Chicago, Illinois - When visiting other countries, many people want to bring back souvenirs to remember their time spent abroad. Whether it is small trinkets, pictures, or memories, there are some things you just cannot bring back. Agricultural Specialists with U.S. Customs and Border Protection are here to greet visitors and ensure smuggled food isn’t one of your souvenirs.
CBP Agricultural K-9, Frodo, poses with his latest find.
When you arrive in the United States, there are steps you must follow to enter the country, including a declaration of any agricultural items or meats you may have brought back. CBP’s Agricultural Specialists ask travelers if they have brought back any food that may need to be inspected. “The usual prohibited items are fresh fruit, vegetable, plants, and meats,” Jessica Anderson, Agricultural Specialist and Canine Handler said. “There may be some exceptions depending on the country of origin, but that is our job. We have a manual that allows us to do our job. The easiest thing for you to do as a passenger is to declare it.”
CBP’s Agricultural Specialists do not determine what is allowed and not allowed, the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does. The USDA determines the pest risk associated with agricultural items. Even if items are on the allowed list, CBP may seize some of those items. “If we find an insect, or a disease on the item, we have to seize it,” Anderson said. Anderson pointed out an example when CBP seized ginger with a Mealy bug. While ginger is typically allowed from all countries, CBP had to seize that ginger. Returning passengers must also remember if you bring back items with foreign soil on it, CBP will seize those items.
Passengers must declare any agricultural items they have brought from overseas. Passengers have many opportunities to declare their items: through kiosks located in the terminal, using the customs declarations distributed by the airline, at a global entry kiosk if they are a Trusted Traveler, or when you meet with a CBP official. “If an official asks if you have anything to declare, just be truthful,” Anderson pleaded. “There are no penalties if you declare at one of the locations. You can declare on the forms or verbally.”
If a traveler does declare something, an agricultural specialist will inspect the item to limit the risk of pest or livestock diseases being introduced. If the specialist does seize the item, they will ensure the items are properly destroyed. Throwing away the item is not an option.
According to Anderson, “Frodo, her canine partner for seven years, is a fine-life-saver. Since being on the job, Frodo’s finds total almost $100,000 in penalties."