Clearing Customs: Do your Pre-packaged Gluten-Free Plane Snacks Count as “Food”?

If you love to (or have to) travel, chances are good that you either have some sort of fast customs card like a NEXUS card or are thinking of applying for one (link for Canadians).  There are many advantages to a NEXUS card, the most obvious being the ability to skip the customs line-up and self-serve on the Global Entry and NEXUS machines. (Your NEXUS card also allows TSA Pre-Check, but it’s not Sentri). You look into the camera, get a retinal scan or snapshot, answer the usual customer declaration questions and off you go. You many randomly get selected for a luggage inspection, but the overall assumption is that you are a Trusted Traveler and therefore are being honest. If you lie on your declaration, your NEXUS card gets revoked. My NEXUS card is one of my most valued possessions.

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As Celiacs, we are well aware that there is probably nothing that we can eat on the plane, save for an overpriced granola bar. And since we are all fairly used to being in situations where there’s no food that we can eat, we all tend to carry a li’l somethin’-somethin’ to ensure that we don’t, well, starve to death or risk glutening ourselves during the trip. We all know that hungry Celiacs can make very bad decisions.

The US (and many other countries’) customs declaration forms ask if you are bringing in “fruit, nuts, seeds, food….”  I have in the past declared yes, but have been told by many well-meaning people that I am unnecessarily slowing myself down, and that when they’re asking this stuff that what they really wants know is if you’re bringing live items that could possibly get planted and threaten agricultural crops. This logic would make sense, considering that the form also asks if you will be visiting a farm.

Thank goodness for my natural “eldest child follows the rules” tendency.

On my most recent trip, I took a moment and asked the US Customs Agent  if I’m being overly diligent by answering “yes” to the food question.  After all, my Black Diamond Hickory Smoked almond packs and Clif Organics bars aren’t going to be sprouting crops at any point.  He looked me straight in the eyes, and told me that if I’d answered “no” and they searched my bags,  I could have had my NEXUS card immediately revoked and a $500 fine for lying on my declaration.  Yikes!  Can you imagine how much MORE slowed down you’d be without your NEXUS card????

 So the moral of this story is that anything that you can consume as sustinence is “food” in the eyes of Customs Agents. Whether it’s dead or alive. Or made in a junk food lab. So while we are (yet again) having to accommodate an inconvenience to our lives, it pales in comparison to the convenience of keeping  your NEXUS card!

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