Skip to main content

TSA defends cupcake confiscation

By Katia Hetter, Special to CNN
updated 5:38 AM EST, Wed January 11, 2012
The TSA stands by its suspicion of jarred cupcakes.
The TSA stands by its suspicion of jarred cupcakes.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Travelers carrying a "normal" cupcake will probably clear airport security
  • Terrorists have moved to novel explosives disguised as common, everyday items
  • Expect that cakes, pies and cupcakes will get additional screening

(CNN) -- A cupcake isn't always just a cupcake. Sometimes it's so noteworthy, it creates Cupcakegate. Just ask the nation's airport security officials.

Travelers carrying a "normal" cupcake will probably clear airport security, although additional screening may be required, according to a Transportation Security Administration blog post defending the agency's recent confiscation of a cupcake. The post, titled "Cupcakegate" was published Monday and promised to be "short and sweet."

As communications professor Rebecca Hains learned last month, an unorthodox cupcake in a jar may violate U.S. Transportation Security Administration carry-on limits on liquids and gels, warns TSA's official blogger. At least sometimes.

Hains tried to carry a cupcake in a Mason jar, packaged that way by the bakery for easy shipping, through airport security on the way home from a holiday trip.

Hains and her two cupcakes cleared security at Boston's Logan Airport without any trouble at the start of her trip. In a blog posting after the incident as she was returning home, she claimed the first TSA agent told her the cupcakes "look delicious." The "Chocolate Lab" jar filled with cake, a ganache center, frosting and chocolate sprinkles was so delicious, she says, she and her husband couldn't even finish one 8-ounce jar.

Flying through security
TSA to change pat-down rules for kids

It's the "Red Velvet" jar that got them into trouble a week later. When they tried to clear security at the Las Vegas airport, the jar got seized for violating the 3-1-1 rule. "This wasn't your everyday, run-of-the-mill cupcake," wrote TSA blogger Robert Burns. "Unlike a thin layer of icing that resides on the top of most cupcakes, this cupcake had a thick layer of icing inside a jar."

"Terrorists have moved to novel explosives disguised as common, everyday items," Burns wrote. "Our officers are regularly briefed and trained by TSA explosives specialists on how just about any common appliance, toy or doohickey can be turned into a dangerous explosive."

Hains promises that both cupcakes were stored at room temperature and that the returning cupcake shared the same consistency as the cupcake that cleared security on departure. The returning cupcake was not more liquid- or gel-like than the departing cupcake.

"The TSA is in a reactive mode," she said. "They need to be more creative and think critically. This cupcake may have characteristics of something that resembles a terrorist threat. But they knew it was a cupcake. The TSA agent in Boston said they look delicious. Also, it underscores that they're not consistent."

Frosting shouldn't be considered a gel or liquid, said Brian Vilagie, manager of Wicked Good Cupcakes in Cohasset, Massachusetts, where the cupcakes in question were made. The bakery, which opened in October, has seen its mail order business double to 100 jarred cupcakes per day since news of Cupcakegate broke, Vilagie said. Renamed "National (Security) Velvet," the bakery sent Hains a dozen jars to replace the one she lost.

But even if the icing was considered a gel, a jar with just cake and frosting wouldn't violate the 3-ounce rule. "With filling, it's definitely over the limit," Vilagie said.

Truth be told, we're not sure this cupcake in a jar should actually be called a cupcake. The bakers use a true cupcake to construct the jarred version, removing the paper cup and slicing it in half before laying the cake, any filling and frosting into an 8-ounce Mason jar, Vilagie said.

What is a cupcake? "A cupcake needs to stand alone to be a cupcake," said Zac Young, a past contestant on Top Chef Just Desserts and executive pastry chef at Flex Mussels in New York City. "A cupcake is also defined by its wrapper. Unless there are pieces of wrapper floating in the jar, I would not classify it as a cupcake."

Semantics aside, the TSA's bottom line: "You can bring cakes, pies and cupcakes through the security checkpoint, but you should expect that they might get some additional screening, and if something doesn't seem right, there is always the potential you won't be able to take it through."

To learn more about what you can bring on a flight, read CNN's Eatocracy post on the topic. Also consider downloading the free TSA app for more information about what to bring on board.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT