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Airport officials warn against bringing home prohibited souvenirs from overseas

MSP's chief agricultural specialist says regulations about traveling with food or other prohibited items are necessary to protect people and the ecosystem.

MINNEAPOLIS — The number of people flying again is really taking off — and so are the number of travelers being caught with prohibited items trying to enter the United States.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport's Chief Agricultural Specialist Lauren Lewis says things like raw meat, fruits and plants from international travel could lead to a disease outbreak back home.

"It's not the passenger's job to know what they can bring — that's our job," Lewis said. "It's the passenger's job just to tell us they brought something."

If you're returning from overseas, you have to pass through U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Lewis says it's required to declare any goods you bring back, and if you don't, her team will likely still find it.

From X-ray machines to detection dogs, the inspection process is thorough. Lewis says most people aren't trying to sneak something into the country intentionally, but nevertheless, the penalty can still be steep. She says travelers could be liable to pay hundreds of dollars in fines on the spot.

From personal use to a container-sized commercial enterprise recently uncovered in Chicago, Lewis says some of the items can be considered culturally significant.

"We're not the morality police," she said. "Our job is just to regulate what they bring in."

Any illegal seizures are destroyed.

"We'll basically turn everything to mush," Lewis said.

Whether food, plants or souvenirs, Lewis says the government restrictions and regulations are necessary to protect the ecosystem and prevent people from getting sick. 

The airport says it  has seized hundreds of pounds of bushmeat in the past few months, calling it a "trend." They say bushmeat is an example of something that has a cultural significance, but it can also carry diseases, and has to be destroyed.

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