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What types of gluten-free food will airport security allow in your carry-on?

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Updated June 26, 2014

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What gluten-free foods can you bring through airport security?

Getty Images/Baerbel Schmidt

Question: What types of gluten-free food will TSA airport security allow in your carry-on?

If you eat gluten-free and have traveled by air recently, you've probably noticed two things: 1) it's tough to bring some types of food through the Transportation Security Administration's airport checkpoints, and 2) there's practically nothing gluten-free to eat on the other side of those checkpoints.

Answer: Although rules from the TSA governing carry-on luggage and food items continue to tighten, you still have a variety of options on gluten-free foods you can carry on an airplane.

The TSA should allow any form of solid food, although your meal will need to go through the x-ray machine just like all the other luggage.

Therefore, your potential airplane dining options can include fruit, a salad, a roast beef, chicken, ham or veggie sandwich on gluten-free bread, gluten-free cookies and brownies, gluten-free pretzels, gluten-free chips and crackers and even dry gluten-free cereal (you can buy conventional milk on the other side of security).

If It's A Liquid or Gel, It's a Problem

Most of the problems carrying food through security stem from the TSA's rules regarding liquid and gel items. Travelers currently are limited to 3.4-ounce containers of any liquid or gel items, and those must fit into a one-quart plastic zip-lock bag. Each traveler is permitted one of these zip-lock bags.

Food items that fall into the "liquid and gel" category include: creamy dips and spreads (including cheeses and peanut butter), salsa, jams and salad dressings, maple syrup, oil and vinegar, other sauces, soups and any type of drink. The TSA advises travelers to leave these items at home or pack them in checked luggage.

However, the regulations don't rule out these items — you just have to make sure you carry less than 3.4 ounces of each. For example, small individual-serving packets of gluten-free salad dressing or gluten-free soy sauce should pass muster, as should a few small packets of jam or jelly, which you can spread on gluten-free crackers. I'd probably skip the hummus, though.

TSA Procedures for Gluten-Free Foods

If you do decide to bring small amount of liquid or gel food through security (for example, nut butter for your sandwich), keep it separate and in its plastic container until you're through security.

Frozen items are okay as long as they are frozen solid when presented for screening. If they're partially melted, slushy or have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they count as liquids or gels and must meet the 3.4-ounce container rule, according to the TSA.

Frozen gel packs also count under the 3.4-ounce rule, so I'd avoid these. One option might be to take a disposable gel pack, discard it before going through security, and then buy a cup of ice from a vendor on the other side of the checkpoint.

Some of us might want to bring gluten-free cakes or pies through security as carry-on luggage, since those items obviously wouldn't fare well as checked baggage. The TSA says it allows these, but that they're subject to "additional screening." I spoke with TSA spokesperson Sarah Horowitz on this, but she would not elaborate, saying in a follow-up email only that "TSA determines what passengers can safely carry through security checkpoints using a threat-based approach and using the latest intelligence."

The bottom line: Travel with full pies at your own risk ... especially if they contain a "gel"-like filling (maybe stick with apple instead of pumpkin).

TSA Rules Allow 'Medically Necessary' Items, Including Drinks

The TSA permits prescription liquid medications and other liquids needed by persons with disabilities and medical conditions, which can include prescription medications and over-the-counter medications, water, juice and liquid nutrition.

Horowitz didn't say whether you'd need a prescription or note from your doctor for these. Still, I'd definitely recommend it. You have to keep these items separate from your other screened items, and declare them to the TSA staff member at the checkpoint.

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