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TSA's Oddball List of Allowed Items Doesn't Include Jam as a Carry-On

Updated: 6 days ago

Leaving our lesser loved clothes and other non-essentials behind in Zaragoza, I started packing our Ryan Air sized carry-on bag full of food souvenirs. I tossed the COVID test kits in my Desigual purse and rolled up my daughter’s Baby Shark underpants around jars of Allioli and fideua noodles, cushioning them for the journey back to the States. I packed in cheap Carrefour brand coffee pods, quicos, atun escabeche and some picos for snacking with the aioli later. The typical me would have also tried to smuggle in remains of our fridge stash of jamon, lomo, and fuet, if they lasted the journey.

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“Carlos!”, I yelped at my husband. “You got the X again?!” We were going through the Global Entry line in Miami and he got the dreaded “X”, sending us down a maze to the bowels of the security area – Agricultural check. “Does he have a jamon loving face or something?”, I joked with the TSA agent as she rifled through our bags for the smuggled contraband. “Any fruits? Vegetables? Meats?” Inside I thanked ‘typical me’ for throwing away our leftover meat supply. “Nope!”, I sighed a sigh of relief knowing we’d wolfed down our jamon serrano bocadillos earlier on the airplane from Madrid.


I've seen people eyeball my jars of strange foods and spices from exotic markets, wondering are they drugs? Is this contraband? What is this gold paste from Dubai in Islamic writing? Oh lord what is tiny vial of liquid? She looks like a sweet American girl, but she's got two passports! Is she a spy!? I joke about the looks and the arguments I've had at airport customs and security, and I always leave unscathed, but there are just so many of these stories to tell. Here I share a bit of what I've learned.

"Jam is a liquid. So is peanut butter. Jelly, jams, honeys, all liquids!"

A very frank TSA agent yelped this at me recently traveling through Portland's PDX airport. I just kept insisting sternly, "it's JAM!" like....duh, how do you possibly classify this as a liquid? And peanut butter? Are you high?

It's amazing to me what gets through security and what doesn't. Tiny nail clippers in my cosmetics bag? No problem. Full sized, oversized, 3 ounces or 10 ounces of goopy fruit or juicy juice? No problem, so long as it is for your baby. They'll do a little bomb test swipe on it, or maybe try to sniff at it (are you a bomb sniffing dog now too, Mr. TSA?) and then ultimately you'll be approved to pass.

The nonsense that gets stopped at security is plentiful, but damn I gotta hand it to them there are also a lot of people out there trying to smuggle other things. Folks, listen to me closely - when you travel home from overseas and you are CONNECTING to your home airport, you cannot take the things you bought at duty free through security. You will lose your liquor purchase, your ceramic jar of olive oil or balsamic vinegar from Modena. They will take your high end perfume (over 3 ounces!) and the mega liter bottle of water you bought to help you survive the legs home. Hear me again - if you are CONNECTING from overseas, you have to pass security again after customs.

Let's also go on to realize that this does not just apply to airports. Once at the security line boarding my Royal Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas from Florida, I was questioned again, "Any fruits? Meats?" Yes I had bananas and little oranges for my kid, is this a problem? I mean, I'm just going on a boat to the Bahamas. Well friends, yes! It is a problem. Not only could you cross-polinate whatever they have going on in the Bahamas, you are also messing with the feng shui of the cruise kitchen. Don't bring your own fruits, they have them on board.

I love this endless back and forth of "what can I bring?" and "what will wind me up the customs jail?". Get this - in London Stansted airport practically all your cosmetics are liquids. Gel deodorant? Liquid. Toothpaste? Liquid. Shampoo? Hand lotions? Liquids. They must be smoking what the PDX guy is smoking, because last I checked those aren't drinkably juicy like a liquid. So what the heck constitutes as a liquid? This site gives a good account at BudgetAir's website: , but basically it's anything that oozes and goos, so jokes' on me.

Bottom line is, keep it under 3 ounces if it has any type of gelatinous, smearing, creamy, blobby, wavelike essence to it. And if it's meat, cheese or fruit, just eat it on the airplane or hope there's no ham sniffing dogs around.

I was digging around TSA's website to look up wine allowances and I have to say, the things that are OK in your carry-on are truly baffling. Check some of these oddballs:

  • Antlers

  • Artificial skeleton bones

  • Bread machine

  • Cowboy spurs

  • Geiger counters

  • Handcuffs

  • Harry Potter Wand

  • Laser hair remover

  • License Plate

  • Light Saber

  • Live coral and live fish

  • Night vision goggles

  • Shock collars

  • Tortilla press

  • Vacuum Robots

  • Waffle Iron

Overall, I really want to give the TSA a hard time, but they've got a job to do and we need to do our best to be educated and stick to the rules. Do I agree with them? I can't remember the last time a plane went down because I brought too much jam on board, but rules are rules, I guess. Be smart, make good choices, and be willing to let your beloved carry on item go, if it comes down to it. You can always go back to check-in and check your bag if it is that important to you, or mail your stuff home.

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