(CNN) — Message from US border officials to travelers bringing food from abroad: Fines are expensive.
Last month, a passenger traveling from Indonesia to Darwin Airport in Australia’s Northern Territory was fined $1,874 after two beef sausages and an Egg McMuffin with a ham croissant were found in his luggage. (Australian authorities imposed strict new biosecurity measures on all arrivals following an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesian cattle.)
In another incident, a few days ago, an Australian woman was fined $1,844 for forgetting to declare leftovers from a Subway sandwich she bought in Singapore.
In the past year alone, US border agents have fined travelers for packing a wide range of undeclared food items, including balut eggs, pork bologna and turkey ham. According to fiscal year data released by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), border agents conducted “630,150 positive passenger inspections” in 2021, and issued thousands of sanctions and violations to travelers who did not declare prohibited agricultural items.
According to CBP, failure to declare food products at U.S. air, sea and land border entry points can result in fines and fines of up to $10,000.
Here’s what you need to know before bringing food products to the US.
Why are some foods not allowed?
Travelers bringing food into the US may unintentionally introduce foodborne pests and diseases, which can have devastating effects on agriculture and the environment. And outbreaks of pests or diseases can affect not only farmers. It also means an increase in the cost of groceries and a shortage of certain foods for consumers.
Last year, border agents discovered 264 pests at US ports of entry, up a little over 250 found a year earlier. Insects intercepted last year include Saunders 1850 butterfly larvae found on pineapples off Costa Rica. The larva feeds on plants and legumes, and is considered an invasive pest found primarily in the Amazon rainforest. According to CBP, their introduction to the US ecosystem could be detrimental to the agricultural industry.
“We work closely with the US Department of Agriculture, Animal and Health Inspection Services to prevent the introduction of exotic plant pests and animal diseases,” a CBP spokesperson told CNN.
What food products are not allowed in the US?
Most meat, poultry, dairy and egg products are banned or restricted in the US, with regulations based on the country of origin and livestock diseases prevalent in the region.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) bans animal and avian products from countries where there have been cases of livestock diseases such as mad cow, foot and mouth disease, avian flu, and swine fever. The USDA provides a link where travelers can check out the most common animal diseases in some countries.
Sometimes there are gray areas. For example, pork products are banned from Mexico, but a small amount for personal use, such as ham sandwiches, may be allowed on land borders if the meat is cooked thoroughly.
What foods can be brought to America?
A long list of foods are permitted in the US, including condiments, cooking oils, breads, cookies, cakes, cereals, packaged teas and other baked and processed goods. There is a list of permitted items on the CBP website.
But there’s a catch: If a passenger is carrying more than 50 pounds of an item, it’s considered a commercial shipment and must undergo additional measures, such as additional security inspections. In addition, all farm foods must be declared on US Customs forms so that inspectors can examine them to make sure they do not contain harmful foreign pests or diseases.
“The declaration must include checked baggage, carry-on baggage, or all items taken in the vehicle,” the CBP website states.
Can you bring fruits or vegetables?
The short answer is no.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly all fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables are banned from entering the U.S. due to the risk of pests and diseases, some of which can survive freezing temperatures. Fruits and vegetables provided on a plane or cruise ship should be left behind, says Lucero Hernandez of the Federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Travelers crossing the land border from Canada into the United States may bring some fresh fruits and vegetables, as long as they were grown in Canada. But they need proof that the products are free of soil, pests and diseases, and that they were grown in Canada, not just sold there, the USDA says.
And in all cases, according to CBP, travelers entering the U.S. must carry receipts and original containers to prove the country of origin of the food products.
What if you bring prohibited items?
The USDA states that travelers who declare the product in their luggage do not receive any penalties, even if an inspector concludes that the items cannot enter the country. In these cases, the food is destroyed.
“An apple or snack that may have been brought in by mistake will not always be a major incident,” a CBP spokesperson explains of the unintentional failure to declare a food item. “However, attempting to present prohibited items will result in delays to the passenger and may result in fines.”
“Failure to declare a prohibited food item could result in the issuance of a civil penalty,” the spokesperson said.