'Illegal Tamales' Confiscated At LAX, Passenger Fined $1,000

Several hundred "illegal tamales" from Mexico were seized by customs officials at Los Angeles International Airport. A person traveling from Mexico tried to conceal the improperly declared meat-filled products inside a luggage.

According to a USA Today report, a customs form completed by the traveler did declare food was being brought into the U.S. However, when a customs agent verbally asked if it contained pork, the traveler answered that it did not.

Suspicious, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials decided to check for themselves. When the passenger's luggage was inspected, agents uncovered 450 pork-filled tamales which they deemed illegal.

Why Would Tamales Be Illegal?

Food products from foreign countries that do not contain meat can be brought into the United States, although they must be properly declared with the CBP. Food containing meat, or more specifically pork, is generally not allowed unless it is unopened and commercially labeled from the country of origin.

Yet, even the CBP admits there is no concrete answer as to what is admissible and what is not. To complicate matters, the restrictions often change depending on disease conditions in the country of origin.

The agency's website provides some clarification and explains why the tamales were considered illegal.

"As a general rule - if goods are cooked and in shelf-stable (does not require refrigeration) packaging such as cans or other hermetically sealed containers AND they are not from a country affected with various diseases such as Avian influenza, Mad Cow disease, Swine Fever, Exotic Newcastle Disease, etc., they may be admissible."
Anne Maricich, CBP acting director of field operations in Los Angeles, believes the seizure of the tamales was the appropriate action in this case.

"Although tamales are a popular holiday tradition, foreign meat products can carry serious animal diseases from countries affected by outbreaks of Avian Influenza, Mad Cow and Swine Fever," she said in a press release.

U.S. Customs finds illegal tamales,
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

Another Reason To Watch For Illegal Tamales

Last year in Houston, border officers intercepted seven ounces of cocaine stuffed in several tamales while screening a traveler at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Before the passenger could board a plane bound for New York, officials discovered 200 tamales inside his luggage as well as nine bags of cocaine contained within the tamales.

Customs probably made the right decision to confiscate the illegal tamales, but did they go too far when they seized $41,000 from an elderly woman?

In a previous Inquisitr report, Victoria Faren, a 78-year-old woman, was flying with her daughter to the Philippines in April 2014. Ms. Faren was carrying about a combined $41,000 cash in her bra, girdle, and luggage. Although she initially acknowledged the money, customs officials took it anyway due to a discrepancy in the amount declared.

U.S. travel regulations say that any traveler carrying more than $10,000 must declare the amount to customs before leaving the country. In this case, officials believed Faren was trying to hide how much money she actually had. According to authorities, this gave them the right to hold the money until an investigation could be completed.

Even though money or drug confiscations usually get the most attention, customs handles a substantial amount of food-related quarantines everyday. Last year alone, the CBP impounded more than 1.6 million animal by-product, meat and plant/soil quarantine products and handed out just over 75,000 civil violations.

The tamales confiscated at LAX may not have been hot, as in stolen, but were considered illegal nonetheless. Federal guidelines require proper declaration of any food products containing meat, and these tamales got a bad "wrap" for not being wholly disclosed.

The passenger carrying the contraband received a $1,000 penalty for commercial activity with intent to distribute. The LA Times reports the 450 illegal tamales have since been destroyed by customs representatives.

[Image via Shutterstock]