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Customs: Don't bring meat, palm hats as travel souvenir

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During the summer travel season, globe-trotting passengers come home with all kinds of souvenirs. Some of them never make it through customs.

Raw chicken is just one thing Valerie Woo confiscated Wednesday at Dulles International Airport.

“It carries all kinds of diseases,” Woo said. The customs agriculture specialist is not looking for guns or drugs, she's looking for plants and food that can carry foreign insects and disease into this country.

Simply bringing in plant or food items won't get you in trouble. “We don't expect people to know the regulations. We expect them to declare it when we ask them what they're bringing,” Woo said.

If travelers don’t declare an item, they will receive a minimum $300 fine.

“They zip it into the lining, they stuff it down into the toe of a shoe,” Woo said.

It doesn't take much to cause serious damage -- a single Mediterranean fruit fly got into California decades ago and has cost farmers billions in lost crops since them.

Meats, like lamb curry from Ethopia found Wednesday, can carry foot-and-mouth disease that may survive through cooking. Palm hats might contain mites.

Shamrock seeds, animal skins and sausages are other souvenirs that'll likely be taken away. Airplane food that a hungry traveler may try to save for later will get tossed out if it contains fruit or meat.

Dulles also has a beagle brigade trained to sniff out hidden food. “He usually runs somewhere between 92 and 94 percent accurate,” said canine handler Jennifer Jones about her four-legged colleague.

Mohamed and Kadi Bah got back from Sierra Leone only to have every suitcase, every bag searched. Mohammed Bah said he didn’t have any issue with it. “They're doing their job,” he said.

Every day, up to 200 pounds of seized products are wheeled off to be burned in the airport incinerator.

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