Beware of what you bring to US
NEW YORK _ Bad news was waiting for Park Hwa-young at the end of her 14-hour flight to New York last week. She had to pay $300 in fines at the airport for carrying prohibited food into the U.S.
No, it wasn’t a bag of pungent kimchi or a jar of homemade “doenjang” (fermented soybean paste) planted deep inside her luggage. To her surprise, packets of ramen and instant curry were the items that got her in trouble.
“I had no idea these weren’t allowed. I was feeling a little nervous about my kimchi and doenjang because they smell, but not the instant packages,” said Park, 33, a first-time offender who had all 20 packs of ramen and curry confiscated.
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), only “noodles and ramen that do not have meat or eggs in the spice packets” are admissible.
The ramen and instant curry in Park’s luggage all included meat pieces.
Like these, another food item that often throws people off is “jangjorim,” a popular side dish of beef braised in soy sauce.
Travelers carry the dish on board to eat with rice during their flight, but the problem is when they try to bring leftovers through customs.
“It’s a common mistake that sadly ends up with a pretty big fine,” says an official at the Los Angeles International Airport, who didn’t want to be named.
She said older Korean travelers often run into trouble for attempting to bring in large amounts of fruit.
“They want to give Korean fruit to their friends and relatives as gifts, but that’s a big no-no,” said the official, who stressed that meat and fruit are some of the most problematic items customs authorities look for.
According to the CBP, fruit and vegetables can potentially pose a huge risk if not properly inspected.
“One good example of problems imported fruits and vegetables can cause is the Mediterranean fruit fly outbreak during the 1980s,” it said. “The outbreak cost the state of California and the federal government approximately $100 million to get rid of this pest. The cause of the outbreak was one traveler who brought home one contaminated piece of fruit.”
To avoid trouble, officials say the general rule of thumb is to stay away from meat. Other Korean side dishes, such as various pickled vegetables, are admissible.
“You have someone who travels once with food and gets caught, and then you have someone else who traveled 10 times with all kinds of food and never gets caught. It’s a hit-and-miss situation,” said the LAX official.