Here’s What Happens To All The Food That Gets Confiscated At The Airport

My first brush with customs was surprisingly at an airport down south. I was a little girl accompanying my mother back home to Mumbai and we were stopped by the airport authorities who refused to let us through. The reason?
The fresh spice mixes we’d picked from the lovely gardens we visited in Munnar. Despite my mother’s desperate pleas and apparent unwillingness to part from her treasure, they were ruthlessly seized and we were sent along on our way.

I remember thinking even then, what were they going to do with it? Surely it wouldn’t hurt to let us keep them?
Years later, I now have my answer. A note of warning though. If you’re someone utterly horrified by the excessive waste of food, I suggest you read no further.

Because after your precious foreign delicacies or dabbas from home are taken away from your suitcase, this is how they meet their end.

Most travellers believe (more like hope) that their food souvenirs are donated to charity because you know, there are hungry children out there.
Most travellers (a greater number) are convinced that customs agents divide the spoils after each day’s shift.
But most of the time, neither of these things happen.

First, let’s understand why these items are confiscated. Goods are seized by Indian customs in the following cases:

1. If the import/export of the said goods are prohibited.

2. If the import/export of the said goods are subjected to conditions which are not fulfilled (it includes the goods which are imported in excess of allowed quantity, misdeclaration, concealment, etc).

Foods are prohibited if they are deemed hazardous, are counterfeit, could possibly carry infections or viruses, or could potentially harm the country’s agriculture in any way.

In countries like the USA,  foods that don’t make the cut get dumped into a contraband bin and destroyed in a supersized grinder. If it’s something very fibrous that can’t be ground, it ends up in the incinerator, never to be seen again. On a daily basis, international airports like JFK have to dispose between 400 and 600 pounds of foreign products. That’s A LOT of food down the drain.

The practice is pretty much the same across most European airports, where food and beverage containers are first sorted and disposed of. At smaller domestic airports, they’re just tossed into the trash.

(In case you’re wondering about non-edible items like shampoo bottles, are collected by and sent to recycling centres. If unopened, they’re donated to non-profit organisations.)

In India, the seized foods are mostly disposed of immediately in any way the Custodian sees fit after notifying the owners and obtaining customs orders.

Understandably, officials get a lot of grief from travellers when their food is taken away. In worse case scenarios, they get death threats and curses; people do have an emotional attachment to food, after all, especially if it’s maa ke haath ka khaana.
So, what’s to stop them from pocketing the stuff that was once yours, then?
The law, of course.

If someone is caught taking something that doesn’t belong to them, they’d be fired. Now that’s a price too high to pay in exchange for a bottle of pickle, don’t you think?

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Amanda Francesca Mendonça

After spending pretty much all of my teen years waiting for a Hogwarts letter that never came, I gave up and settled for being a wizard with words instead. A hopeless romantic, when I’m not penning down short stories, I’m busy imagining my own happily ever after.

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