Biosecurity food rules: What travellers can bring into New Zealand

It’s worth checking what food products you can bring into New Zealand. Photo / File

Anyone who has walked from a terminal gate to the baggage carousels at Auckland International Airport will be familiar with the ‘Declare or Dispose’ bins.

Dotted every hundred metres or so, they are the giant silver cylinders, plastered with large posters they yell ‘$400 FINE’’ across images of food.

Exhaustive declaration cards and a warning video that plays to passengers upon landing make the message very clear: Aotearoa takes biosecurity seriously.

So, it makes sense that Kiwi travellers take a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach when it comes to bringing organic products home and leave behind bags of coffee or boxes of homemade baking, bags or nut mix or anything that is not commercially packaged and sealed.

However, the rules according to the Ministry of Primary Industries are not as restrictive as some travellers may expect.

In fact, nana’s choc-chip cookies from overseas (or other travel treats) should be perfectly fine to bring home, if they meet certain criteria.

Always declare

Firstly, travellers entering into New Zealand with food for personal use or consumption must declare all items, even those that are ‘allowed’. Different rules apply for those bringing in items for commercial use.

You must declare items on your arrival card and verbally to a biosecurity officer. As unlucky travellers have discovered in the past, if you declare something on your card but don’t mention it when an officer asks, you’re still liable to be fined.

Err on the side of caution

If you have something that doesn’t quite seem to fit into a category on the declaration card or you aren’t sure if it should be declared, write it on the card and declare it to the officer anyway. It’s much better to be over-transparent and be waved off by an officer than have it pulled out in an x-ray or by a Customs dog and questioned about.

What you don't declare can often be sniffed out by Customs dogs. Photo/Stephen Parker
What you don’t declare can often be sniffed out by Customs dogs. Photo/Stephen Parker

What isn’t allowed

While some items are outright banned – like pork, trout or whole eggs, many meat, seafood, dairy – other food products are allowed but have complex and strict regulations. These typically concern the species of animal or plant, cooking method and packaging.

For example, beef, lamb, foie gras, turkey, and chicken can be brought in if they are commercially manufactured and packaged, in their original unopened packaging with the country of manufacturer clearly stated. Fish and seafood have similarly specific rules.

Biosecurity comes down hard on these items, due to the risks they can pose to Aotearoa. Even if you declare them, any sort of miscommunication with officers could put you at risk of a fine, so it may be worth leaving these items behind or disposing of them in an honesty bin before reaching customs.

What is allowed

Baked goods, nuts, certain teas, coffees and confectionary are allowed and, contrary to popular belief, many of these items don’t have to be commercially packaged and sealed.

Certain nuts, seeds and beans are allowed too, but typically must be commercially packaged and sealed.

Travellers can also bring up to 2kg of butter, cheese, milk powder and formula, as well as fruits or vegetables that are not fresh. A full list of accepted cooking/preserving methods is listed here.

However, if any of the above items contain fresh fruit, meat, dairy or honey (in certain amounts) they will be confiscated. So, leave that meat pie, maple bacon muffin or fruit yogurt behind.

For a full list of what products are allowed, check out the Ministry of Primary Industry’s online tool.

Cookies should be allowed if they don't contain restricted food products. Photo / Getty
Cookies should be allowed if they don’t contain restricted food products. Photo / Getty

Officers make the final call

The online guidelines from MPI are helpful, however, clearance by a quarantine officer is never guaranteed for food items and they will make a final call about whether something is allowed.

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