Bringing food to the USA

Are you planning a trip to the USA and want to take food or drinks with you? Let us explain which foods you can bring into the States, how to carry them, and what to watch out for to avoid any trouble at the border.

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Bringing food into the USA: heavy fines

If you have food in your luggage when entering the USA, you must deal with the rules of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before you cross the border. This is because violations of US import regulations can get expensive.

CBP is in charge of enforcing hundreds of laws for more than 40 government agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Constantly present at the United States ports of entry, CBP officers, along with their sniffer dogs, take on the responsibility of protecting America from all threats. According to statistics released by CBP, there were 630,150 positive passenger inspections in the fiscal year 2021 alone.

Not declaring food when entering the United States by air, sea, and land can result in fines and penalties of up to $ 10,000, according to CBP.

Why are some foods banned in the USA?

When you travel to the United States with food, you can inadvertently bring foreign pests and diseases into the country, which can devastate agriculture and the environment.

In 2021 alone, border officials detected more than 260 pests in the luggage of US travelers. CBP works closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Health Inspection Services to identify and assess the threats posed by larvae, caterpillars, and animal diseases, for example.

What foods are prohibited to bring into the USA?

Based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's hazard assessment, bringing most meat, poultry, dairy, and egg products into the USA is prohibited or subject to strict restrictions based on the country of origin.

As a general rule, animal products are prohibited from countries where animal diseases such as mad cow disease, foot-and-mouth disease, avian flu, and swine fever have been reported. Also, fruits, vegetables, and plants are subject to extremely strict regulations regardless of epidemics.

Prohibited foods entering the US are:

  • meat, fish, poultry
  • fresh dairy products
  • fresh eggs
  • fresh fruits and vegetables (with exceptions)
  • plants
  • seeds and tubers
  • meat products such as broth and soup mix

Sometimes, however, there are gray areas. Pork products from Mexico, for example, are prohibited, while a small amount for personal use (e.g., well-cooked on a sandwich) may be allowed.

Attention

Decisions about bringing food into the United States, such as snacks in carry-on baggage for personal use, may vary depending on the day, the security situation, and the Border Patrol agent in charge at the time. For daily updated information on the numerous gradations and exceptions, you may refer to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry's Don't Pack a Pest website.

What foods am I allowed to bring into the USA?

There is a long list of foods that may be imported into the US as long as they are packaged in a commercially acceptable manner. These include, for example:

  • spices (except citrus leaves and seeds or lemongrass)
  • ketchup (catsup), mustard, and mayonnaise
  • the spreads of Marmite and Vegemite
  • ready-made sauces that do not contain meat products
  • vegetable oils
  • bread, cookies, crackers, cakes, granola bars, cereals, and other baked goods and processed products
  • candy and chocolate
  • solid cheeses that do not contain meat
  • infant milk in an appropriate amount
  • juices
  • tea (except coca, barberry, and loose citrus leaves)
  • pasta without animal products
  • flour
  • mushrooms (clean and free of soil)
  • nuts (roasted)
  • coconuts without shells
  • garlic, peeled cloves, and ginger (clean and free of soil)

You must declare all foodstuffs in your customs declaration that you are transporting in checked baggage, carry-on baggage, or in a vehicle, without exception.

Import into the USA: maximum amounts

The import regulations for foodstuffs into the USA for travelers refer to things you are transporting for personal use or as a private gift. Should you wish to bring larger quantities across the US border for resale, then additional requirements apply to you.

All information for the commercial importation of food into the USA can be found on the FDA (U.S. Food And Drug Administration) website.

Consequences of not complying with US import regulations

If you accidentally failed to declare an apple or a small snack in your carry-on luggage, it doesn't always have to be a significant incident that results in a fine.

Nevertheless, you should be aware that - depending on the day, the security situation, and the personal assessment of individual border officials - there may very well be trouble and civil penalties. You may face particularly severe consequences if you intentionally attempt to import prohibited foods into the United States.

Not declaring food can result in fines of up to $ 10,000. On the other hand, if you declare a food product prohibited from being imported into the US, you will not face any consequences. The food product will simply be retained and destroyed.

Exemptions for Canadian products in the USA

There are exceptions for fruits, vegetables, and meat products from Canada (except sheep, lamb, or goat meat) when entering the USA. They are generally allowed if they have a label identifying them as Canadian products. However, in the event of disease outbreaks in certain regions, restrictions may apply.

All food must be commercially packaged and sealed and contain an ingredient list in English. Also, proof of origin, such as receipts and labels, must be provided for all fruits, vegetables, and meat products brought from Canada.

Taking alcoholic beverages into the USA

Generally, you may take up to 5 liters of spirits with an alcohol content between 24 % and 70 % in unopened retail packaging to the US. No quantity restrictions apply to beverages with an alcohol content of 24 % or less.

Attention

Alcohol import limits vary in some states. Before traveling to the USA, check with the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) for the laws in your destination state.

How to transport food to the USA?

There are strict rules for liquids in carry-on luggage when traveling by air. As a rule, you must transport beverages with more than 100 ml in your checked baggage. Exceptions apply only to baby milk.

Solid foods such as bread, sweets, and pastries may be transported in both hand luggage and checked luggage. For foods such as jam or spread, stick to the same rules as for liquids.

For canned or powdered foods, expect to spend additional time at security checkpoints and customs if you transport them in carry-on baggage.

Importing food into the USA: databases and information

For more details on current restrictions and classifications for bringing food into the United States, please refer to the United States Department of Agriculture's FAVIR database.

For individual information on importing products into the USA, you can contact the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at AskNCIE.Products@aphis.usda.gov.

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