Back when the Transportation Security Administration was first created, the agency’s overzealousness led to mocking of the TSA acronym. Wags referred to “Thousands Standing Around” and “Taking Scissors Away,” but now it seems that TSA has outdone itself by the close inspection of a large quantity of… wait for it… Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
A viral video posted October 4 shows a TSA screener removing bags of Cheetos from a carry-on bag and swabbing them. The bags are then placed on a separate stack. In the caption, the woman said that she had “like 20 bags” of the spicy snack.
It isn’t clear from the tweet whether the Cheetos were returned to the woman or not, but I suspect that they were. TSA guidelines do not prohibit the transport of “solid food items (not liquids or gels)” in either checked or carry-on bags. Even Cheeto dust would be a solid food.
However, the website adds, “TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate items from carry-on bags such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine.” That seems to be what happened in this case since the woman says that TSA “thought I was hiding sh-t inside my bag.”
The swab that the screener rubbed across each bag of Cheetos is typically used to test for traces of explosive chemicals. Apparently, this test was negative.
So it probably was not that TSA thought the Cheetos were literally “dangerously cheesy,” that they were literally “flamin’ hot,” or that they considered them to be “weapons of -ss destruction,” the screener just thought that they might be masking some other dangerous items in the bag. After all, spicy Cheetos might be a gut bomb but not of the sort that would bring down an airliner. They would more likely be a mild inconvenience to the woman’s seatmates.
Why, you may ask, was the woman transporting such a large quantity of Cheetos? Apparently, Cheetos are hard to get in Korea. I would guess that they are practically impossible to get in North Korea and merely difficult to locate in the South.
This brings up the point that the Cheetos could be considered contraband by customs. TSA’s primary role is to prevent dangerous items from being brought on board, not illegal items. Therefore, even if TSA was cool with hot Cheetos, there might be penalties for carrying Cheetos across the border into Korea. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos might be hot in the figurative sense as well.
Fortunately for this traveler, the South Korean customs site says that “plants, fruits & vegetables, and agricultural [and] forestry products” are restricted, but makes no mention processed food-like substances such as Cheetos. Although Cheetos do contain “cheese seasoning” made from cheddar cheese, there are probably only trace amounts of anything that could be considered an agricultural product.
The lesson here is that Americans have an inalienable right to board airplanes with mass quantities of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, but they may not have the right to transport Cheetos across international borders. When in doubt, check the TSA guidelines before you fly as well as the customs websites for your destination. Other countries can look harshly on seemingly innocuous items from everyday American life. What you don’t know can get you into trouble with foreign authorities.