10 Foods You Can (And Can't) Bring Into the U.S.
Review this guide before your next trip abroad to avoid making common food mistakes.
Even experienced globetrotters are sometimes stumped as to whether or not they can bring home olives from Greece or chutney from India, so how is the average traveler supposed to know? Therefore, consider this guide a handy resource for your travels abroad. As a general rule of thumb, foodstuffs sold at airports and stores catering to tourists are more likely to get through Customs than that star fruit you bought at a street market in Thailand.
This information is current as of July 2016. However, since guidelines are always changing based on the shifting nature of food-related diseases and pests, always check U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Don’t Pack a Pest before a trip. Also bear in mind that despite general guidelines, there are a multitude of exceptions, so Customs’ agents ultimately have the final say. Just remember, while Customs doesn’t always check your loot, if they catch you with undeclared food you could be slapped with a (maximum) $10,000 fine. 960 1280
Canned and Packaged GoodsMany items in this category are on the approved list, including honey and olive and vegetable oils, as long as they’re in vacuum-packed jars. If you’re flying, jarred liquids or soft textures, including peanut butter, must meet the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rule of 3.4 ounces (100 ml) or less, otherwise you’ll have to check your bag or part with your souvenir. 960 1280
DairyThis category is tricky. Milk is generally a no-no, unless it’s for infants. Solid cheese is fine as long as it doesn’t contain meat (such as bacon cheddar cheese). Soft cheeses such as Brie and mozzarella are allowed, but liquid cheeses, including cottage and ricotta, aren’t allowed if they came from countries with foot-and-mouth disease. This currently includes parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Add eggs, and products made from raw eggs, to the list of food that’s not permitted, although travelers can bring cooked eggs from Mexico. Yogurt, butter and sour cream are allowed (and hopefully don’t spoil along the way). 960 1280
Chocolate, Candy and Baked GoodsLuckily, chocolate (including liquid-filled), candy and baked goods are generally allowed. Exceptions include Kinder Surprise Eggs, since the toy inside doesn’t pass FDA safety regulations for children’s toys. Mooncakes (a popular baked good in China) aren’t allowed if they’re stuffed with eggs or meat. However, Mooncakes made in Canada are allowed. 960 1280
Fruits and VegetablesThis category depends on what it is and where it’s from. However, since it’s a long list of what’s not allowed, it’s best to err on the side of caution and leave those lingonberries behind in Sweden. If you have your heart set on a particular item, you can also check the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) database, which lets you search by country or item to find what is and isn’t allowed.
Otherwise, the approved items on the short list include coconuts (as long as the husk is removed), peeled garlic cloves and ginger with clean roots. Dried fruit is also on the short list, from apricots and figs to gooseberries and tomatillos. 960 1280
BeveragesSince there’s a wealth of information on alcohol alone, view 10 Tips for Bringing Alcohol into the U.S. Non-alcoholic beverages have to meet TSA guidelines if you’re flying. Powdered drinks would be the exception, but they would have to be in the original, sealed container that lists ingredients in English—and even then it’s up to the Customs’ agent. Commercially canned juices should pass inspection. Packaged teas are a common souvenir, but forget about bringing home any with coca, barberry or loose citrus leaves. Roasted and unroasted coffees are okay, but not if they contain pulp. 960 1280
Grains, Pasta and BreadAll varieties of rice are allowed as long as the hull is removed. The exception is rice from countries that contain the Khapra beetle (including India, Turkey, Israel and a host of others). Flour and products made from it, from wheat to cornmeal, are allowed, as are noodles and ramen. But bid adieu to those accompanying spice packets containing egg or meat. 960 1280
Meat and PoultryThis category generally isn’t allowed, whether it’s cooked, dried, cured, frozen or a meat-based dried soup mix. Canned meat is the one exception that is sometimes permitted, but with additional exceptions: it can’t be lamb or goat, or come from countries with Mad Cow Disease—including Canada. Pork has further restrictions if it’s from Mexico; you can bring a small amount as part of a meal, but any other kind, including canned, will get tossed. 960 1280
Horseback Riding at Shenandoah National ParkMiles of wooded hills characterize Virginia's largest national park, and there essentially are two ways to explore them: on foot or by horse. For families who prefer the latter choice, saddle up and follow rangers on 2.5-hour guided horseback tours from Skyland Stables in the center of the park. The rides wind through a small portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains, passing beneath oak, hickory and hemlock trees draped with moss. If you're lucky, you might even see a peregrine falcon--after disappearing from the region all together, the birds were reintroduced to the park in the 1990s and have flourished ever since. Skyland Stables offers 1-hour tours as well.
Stargazing Inside Denali National ParkEver wondered what makes the Northern Lights so colorful and spectacular? Get a crash-course in astrophysics this summer during the Special Emphasis Series at Alaska's Camp Denali, a 17-cabin retreat inside Alaska's Denali National Park, which sits 11 miles north of Healy in central Alaska. During 2- and 3-night programs titled "Curtains of Light," Neal Brown, space expert and acting director of the Alaska Space Grant Program, will explain the magnetic forces that create the Aurora Borealis and other atmospheric phenomena. By day, you'll be able to grill Brown with any questions you might have about celestial wonders; at night, join him on hikes through the tundra in the hopes of spotting the lights above.
"Beetlemania" Lectures at Rocky Mountain National ParkMedia outlets from all over the world have documented the alarming rate at which the mountain pine beetle has ravaged a majority of Colorado's pine forests, but as part of this free family-friendly lecture series, rangers explain the situation in a way kids can understand. At least one interpreter dresses up in a full-body beetle costume; others lead the crowd in a sing-along to tunes from the Beatles (of course). The hands-on portion of the lecture lets kids touch beetle carcasses. Children also get to see before-and-after images of forest after a beetle infestation--stark reminders of exactly how much damage to an ecosystem these little insects can cause.
Cruise the Shoreline of Acadia National ParkWith more shoreline than any other national park, Acadia is a perfect place to explore by boat. Park rangers offer a number of different boat cruises inside the park, but the most popular is the 3-hour "Dive-In Theater." On this tour of Frenchman Bay, families can look out for seals and porpoises, and watch in real-time (on video monitors) as a diver scours the ocean floor for marine life to bring back aboard the boat for further hands-on exploration. The cruise also includes an, um, boatload of information about coastal and pelagic birds commonly seen in the area. Tours leave from the dock at the College of the Atlantic, just outside the main gates of the park.
Sing About Animals at Yosemite National Park
Parents of young children (6 and under) often complain that family programs are too sophisticated for their tots. At Yosemite, however, the "Wee Wild Ones" was designed with these toddlers in mind. In spring, the free, 45-minute program is held during the day in front of the great fireplace at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel. In summer, the program precedes evening events at Yosemite Lodge, the Falls Amphitheater and the Curry Village Amphitheater. Classes themselves include a lot of singing. Also on the agenda: reading books, playing games and making crafts--all of which pertains to animals native to the park (such as hawks, bears and big horn sheep). All participating children must be accompanied by an adult; no pre-registration is required.