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Not About Food

Don't lose it at Customs ... keeping the cheese


Not About Food 12

Don't lose it at Customs ... keeping the cheese

rworange | Jul 6, 2006 04:23 PM

There is an excellent article in the SF Chronicle this week about which foods from which countries are allowed through U.S. Customs.

This link is to the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) rules ... "Know Before You Go" brochure (see "Customs contact" Page F4)

Chowhounds are always asking "What should we buy for our vacation in xxx". At the end of the article is a great country, by country check list. It also has some savy, chowy hints for where to shop and how to shop abroad.

As the journalist writes:

"... knowing the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection rules before I go ... I won't be that clueless tourist standing in the market in Florence wondering if it's OK to bring back a salami. (It's not.)"

Check the Customs site before you go, rules change.

But it is a, uh, moderated Customs, and they reserve the right to take anything at any time without notice or explanation. It is up to the discrection of the customs agent and they would rather be safe than sorry.

There are steps to take if you feel you've been wronged.
- ask to see a supervisor
- ask to see the manual that says the item is not allowed
- don't sign ANY documents. If you don't sign away the item, you might get it back if you dispute the decision outside of the airport.

The above exchange should be done calmly and not with the heat of emotion. Don't be demanding and argumentative.

And don't ... DON'T ... not ever, SMUGGLE anything.

Even if the article is allowed and you don't declare it you can be charged with smuggling. Someone smuggling legal items annoys customs even more. I will tell you from personal experience NEVER annoy customs.

Declare it and be prepared to lose any item. Hide it and you could be fined up to $50,000. Personally I'd rather lose a $50 cheese than pay the fine.

Go in mentally prepared and it should not be as traumatic. Expect to lose, and if not, whoo-hoo.

BTW, food is destroyed and NEVER eaten by Customs agents. It's not like there are Chowhound custom agents selecting the best for lunch every day.


Forget about it if living in California. For other states check.


A 'reasonable amount'... about 60 liters (approx 80 bottles). This is for California. Other states have different rules.


Mustard, honey, vinegar, olive oil and things like that are ok.


Depends on the country and the grain. Check the Customs site.


Fresh, cured, processed, boullon cubes, meat soup mixes, tinned foie gras, canned meat

No, no, no, no, no, probably not, maybe (SOME canned meat,perhaps)


The soft cheeses, nope. Hard cheeses, even those that use raw milk ... as long as it is for personal consumption ... USUALLY yes.

So 99.9% of the time that hard cheese will go through. However, be prepared for the exception and factor that in the decision about whether to buy or not. Don't get too attached to your cheese.

So there is no need to pull a Lucy and disguise the cheese as a baby. There is a similar situation in the article where it turned out the 'pregnant' woman was smuggling a watermelon.

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