Hide the Salami

Bringing local specialties home with you can be tricky, thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's often impenetrable, occasionally draconian rules. Here's how to get the good stuff back safely.

smuggling us customs food travel

    Photo: Inga Hendrickson

Seafood: Most seafood is allowed, but the TSA will seize the ice keeping it chilled; that’s still considered a liquid. If you’re fishing, have the outfitter ship your catch. Or, says David Lebovitz, former pastry chef at Chez Panisse and author of The Sweet Life in Paris, “Try canned seafood.”

Meat: The threat of disease makes meat too risky to let into the country. A rare exception: canned, precooked foie gras.

Cheese: Most cheese is fine, unless it’s raw milk, aqueous (think cottage cheese), or comes from a country where foot-and-mouth disease is present. Hard cheeses like Parmesan travel well and won’t spoil.

Spices: The majority, including cinnamon, saffron, and curry powders, are no problem. Just be sure they’re dried, clearly labeled, and accompanied by a receipt.

Produce: “There isn’t much you can’t already get here,” says Lebovitz. “There’s no reason to bring in French Swiss chard.” But some things are worth getting fresh and are always allowed in—like white truffles from northern Italy and maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms from Japan.

Beverages: You can check one liter duty-free. Anything more than that and you’ll be charged a couple dollars tax. Insider tip: the absinthe ban was lifted in 2007—as long as it doesn’t contain thujone, a psychoactive compound.

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