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5 Surprising Items That Could Get Your Luggage Searched by the TSA

SmarterTravel

Even if you know you haven’t packed anything illegal, having your bag flagged and getting pulled aside for a security search at the airport is a nerve-wracking (and potentially flight-missing) experience. 

These five items are perfectly legal to bring onboard a plane, but they can look suspicious on a scanner, triggering a bag search.

Food

Top down view of a suitcase with bread and sausage on top, next to a glass bottle of clear liquid
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Cheese, sausage, rice, bread, peanut butter—these tasty foods can look similar to explosives on a scanner and cause your bag to be searched. If you’re bringing food that’s dense or paste-like, be sure to send it through the X-ray machine separately to make it easier to screen. 

And remember, anything that is close to a liquid (like peanut butter) can only be packed in a carry-on in quantities of 3.4 ounces or less. 

Powders

Packing large amounts of protein powder, souvenir spices, or baby powder? According to the TSA, “Powder-like substances greater than 12 oz. / 350 mL must be placed in a separate bin for X-ray screening. They may require additional screening and containers may need to be opened.”

The TSA also encourages travelers to pack powders in quantities of more than 12 oz. in checked bags. 

Cords

Bird's eye view into an open carry on bag filled with cables, chargers, and a tripod
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Disorganized travelers, be careful when you pack your chargers—big clusters of tangled electronic cords can look suspicious during screening. Try to neatly pack your charges and cords separate from one another—you’ll pass through security faster and also be less annoyed trying to detangle everything at your destination. 

Books and Magazines

Concealing a weapon or illegal item inside a hollowed out book is a common trope in movies—but it’s actually based in fact, as X-rays have trouble seeing through thick books or glossy magazines.

According to the TSA, “Books often require additional screening. The TSA officer may ask you to remove them from your carrying case to conduct a physical inspection.” Save time by sending your reading material through the scanner separately, or at least packing them on the top of your bag for easy access. 

Large Quantities of Gels or Liquids

Close up of person packing sunblock in a suitcase
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There’s no limit on the amount of gels and liquids you can pack in a checked bag (except for highly flammable hard alcohol), but bringing large quantities of things like toothpaste, sunscreen, or lotions could get your checked bag opened and searched. 

That’s because pastes and liquids, especially in excessive amounts, can look suspiciously close to explosive materials on X-rays. 

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