What's with people traveling with food?

I’ve been binge-watching shows like Nothing to Declare and Border Patrol and one of the main things on the show is people traveling with prohibited food. I’ve traveled, gone on vacation, flown internationally a few times and I’ve never felt like I needed to take meat, fruit, plants and spices on my vacation.

I guess I can understand someone visiting a relative and bringing something like spices that aren’t available where they are but why on earth would someone try to sneak kiwis into New Zealand??

Tour groups where almost every member has ham, fish, bags of apples, lettuce, you name it. Their suitcases are just jammed full of food. I can see bringing a bag of peanuts or a granola bar for a snack but why are they traveling with so much food?

If I were to travel by car I’d be tempted to take food internationally, after all, taking as much food as you will not get sick of and will stay fresh and you have room for on a intra-national road trip can save you money and is convenient when you’re not next to other sources of food.

On flights? No way.

It’s hard to manage groceries to use everything up. If we’re traveling long enough that stuff is going to go bad, and we have room to haul it, and it won’t go bad in transit, we’ll bring random food with us, either planning to eat it en route (airport food is expensive), or after we arrive.

I don’t always know the rules in advance, but if I have to throw it out at the port of entry, it was just going to mold away in my fridge anyway.

Not lately, but I remember on a Turkish Airlines flight back in the 90’s, flying within Europe, and one of the passengers opened the overhead bin to get food out for her family’s lunch and there was a live chicken in a homemade wooden crate! Between that and all the smoking occurring on that flight, I decided to never fly Turkish Air ever again.

Costa Rica. Doing the 89-days in country, 31 off. Second tour, right after Christmas. Customs Officers open our bags and find weather-appropriate clothing, a bunch of electronics and for each of us multiple pieces of vacuum-packed high-quality dried pork (serrano, lomo embuchado, salchichón artesano…). You have any idea how much buying those in Costa Rica would have cost? And they were from our Christmas corporate basket! We’d made sure it was legal to import them, though.

Leaving the US in 2003 I told my coworker “big sigh I’ve got a problem. I am hoping your husband can lend me a hand with it.” “Oh?” “I’ve got an opened one-liter bottle of olive oil in need of a good home. Do you think he’d be willing to take care of it?” “Oh, I’m sure he will be delighted to!.. A one-liter bottle?” “Well, it’s only about 3/4 left, but you really didn’t think I’d be paying what they charge here for a dwarfish can, did you?” For the price of one of those cans I could buy several bottles back home. And again, it was legal.

And of course now that I’m traveling from Lyon to Barcelona and back every couple of weekends by car, and staying in places with kitchens, I don’t get rid of whatever half-used packages of noddles or small cans of whatever I’ve got from the last grocery trip. Again, it’s legal.

mccready. Best friend on the planet has relatives in el Salvador who always bring tons of yummy cheese and tamales with the intent to sell here in the states to offset travel costs. And I buy plenty of it. It is better and cheaper than i usually can find normally.

Pittsburgh is famous for Isaly’s chipped-chopped ham. Visiting relatives anywhere in the world requires taking at least 5 pounds for ex-pats. Often I cheat and just drop-ship it in some dry ice to myself rather than pack it along but among the people I talk to here (and there aren’t that many) I seem to be very much the exception.

That was weird. “Mcready” was the last word I typed into a reply in a different thread. Autocorrect assumed I meant that when I said “My”.

I’ve watched those shows also, and it seems that the reasons the travellers have for bringing food boils down to one of three things:

– I can’t get this here in [Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand].
– “It’s cheaper if I buy it back in _____.”
– “What I can get here just isn’t the same as back in _____.”

None of which are suitable excuses for not declaring food. A long-ago girlfriend was notorious for doing that–she was Spanish, and on her return from Spain (which she went to maybe once a year), you knew she’d bring back a few pounds of chorizo. “Spanish chorizo is much better than anything available in Canada.” She got pulled into secondary a few times, where her undeclared chorizo was found, and confiscated, and she was fined. But she wouldn’t stop doing it. “Sometimes, I get through.”

That’s stupid on two counts:

  1. there are amounts of chorizo you can bring legally. Just stay under the limit and declare it.
  2. actually, it is possible to buy Spanish chorizo in Canada. My brother got a huge kick of seeing chorizo made by the family of one of his classmates in the US; I’ve seen the same brand in Mexico, Costa Rica and Brazil; they export to Canada as well.

In St Martin I watched as my gf talked with a suspicious looking Rastafarian dude who was showing her something in his knapsack. I assumed she was buying me some weed and thought how thoughtful she was.

I later learned she was buying vanilla beans. I didn’t think she could legally bring to back to the US, but I totally forgot about them until we were home, unpacking, and I found them in my suitcase. Yes, I was her vanilla mule.

Wife and I travel from US to Japan regularly. There are stores in the US that sell Japanese foods, but selection is limited. So when we go to Japan, she buys a ton of stuff, brands and kinds of food we can’t get at home; we ship back boxes of it, and we also stuff our suitcases. Haven’t had any problems. AIUI, if you declare what you’re carrying, and something happens to be prohibited, it’ll just get confiscated*. OTOH, if you DON’T declare something, and it happens to be prohibited, and they find it during a search, they’ll nail you to the wall.

A couple of years go I boarded a flight from Japan to the US with a few small oranges in my backpack for healthy in-flight snacking. I still had one when I landed, so I declared it, and customs people confiscated it without incident.

*I imagine this forgiveness only applies to prohibited food items that a traveler declares. I would not expect such forgiveness for a traveler who declares that they are carrying illegal narcotics.

I used to live in Hawaii, and always got a kick out of seeing vacationers toting entire crates of pineapples back with them.

The exact same crates of pineapples that Dole is perfectly happy to ship all the way to every single grocery store in the continental US.

My parents went to Hawaii a couple of decades ago, and some of the bananas available there are different than the ones normally sold in the mainland US. So they tried to bring some back. When they were told no, my father sat down and ate four or six of them at once, rather than throw them out.

I got a scolding when I was a college student (age 20) and brought home from Germany a bottle of my grandfather’s home-made wine, in a plain brown bottle. The customs agent thought he was being pranked. Alcohol in an unlabeled bottle is a non-no, who knew. I got away with a $10 fee/fine and I was able to keep the bottle. I bet nowadays they’d impound it.

This typically happens when you try to bring tropical fruit into Hawaii.

What’s supposed to happen if you take Hawaiian bananas to a cold-climate state? Will a hitchhiking pest decimate the Ohio banana crop?

I’ve transported small numbers of house plants between states by air and never had them threatened with confiscation. Well, there was one time an airline employee hassled me out of her fear that soil would “fly out of the pots” and get the plane messy. :dubious: Ma’am, if the turbulence gets that bad, you’ll have a lot more to worry about than a little loose soil.

My first trip to Germany, I brought home some preserved German sausages. I didn’t realize they were contraband and made the mistake of declaring them at customs, so they confiscated the lot. Seemed a bit foolish to me, they were only a few so its clear that I wasn’t going to sell them, and its not like Germany’s health codes were vastly inferior to those in the US, but laws are laws.

In case you’re wondering, this is nothing new. In one episode of I Love Lucy, Lucy Ricardo attempted to smuggle a large block of cheese as a baby on a flight back to the US. (This was after a series of episodes of Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel traveling through Europe.)

I wouldn’t call that a mistake. If you hadn’t declared it, and they had then discovered it during a search of your luggage, you could have been hit with a substantial fine.

Under certain circumstances, yes. From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, on what a traveller is permitted to bring into Canada (near the bottom of the page, under “Meat”):

I think it was all those conditions, especially the prohibition on “fresh, dried, and cured” that tripped her up–she would go to a deli or a butcher shop in Spain, make her purchase, and it would simply be wrapped in brown paper. No sealed packaging, labels, etc. And she never declared it.

I’m sure it is available now, but I’m unsure how widely available it was then (this would have been about thirty years ago). And when she did get some locally from a supermarket or deli, she said that it was simply “okay,” and preferred what she could get from a butcher or deli in Spain. There were some things I just didn’t understand about that girl; this was one of them.