Taking Food into the U.S.? Declare It

With summer vacations looming, you need to make sure your checklist of dos and don’ts for cross-border travel is up to date. This include passports (for each and every traveller), parental documentation if you’re travelling with kids who are not yours (we’ll cover that in another post), travel insurance for your whole family, and, of course, your food checklist.


Food checklist

Food checklist? Yup. Especially if you’re packing food to keep your kids from starving until they get to the first U.S. rest stop or you’re carrying a full pantry of comestibles to your condo in South Carolina.

Every year we hear complaints from Canadian vacationers nonplussed because a U.S. border agent not only forbade them from bringing in a cooler chest full of sandwiches, oranges, pineapples, and apples, but also chastised them for not declaring what they were transporting.

Luckily, they were only browbeaten. They could have been fined—big time. Like up to $10,000.

Taking everyday food products into the U.S. is easy to take for granted, but you need to be careful. Likewise, American travellers need to be aware of the limitations on bringing food into Canada.

Both countries have highly sophisticated systems for tracking disease outbreaks, pest control updates, and agricultural restrictions (some of them economic and competitive in nature) that change from day to day. What was embargoed last month may be on the permitted list now.

Some of these restrictions are quite obscure, so you must declare any and all food you are carrying to the border agent. All of it. And don’t argue if the agent tells you the ketchup is okay, but the meat sandwich for which it is intended is not. That’s not a joke—it’s possible.

Understanding what is or is not acceptable can get tricky.


Fruits and vegetables

Generally, fruits and vegetables grown in Canada are admissible, but they must have labels identifying them as products of Canada. There are many fruit and veggies you can buy in Canadian supermarkets grown abroad. And as for citrus, pineapples, and mangos—forget it. Even the balmy Okanagan valley can’t manage these.

Also, potatoes from western regions of Canada are embargoed because of a disease outbreak. So unless you can identify your potatoes, leave them at home.



As for the baloney, ham, or pepperoni in the kids’ sandwiches, don’t risk it. Unless you can prove where you bought the meat or where it was processed. And if you’re carrying packages of lunch meats for later consumption, all packages must be sealed with ingredients listed in English. Canned and vacuum-packed meats are also permitted, if labelled.



Cheese is mostly okay if it’s the hard or semi-soft variety and does not contain meat products. So are Camembert and other soft cheeses, or those in brine or fluid (like cottage cheese or feta), so long as they are labelled and are not from countries affected by foot and mouth disease.



And, in general, bread, cookies, crackers, cakes, granola bars, cereal, and other baked and processed snacks are also admissible.


Do not take border-crossing food inspections or queries lightly. You must declare all food items you have on your person or in your vehicle to the border agent, no exceptions. Whether you are on your way to the U.S. or on you way back to Canada, don’t forget. One errant undeclared apple can cause considerable grief, as it did for friends of mine who drove to Florida and forgot they had an apple bouncing around in their trunk. They spent 45 minutes in Lewiston being thoroughly frisked.

And stay up to date on changes to the acceptable and/or prohibited lists just in case. Check it out here.


View the rest of the articles on Ingle International for more travel guides and tips.

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