Airport security: why 3oz containers?

So I was coming back from London.  At the Heathrow Airport my bag triggered a search at the security gate.  Reason being there were liquids detected.

As it turned out, it wasn’t liquid, but my toothpaste and face wash.  They were in their original packaging, which was more than 3 oz.  However, both were 4/5 empty at this point.  I had rolled up the bottom of the tubes so it’s clear that there were nowhere near 3 oz. of content inside the container.  However, because the original packaging says more than 3 oz., both were thrown out.

It doesn’t bother me much that they were thrown out, since they were almost empty, anyways.  However, I do wonder: why the 3oz container restriction?  I had always thought the restriction was meant to restrict the amount of liquids you can bring onto the plain.  To have the actual restriction being the containers themselves was somewhat surprising.

In addition, they needed to test the ones that were in containers less than 3 oz.  I saw the gentleman put the containers (these were my lotions and facial creams) into a plastic bottle and taken to a table on the side.  He didn’t really do anything and 2 sec later he came back, said that the test passed.  He didn’t open the containers to take samples of the items, nor put the containers under some scanning device.  It seems that there’s some kind of “sensor” that will tell them if there were dangerous contents nearby.  If that’s the case, then why the container size restriction?

Searched online and nobody seems to know the answer.  There are a lot of sites talk about the rules themselves, but none with the rationales behind the rules.

I guess this is going to be one of those mysteries I will never find the answers to.

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