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Dec 23, 2006 12:04 AM




I am a US customs and border protection agriculture specialist and posted a few responses to some questions that folks had about importing meats on another string. Anyway, I just wanted to ask if anyone had questions about bringing food into the US. Or, if people had any questions about the whole customs experience in general. Now, of course, there are sensitive issues that I can't talk about for obvious reasons, but I am always amazed at how little people know about what food items are actually allowed or not allowed. I feel bad when folks come back from Europe and say, for example, "well, i wish i could have brought back some of my dad's cheese that he makes for my grandson." well, you can bring back cheese. anyway, post a comment/question and I'll address it if you want. If not, this string will die a silent death.

  1. I'll take you up on it:

    You say we can bring back cheese. Any caveats to that? I told my sister to bring me back some gouda from Holland this weekend. I assume that's fine, right?

    1 Reply
    1. re: themicah

      yeah, a hard cheese is good to go. although, if it is wet and dripping with may have some problems. Other than that, you can bring boatloads back. As long as it is not for commercial sale...than you may have to pay duty if it is A TON of cheese and over $800 of commercial value.

    2. You're TheMan for this one! (please post in Italy board)

      1. Please tell me why I can't bring a Florida Orange through US customs, on a flight from Toronto to Denver. The orange CAME FROM THE US!!!!! My plan is to eat it on the plane.

        3 Replies
        1. re: thenurse

          If the orange has a sticker on it from the US, it is good to go. If it doesn't have a sticker, there is no way we can know it came from the US. That is our port policy at the current time. Other places can care less about the sticker...they regulate the fruit, not the origin. Canada, doesn't have a citrus industry, so they get a lot of their fruit from central america, south america, and yes...the USA. However, citrus is HIGHLY regulated because of citrus canker (or other diseases) so anytime we see a fruit...even dried peels...we seize and destroy it. Better to eat the orange on the plane before leaving it than getting it seized.
          A footnote- they tell us that citrus canker, the latest variant to hit florida at least, came from a group of visitors from south america who owned a citrus grove in their backyard back home. They went to visit a friend in Miami who had some lime trees in his backyard and well, either the fruits they brought and had a picnic with or the clothes they wore had the bacteria on it and the disease was spread from there. Now, whenever there is an outbreak, all trees within many acres of that infected tree have to be incinerated. Not a good thing if you are a grower in a citrus industry.

          1. re: TheMan

            Just an immigration note here -- all large Canadian airports with flights to the US (with the exception of Halifax, I think) now do preclearance, so thenurse would have to go through US customs in Toronto, hence the problem -- she can't even eat it on the plane.

            1. re: TheMan

              Once a US fruit leaves our country it is treated as a fruit from the country it is returning from because it could have been exposed to numerous plant pests while it was gone.

          2. Okeedokee. Here's, ahem, a hypothetical list of stuff that some people I know (but NEVER me, of course) bring from Iran. TheMan, I love your moniker, but I'll admit that I'm a bit paranoid about posting on this thread :)

            roasted pistachio nuts (creamy fresh nuts, salt and lemon like you wouldn't believe. nothing here compares)
            roasted pumpkin seeds
            frozen chopped fried herbs (for the universal iranian favorite food, ghormeh sabzi, a lush lamb herb stew with fenugreek, garlic chives, parsley, and dried limes. not only are some of these herbs tough to find here, but there's also an enormous flavor and fragrance difference)
            dried sour cherries and other dried fruit

            we've, i mean they've never declared anything, and have been lucky. but i'd love to know what if any of this stuff is actually okay to bring in.

            8 Replies
            1. re: rose water

              You don't have to be paranoid about me. I am just really interested in what the general populace believes about what they can or can't bring. I think there is a great disconnect between what people think they know about customs and what is the reality. Maybe if they had a clue, than folks would be able to enjoy the things that are really important to them. I mean, food is such an important link to a person's persona...right?

              Let's see...Iran...

              If a nut or seed is processed and for food, than it is okay. So the roasted nuts should be good to enter. The roasted pumpkin seed, however, is a curcurbit seed and is subject to Kapra beetles...but I think without looking at a manual that it is okay from Iran. I know some countries are regulated for that seed so it may not be okay unless it is grounded (Nigeria for example with the egousi seed), but I'll check (we have a matrix for curcurbit seeds in plain view because they are so common.) the chopped and fried frozen herbs should be enterable as they have been cooked. No lamb is a ruminant...but you didn't say lamb was coming in. dried cherries and dried fruit are okay also.

              zereshk, or barberry, is often seized from Iran because of certain pests/diseases that it is associated with. although, i do not think it carries a risk, I still have to seize it. That is a common item from Iran that is seized. I have a question to you. Do you know about zereshk? Is it expensive or hard to find in the US? Folks are sometimes really upset when we toss the zereshk in the bin. It won't change the way we operate, but I want to be able to know what it means to someone when we do this. I mean, if you can buy it here for a buck a pound, than no big deal and I'll explain that it has a pest risk and inspection is over. However, if it is $100 a bag, I want to really take the time and explain the whole reasoning behind our actions.

              For my port, folks from Iran also often bring citrus lemons and that is the main focus. at least for us. Oh, and also plants. Live plants. For some reason, people from Iran often bring these plants that they want to plant in their backyards. We don't want any invasive plant species in the US, so we seize those as well.

              It also comes down to pests. Sometimes, we get nuts that would be enterable, but have insects crawling in the bags. So, we have to seize it. That is a no-brainer and trumps anything that is "enterable" or "non-enterable" as well.

              1. re: TheMan

                Wow. Thanks so much. That's very helpful.

                Zereshk (small red super sour barberries) can be found in the US, in Iranian grocery stores. Trouble is that Iranian stores are few and far between, and the quality is not as good, and it is expensive. I never use zereshk, so I can't estimate the price, but I'd guess it's under your $100/bag figure.

                I'm guessing from what you say that dried limes are a no-go?

                Okay, back to the herbs--you said if they were cooked they'd be okay. But how would we prove that, if, as you say fresh herbs are subject to seizure? Really, you can't get herbs like that here, especially picked and washed and chopped fried by loving aunts over many days. Sigh.

                Thanks again.

                1. re: rose water

                  usually chopped or fine grated herbs are enterable. Better yet, if they are shredded then they are usually enterable. To be safe, shredded and dried are always enterable...unless they have bugs.

                  Dried limes are citrus and are thus seized. No canker allowed in the USA.

                2. re: TheMan

                  Cucurbit seeds are not allowed from Iran. Only Jordan, Kuwait, & Lebanon as far as the middle east goes

                3. re: rose water

                  Oh, I forgot about saffron. If it is dried, than no port should seize it. A wet or fresh herb is subject to being seized. Also, if there are insects on it, then it is as good as gone.

                  In the end, if you have an item that is taken that you don't think should be seized, ask to see the manual where it says that item should be taken. If they don't, ask to speak to a supervisor. CBP is really good about that, and, believe you me, you will talk to a supervisor. Honestly, we don't have to show you the citation in the manual, but if anyone ever asked me, I would walk them through the whole thought process just to ensure that we don't come off as some random loose cannon organization, because that is not what we are. If a person doesn't speak English, have them ask for a translator.
                  In the end though, if an officer makes a decision, than reversing that is going to be pretty hard.

                  The whole process of moving through the line is so incredibly fast. However, it will be (or should be at least in my mind) slowed for people who want a thorough explanation.

                  Now, if you have a sausage or a whole fruit and do this, it is a no brainer and you will be fast tracked. Those items are not enterable under any circumstance. However, some things like zereshk do warrant a little more explaining.

                  1. re: TheMan

                    Zereshk is not expensive in Los Angeles. Btw, I am very impressed that you knew what zereshk was! Very few iranians i know, know that it's a barberry. The only reason I know that is from cookbooks! I've never seen/heard of a barberry in my life (i'm from LA)

                    1. re: amandine

                      we seized some today and the woman said "but, that is so expensive." We often hear that so it just piqued my interest. thanks.

                      1. re: TheMan

                        I just bought some at an Iranian grocery store here in Los Angeles. It comes out to about $9 a pound. A pound is a hell of a lot of dried barberries.

                4. Here are potentially some items I MIGHT bring back from my next trip to London: chocolates, cookies, booze, bread, potato chips, tea, coffee, butter, containers of clotted cream from Sainsbury's (not the jarred kind but the ones that look like they are in plastic cole slaw containers). Will any of these items get me in trouble?

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Velma


                    Our big problem with England are the canned beans and franks from Heinz. The franks are the rub for us. I saw the canned beans in a grocer not too long ago here in the states. You can't find the franks variant though...I had a woman cry when I took them not too long ago. She said her husband craved them so badly. Yet, it was a sausage from Europe so in the bin it went.

                    Your list:
                    chocolates, okay.
                    cookies, you are fine.
                    booze, depends on the amount and proof. If they are high proof and you have liters of it, you may have to pay a duty. Now, two fifths are okay (generally). If you bring more, than the duty is nominal (not more than a couple of bucks a liter...if that)
                    bread, Good to go.
                    potato chips, bring all you want.
                    tea, good to go!
                    coffee, Oh yeah, can't get enough...bring it all (under a commercial amount that you will sell.)
                    butter, that is okay too!
                    containers of clotted cream from Sainsbury's, ugh, now cream, with foot and mouth in England...may be a problem in some ports. Does it have sugar in it? Is it in a can? That is the item that may cause a pause in the inspection. If it has sugar, it would probably be seized. If not, than it would be subject to being seized. If you give me more details, I will be better informed to give you a regulatory decision. Any knowledge of sugar content, animal origin (i presume cow). You said a plastic container...ugh, not hermetically sealed. That is a big thing with CBP. If it is in a shelf stable container, than it falls into a different category.
                    Hmm. that is a tough one. Something that will probably fall into the realm of "officer discretion." that means, if an officer thinks it could be a risk...up to 0.000001% risk, it is seized.

                    1. re: TheMan

                      Hi! Why is butter OK but cream not?

                      1. re: mnosyne

                        I only enforce the rules, not make them. Somewhere, a USDA scientist determined that butter is okay, and cream not.

                      2. re: TheMan

                        I tried to provide a link but it didn't work. It is more like it is in a carton similar to Daisy sour cream. Definitely a dairy case product. Thanks for all your help!

                        Here is the on-line description greatly edited:


                        Free From Genetically Modified Ingredients

                        Contains cow's milk.

                        Country of Origin
                        UNITED KINGDOM


                        Keep refrigerated. May be frozen if whipped. To enjoy at its best consume within 3 days of opening. Do not exceed use by date.

                        Our products are constantly being improved. This may result in changes to the ingredient list and/or allergy advice from that stated on this site. For this reason, Sainsbury's is unable to accept liability for any incorrect information on this site.

                        You should always read the label before consuming the product and never rely solely on the information presented here.

                        If you require specific advice on any Sainsbury's own label product, please contact our Customer Careline on 0800 636262. For all other products please contact the manufacturer.

                        This data is supplied for your personal use only. It may not be reproduced in any way without the prior consent of Sainsbury's Supermarkets Ltd and due acknowledgement.

                        1. re: Velma

                          That item would probably be seized because it is not shelf stable and is coming from a country with cattle diseases not extant in the USA. Again, we only enforce the rules, not make them.

                        2. re: TheMan

                          canned beans and franks would be allowed from England as long as it is pork only. If any beef (ruminant) is included it would not be allowed because of BSE