How Illegal Items Are Found And Destroyed At JFK Airport

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[Narrator] About 43,000 international travelers

fly in to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport every day.

By passenger volume, it's the US's

largest international airport of entry.

And in just Terminal 4 alone,

that equates to almost 1,000 bags an hour.

And in those suitcases, there's a lot of stuff,

some of which isn't allowed into the country,

including 120 pounds of food per day.

So what happens to all those

confiscated items anyway?

If you flew in to JFK in the '90s,

getting something into the US was a lot easier.

But after 9/11, a conversation started

about how to protect the country

from dangerous foods, drugs, and people.

And US Customs and Border Protection,

as it's known today, was formed.

You'll generally see

two kinds of CBP officials at airports:

officers, like Steve,

and agriculture specialists, like Ginger.

Their job is to find, seize, and destroy

millions of items each year

that don't belong in the United States.

It's a big job, and sometimes it requires a sidekick,

a sidekick on four legs.

Steve Robinson: This is Canine Spike.

Look, Spike.

He is an 8-year-old Belgian Malinois.

I've been his only handler from day one.

He's trained in narcotics.

During the duration of our career,

probably seized over 400 different seizures.

[Narrator] CBP officials like Steve

identify high-risk individuals

trying to enter into the US,

as well as drugs and firearms.

And because these are such high stakes,

dogs like Spike are trained in a special way,

in what's called "passive response,"

meaning if they sniff out drugs,

they don't scratch, they don't bark,

and they don't make a scene.

They sit.

And if they're right, the dog gets rewarded.

Robinson: His reward is actually this toy right here.

So he likes to play, so.

Ain't that right?

You like to play! You like to play!

Yes you do! Yes you do!

Let me see it! Let me see it!

Here at the port, we've caught up to

16 keys of ecstasy recently.

[Narrator] Narcotics are then seized

and sent to be incinerated.

The incinerator's location is kept a secret,

as a matter of national security.

Now, pretty much everyone knows

that narcotics aren't allowed

through US borders,

but actually, drugs aren't the most commonly seized

item at JFK.

Food is.

When a regular traveler arrives in the US,

they're required to declare

any food items they're bringing in,

or face up to a $1,000 fine for the first offense.

These items aren't taken because agents want to

eat your yummy Spanish ham or Caribbean mangos.

It's because agents are responsible

for protecting American agriculture

from any foreign pests or diseases

that could affect our livestock or crops.

And that's where agricultural specialists

like Ginger come in.

Ginger Perrone: Everything gets destroyed

to protect against that pest risk.

We are protecting

the country's agricultural interests.

We're protecting against bioterrorism,

where someone could intentionally

try to bring in items

to wreak havoc in this country.

[Narrator] Foreign bugs hitchhiking in luggage

have wreaked havoc in the US before.

Florida's orange and grapefruit growers

lost $2.9 billion from 2007 to 2014

thanks to the Asian citrus psyllid.

And since being introduced into the US in the '90s,

the Asian longhorned beetle

has ravaged hardwood trees.

Eradication efforts between 1997 and 2010

cost more than $373 million.

James Armstrong: In our country,

we go into the grocery store

and the food is always there.

We don't have to look at it for holes

or check if it's got some disease on it.

It always looks great, so we get kind of spoiled,

and we don't really understand

the importance of protecting that.

[Narrator] So it's crucial that even a single

stowaway orange is found and confiscated.

But with 34 million annual international passengers

to and from JFK, going through each of those bags

can seem pretty impossible.

For humans, that is.

Luckily, they've got a little help

from the Beagle Brigade.

This four-legged officer is Biscuit,

and like Spike, Biscuit is trained in passive response.

But Biscuit's trained to sniff out food rather than drugs.

Sal DiSpigna: They actually learn.

They start out with five target odors,

and then over the years he'll expand,

and they retire with sometimes, like,

150 odors that they know.

[Narrator] And Biscuit's pretty good at sniffing.

These beagles have an

estimated 90% accuracy rate.

Armstrong: Watching your dog sit on three grapes

in a Samsonite hardside suitcase

is just incredible.

Scientists say

their nose is 1,000 times stronger than ours.

And they prove it every single day.

[Narrator] Once Biscuit sniffs out an item,

the passenger in question and their bags go to Ginger,

who will X-ray and search the luggage.

Perrone: OK, these are both your bags, correct?

OK, did you pack everything yourselves?

You packed your bags yourself?


[Narrator] Ginger unzips the bag

and searches each one by hand.

And if she finds something that's not allowed,

it's seized and held in temporary bins.

Perrone: This is very common from that region.

Once you open it all up, you have grape leaves.

These are horse-meat sausages.

This is another very good example

of what we get very frequently,

especially in the springtime:

This is a plant that they're planning

on bringing here to grow.

So anything for propagation

has additional entry requirements.

So this is two families' worth from one flight.

[Narrator] JFK disposes of the contraband food

in one of two ways:

the grinder, or the incinerator.

Ginger will bag up the seized items

and label them based on their final destination.

Perrone: So we're gonna go walk this bin,

nice and full from those two passengers,

down to our contraband room.

[Narrator] This is the room

where illicit food meets its end.

Perrone: This is our grinding machine.

This is what we'll generally use for fruits, vegetables,

that kind of commodities.

It is called the "Muffin Monster."

[Narrator] But before Ginger can

send a piece of fruit down the Muffin Monster,

she cuts it open, squishes it, and inspects it.

She's looking for evidence of diseases,

insertion points for insects, and exit points for larvae.

If she finds a little bug, like this one,

she neutralizes the pest risk

and sends it to the US Department of Agriculture

for further investigation.

Now it's back to the Muffin Monster:

120 pounds of food are grinded up each day

from arriving international passengers.

Avocados, mangos, and citrus

are among the most common fruits

that end up in the grinder.

Perrone: We do get messy.

It's important to dispose of it properly.

I love to eat, as much as everybody else.

I am a big fan of food.

But I know the importance of making sure that

what we seized, because of established risks,

is disposed of properly

to prevent it from causing problems.

[Narrator] So the next time you've got an orange

tucked into your luggage,

declare it, and let experts like Ginger

decide if it's admissible.

And leave the serrano ham in Spain,

because Biscuit will find it.