count as one bag of liquids?
    Thank you

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