If you are planning to travel to the US with food, read this


United States border officials have a message for travelers bringing food from abroad: Violations will cost you.

Last month, a passenger traveling from Indonesia to Darwin Airport in Australia’s Northern Territory was fined $1,874 after two Egg and Beef McMuffins and a ham croissant were found in their luggage. (Australian authorities have introduced strict new biosecurity measures for all arrivals following an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in livestock in Indonesia.)

In another case, a few days earlier an Australian woman was fined $1,844 for forgetting to declare the leftovers of a Subway sandwich she bought in Singapore.

Just last year, US Border Patrol fined passengers for carrying a wide range of undeclared food items in their luggage, including balut eggs, pork bologna and turkey ham. According to fiscal year statistics released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, border officials conducted “630,150 positive passenger inspections” in 2021, and issued thousands of fines and violations to travelers who failed to declare prohibited agricultural goods.

According to CBP, failure to declare food products at air, sea and land checkpoints at the U.S. border can result in fines and penalties of up to $10,000.

Here’s what you need to know before importing food into the US.

Travelers bringing food into the US can inadvertently introduce foreign pests and foodborne diseases into the country, which can have a devastating impact on agriculture and the environment. And an outbreak of pests or diseases can affect more than just farmers. It also means higher grocery bills and shortages of some foods for consumers.

Last year, border officials found 264 pests at U.S. ports of entry, slightly more than the 250 found the previous year. Pests intercepted last year include Saunders 1850 moth larvae found in pineapples from Costa Rica. The larvae feed on plants and legumes, and are considered invasive pests, mainly found in the Amazon rainforest. Its introduction into the US ecosystem could harm the agricultural industry, CBP said.

“We work closely with the USDA, Animal Inspection Service, and Animal Health Services to prevent the introduction of plant pests and foreign animal diseases,” a CBP spokesperson told CNN.

Most meat, poultry, milk and egg products are either banned or restricted in the US – rules depend on the country of origin and what livestock diseases are prevalent in the region.

The United States Department of Agriculture bans animal products and poultry from countries with reported cases of livestock diseases such as mad cow disease, foot and mouth disease, bird flu, and swine fever. The USDA provides links where travelers can check common animal diseases in specific countries.

Sometimes there are gray areas. For example, pork products from Mexico are prohibited, but a small amount for personal use – such as a ham sandwich – may be allowed at land borders if the meat is thoroughly cooked.

A long list of foods allowed into the US, including condiments, cooking oil, bread, cookies, crackers, cakes, cereal, packaged tea, and other baked goods and processed foods. CBP provides a list of permitted items on its website.

Jarvis, a beagle, works in the baggage claim area at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.  He is a member of the Beagle team, which works with border guards to sniff out prohibited food items in luggage.

But there is a caveat: if a traveler is carrying more than 50 pounds of goods, it is considered a commercial shipment and must go through additional measures, including additional security checks. And every agricultural food product must be declared on US customs forms so inspectors can inspect it and make sure it doesn’t carry harmful foreign pests or diseases.

“The declaration must cover all items carried in checked baggage, carry-on baggage or in a vehicle,” the CBP website states.

The short answer is no.

Almost all fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables are prohibited from entering the U.S. because of the risk of pests and diseases, some of which can survive cold temperatures, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Even the fruit and vegetable snacks offered on the plane or on the cruise ship should be left behind, says Lucero Hernandez of the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Travelers crossing the land border into the United States from Canada can bring fresh fruits and vegetables as long as they are grown in Canada. But they need proof that the produce is free from soil, pests and diseases, and that it was grown in Canada and not just sold there, the USDA says.

And in all cases, travelers coming to the U.S. should keep receipts and original packaging to prove the food’s country of origin, CBP said.

Travelers who declare agricultural products in their luggage will not face penalties – even if an inspector decides that these items are ineligible for entry into the country, according to the USDA. In such cases, the food is destroyed.

“An apple or snack that may be brought in by mistake will not always be a significant incident,” a CBP spokesperson explained of the inadvertent failure to declare a food item. “However, attempting to carry prohibited items will result in delays for travelers and may result in a fine.”

“Failure to declare a prohibited food product may result in a civil penalty,” the spokesperson added.

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