Peanut Butter - © PiccoloNamek via English Wikipedia.jpg

TSA Tears Peanut Butter Definition Wide Open

I’m sure you’ve all found yourselves in discussions in which folks have been arguing about what ‘state of matter’ Peanut Butter is. And many air travellers, particularly, remain bitterly divided about what PB is. Maybe what we really need is a wider array of options to choose from…

Airport Inspection - © Robert GauthierExpedite everyone’s airport check-in screenings: “If you can spill it,
spray it, spread it, pump it or pour it, don’t bring it”

I read a cute, but annoying post this morning, about another air traveller who got caught in the US TSA merry-go-round about what’ state of matter’ Peanut Butter is. You see, the Transportation Safety Authority has officially defined it as a liquid (!). It’s part of their rules and regs about what you can and cannot bring aboard an aeroplane – what you might be able to make a bomb with.

The rules

The TSA says you cannot bring aboard any container with a volume greater than 3.4 oz. / 100 ml / 100 g of any liquid, gel or aerosol. But that leaves out many common household substances – not the least of which is Peanut Butter.

Many tavellers insist that PB is none of the above and, as such, should be exempt from the rules. So what is it? Obviously, it is a spread. Perhaps a paste would be more appropriate.

Even scientists can’t agree

But the TSA officially says Peanut Butter is a liquid because its shape is dictated by its container.

“What about powders? They also take the shape of their containers…” one commenter points out. Simple: powders are just pulverized solids. End of story.

According to a post by cualaxtli, however, Peanut Butter is really ‘an emulsion of water in fats, oils, and peanut solids’. But the same correspondent says it can also be considered, ‘a mixture of solids in a multiphasic liquid‘. Other commenters have described it even more scientifically as a ‘colloid’. That’s enough of that.

‘Hold your horses’, TSA official says

It turns out that the TSA definition of Peanut Butter’s ‘state of matter’ is actually much simpler than all that.

“As we frequently seek to remind travelers: If you can spill it, spray it, spread it, pump it or pour it, then it’s subject to the 3.4-ounce limitation,” TSA spokesperson R. Carter Langston, said in an email. And look! There’s the first official mention I’ve come across of the term, ‘spread’. Reality and the TSA finally meet in the middle!

Circling the square

It’s amusingly clear that finding a niche into which to jam Peanut Butter, for the TSA, at least, must have involved knocking the corners off the classic stable definition of ‘liquid’. And the TSA failed to consider substances such as Peanut Butter (and toothpaste, and others) when writing its rules for what you can and can’t bring onto an aeroplane in your carry-on luggage, pockets, or purse. So bend non-conforming examples to fit the rules!

That’s often how administrative types ‘do science’. Backwards.

~ Maggie J.