Don’t Get Caught With Hummus In Your Carry-On

by Shelli Stein

Do you travel with only carry-on luggage? If you do, I congratulate you. I don’t, but I’m heading in that direction. That means learning about the pitfalls of packing lessor-known forbidden items in my carry-on bag. What can’t and can I bring in carry-on luggage is a question I ask myself each time I pack. The carry-on luggage rules change, so it’s important to stay current.

The images of TSA-confiscated carry-on items normally look something like this:

These obvious weapons aren't the only thing that might be snagged from your carry-on bag

These obvious weapons aren’t the only thing that might be snagged from your carry-on bag. Image by Transportation Security Administration.

But there is a much longer list of far more benign substances that could cause a snag at a security checkpoint. I recently ran into a problem with this:

Hummus is not allowed through airport security checkpoints in the United States.

Hummus is not allowed through airport security checkpoints in the United States. Image by Thompson200 | Wikimedia Commons

I’ve wanted to make sure I understand what NOT to pack in my carry-on bag. I’ve learned that these items, if we must to bring them, either need to be left home or in checked luggage.

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Meat, fruit, vegetables, and other agricultural products

When traveling internationally, most countries prohibit the carriage of meats, fruit, vegetables, plants, and other agricultural products. If you want to bring an apple as a snack, just make sure you eat it on the plane. Otherwise it will be confiscated on arrival, and you could find yourself facing an angry border agent.

This happened to a friend and I when we landed in Honolulu from French Polynesia. As we waited for our bags to arrive my friend started eating an apple that he got on the plane. We were flagged and and were on the reciving end of a talking-to, as well as a warning. Not a fun experience.

Certain countries, like Australia and New Zealand, are even more strict and won’t allow things like wooden souvenirs you may have picked up somewhere else.

Liquids over 3.4 ounces or 100ml

Though the liquids restriction is almost universal, its enforcement sure can vary. I suggest you stick to this rule: all liquids must be in containers of no more than 3.4 ounces or 100ml, and all containers must fit in a clear, one quart sized zip-top plastic bag.

You can still travel carry-on only with liquids. If you’re economical, this amount can last a while. If you stay in hotels, many of these items are available to you. I always like to try local sundries so I travel really lightly when it comes to packing liquids.

You can buy travel sized containers and fill them with shampoo, shower gel, and any other products you want to bring on your trip. These days everything seems to come in travel sizes!

There are special carry-on luggage rules for medications, but these vary by country. Check with the country you will be flying out of for their rules, but in most cases you will need to let the screening agents know that you have liquid medication in addition to the one quart bag you are allowed.

Items passengers often forget about which are considered liquids: peanut butter, mascara, and aerosols. I even had a container of  hummus taken away from me as a liquid item, and this happened to my maple syrup as well.

Sharp Objects

This restriction might seem obvious but sharp objects, as a class, are prohibited in carry-on luggage. If you must bring a knife, box cutter or sword on your trip, it must be packed in your checked luggage. Scissors that are less than 4 inches long, like nail scissors, are generally allowed by TSA, but since the final decision as to what constitutes a “sharp object” rests with the specific agents, TSA may confiscate it.

Carry-on luggage rules in other countries can be different from those in the US, so check those out before you fly from somewhere else outside the US. I once had a small swiss army knife taken from me. It was my favorite and I never made that error in judgment again!

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Straight razors are also not allowed in your carry-on luggage. However, you can take a razor through security if it’s a safety razor. That means the actual blade is inside a cartridge attached to a handle, the kind most commonly used for shaving these days.

Sports Equipment

Baseball bats, ski poles, pool cues, bows and arrows, hockey sticks, golf clubs, and pretty much any other sporting equipment containing the words stick, pole, bat or club cannot be brought on the plane as carry-on.

If playing sports is part of your travels, consider renting equipment at your destination. If you’re quite attached to using your own sports equipment, you’ll probably need to check it.

A strange exception, the TSA website states that it’s okay to bring ice skates in a carry-on.


Obviously a gun is a weapon, and they don’t want you bringing it on an airplane in your carry-on bag. Most guns are permitted in checked luggage as long as they are empty, and they must be in a locked, hard-sided container.

Carry-on luggage rules vary. Check with your airline about other restrictions and/or fees they might have. Some items, such as flares and gun powder, are not even permitted in checked luggage.

Before you travel, research the gun laws in the state or country you’re going to. Different US states have different laws, and many other countries heavily restrict or prohibit personal gun use and ownership.

Self-defense Items

Self-defense items, like pepper spray or mace, are not allowed in carry-on luggage. These could be considered a weapon by TSA, so leave them at home. If you really want to bring it along for your trip, the TSA website says you are allowed to have one 4 ounce container of mace or pepper spray in your checked luggage “provided it is equipped with a safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge.” Always check with your airline since they often have stricter restrictions.

Carry-on Luggage Rules for Tools

Most, but not all, workbench tools are prohibited in carry-on luggage. If you’re planning on bringing your tools with you, put them in checked luggage. You might not want think of a hammer or drill bits as weapons, but TSA will differ.

Flammable Items

Leave all flammable chemicals and items at home. If you feel you must have fireworks, bleach, or paint thinner at your destination, buy them when you arrive. These and other flammable and explosive items are prohibited in both carry-on and checked luggage. Lots of camping gear, like camping stoves, is considered flammable as well.

What About Lighters and Matches

TSA does allow one book of safety matches in your carry-on, but matches are not allowed in your checked luggage. You can bring a lighter on a plane in your carry-on luggage, though usually only one is allowed. Lighters can only be checked if they have no fuel in them.

What is allowed but not recommended in your carry-on bag?

These of course are some of my pet peeves and carry-on luggage rule. They are my own personal preferences, informed by a myriad of disgusting in-flight experiences. You might have some to add to this list.

Smelly Food

This is different for everyone, but here’s my take. Yes, airline food is bad — we all know that — and it may not even be offered. On occasion we all need to bring our own food.

Please be respectful of other travelers and leave the smelly foods at home. When buying food at the airport, please consider your fellow travelers, as well. I’ve seen some strange food choices for airplane meals.

But in general, can you bring food on a plane? Yes, normally it is allowed, but some airlines might be more strict than others. Also remember that any food that can be considered a liquid or paste is not allowed through the security checkpoint if it is more than 3.4 ounces (100ml). Hence my confiscated hummus 🙁

Nail Polish

Nail polish belongs in your liquids bag, and please leave it there, it stinks. Please don’t use nail polish during your flight. I could have included this in the smell category but I see so many women using nail polish I have to make this a special request.

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Adult Reading Materials

Trust me, neither I nor any seat mates you’ve ever had on a plane like this. We do not want to look over and see you reading an adult magazine or watching adult movies on your laptop. Save it for the privacy of your own home.


Let’s face it, perfume can be pleasant or perfume can be unpleasant and bother many people. Some people have allergies. Wait until you reach your destination to spray on the perfume. Then your seatmates can breathe better during the flight.


This is not a pet peeve but it’s something I’ve been thinking about. Sure, books are allowed in a carry-on but do I really need to bring them if I’m traveling with carry-on luggage only? Guidebooks can be really helpful, but chances are you don’t need the whole book. I’ve seen people rip out the pages they’ll need and photocopy them. I’ve also noticed that people take pictures with their phones of the pages they need. Better yet, you can buy digital copies for your Kindle or other e-reader.

Final Thoughts on Carry-on Luggage Rules

Remember that this list of what not to pack in your carry-on bag is just for starters. Carry-on luggage rules change often, so please check the TSA (or other countries) and the airline websites before you fly. Despite the long list above, it’s still pretty easy to travel with carry-on luggage only. After every trip I take I always make a list of what I didn’t need and didn’t use. It helps me understand what I REALLY need to take along when I travel. Then I can just focus on enjoying the trip!

Still not sure if an item is allowed in your carry-on? For US travel, check the TSA website to find out what you can bring.

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DaninMCI July 2, 2018 - 9:17 am

Don’t buy snow globes to bring back with carry-on only. People forget this one commonly. I’ve wondered for years why airport book stores always seem to carry and I assume sell lots of adult magazines. It’s not like you can read it on the plane and surely you can buy it cheaper elsewhere.

Shelli July 2, 2018 - 3:18 pm

Two good points, Dan. One I never realized, and one I’ve never thought of!

Matt July 2, 2018 - 10:01 am

What about few pieces of beef jerky as a snack?

John July 2, 2018 - 12:05 pm

You should be fine with that jerky, as long as it’s not too sharp on one end 😉
Liquified jerky milkshake… that’s a no-no.

Shelli July 2, 2018 - 3:20 pm

Definitely leave the jerky milkshake idea back home!!

Martin Worthington July 2, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Except that hummus is actually allowed on aircraft both in carry-on bags and checked baggage per the TSA – so the entire premise of this is wrong.

Shelli July 2, 2018 - 3:25 pm

Thanks for reading, M. It’s not the premise, but rather what actually happened. I think “per the TSA” can get carried out quite differently from time to time. I find it better not to argue at the time these things are happening.

mallthus July 2, 2018 - 9:13 pm

The one I’ve seen people get hung up on is the gel type antiperspirant. Since most people never interact with the actual gel except when they rub it on their armpits, they don’t think about what’s in the packaging.

In the end, it’s a gel and therefore subject to the liquid/gel/paste/cream size limitation and baggie rules. Thankfully, almost no brands come in sizes larger than the allowed 3oz size, so just remember to pull it out (assuming you’re not Pre-Check).

Shelli July 3, 2018 - 6:56 am

Thanks for the great reminder on the gel antiperspirant!!

SusanO July 5, 2018 - 8:20 am

I’ve had a metal nail file confiscated that was only 3 inches in length because the tip was pointed.
Also Jam falls into the ‘liquids’ category and will be confiscated. We lost a lovely gift traveling only with carry-on luggage this way.

Shelli July 5, 2018 - 9:22 pm

Thanks for the input, Susan, about other types of items that can be problematic. You reminded me that friends from Buenos Aires tried to bring me dulce de leche and it got confiscated when they cleared customs in Atlanta.

Patrick July 5, 2018 - 12:33 pm

Or Candles, my Wife bought a large one last year on a trip, it probably didn’t help that it was in a large ceramic gnome with a big silver pointed hat that came off to reveal the candle. They had a field day swabbing it and had to get a supervisor to finally say it was okay.


Shelli July 5, 2018 - 9:45 pm

Glad it worked out in your favor, Patrick. Never thought of candles as an item to avoid carrying, so thanks for letting us know.

Teri July 5, 2018 - 5:40 pm

I don’t wear perfume while flying however, I do carry one or two of the little sample bottles just in case I get a stinky traveler in my general vicinity. A little sprinkle on a tissue held near my face has prevented the need for vomit bag on more than one flight. Sorry if it’s a problem for some however, vomiting on a plane is a problem for me….And no, I am NOT exaggerating.

Shelli July 5, 2018 - 9:50 pm

Thanks for pointing this out, Teri. I agree. Using scents to help offset other situations is a must sometimes.

Caitlin April 30, 2023 - 12:17 pm

For me, the perfume would make me want to vomit more than another passenger.

Ric Garrido December 31, 2022 - 2:03 pm

I had hummus in my backpack confiscated by airport security in Stockholm ARN in 2017 as a non-permitted liquid item.

Shelli December 31, 2022 - 2:36 pm

I sympathize, Ric. Thanks for taking the time to comment.


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