Importing Fruits and Vegetables Into the US

Crates of carrots packaged for exporting.
Keeping up with the array of seasonal options and unique items from around the globe requires precision and planning. Here is a checklist of what it takes to import fruits and vegetables into the U.S. arriving in time to enjoy the peak freshness.
August 7, 2019
Last Modified: March 21, 2024
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Importing fruits and vegetables into the US is a vital business practice that meets the demand for a diverse, year-round supply of fresh produce. However, this process is not without its challenges. Importers have to deal with complex regulations while complying with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Otherwise, their produce can’t be legally sold in the U.S. market.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requires entities importing fruits and vegetables to comply with FDA and USDA regulations. Importers will need phytosanitary certificates, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) plant permits, and to ensure their produce meets the standards set by United States’ regulatory agencies.

How to Start Importing Fruits and Vegetables into the USA

Importing anything into the USA is hardly a simple process. There are countless documents and regulations that you need to be in compliance with in order to even get your shipment through customs. 

To help simplify things, here are some basic import requirements necessary for almost every single shipment. 

  • Commercial Invoice: This serves as a receipt of the transaction and contains all the costs and fees associated with the shipment. It also contains the names and addresses of the importer and the supplier, as well as information about the country of origin. 
  • Bill of Lading (BOL): An important document containing contact information for all applicable parties, billing information, and special instructions. It also serves as a contract between the shipper and consignee.
  • Customs Bond: In order to import any fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, you will need a customs bond. The bond ensures that CBP receives all duties and fees that are owed by the importer. You’ll also need to choose between a single entry or continuous customs bond.
  • Release and Entry Forms: The next step in the process is to electronically file CBP Form 3461, the customs release form. This must form be submitted before your import reaches the port of entry.  Afterward, you will only have ten days to file CBP Form 7501, the customs entry form. It covers more of the specifics of your imports and helps the CBP calculate final duties and taxes that will be applied to your shipment after inspections. 

Arrival Notice:This document contains lots of good information for the consignee about any additional fees that were incurred, what inspections were done, and what special pick-up instructions the shipment might have.

With these importing basics addressed, we can look into the specifics of importing fruits and vegetables.

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USDA Regulations for Importing Fruits and Vegetables

Importing fruits and vegetables into the US, such as the tomatoes pictured here, requires careful attention to regulations.

 Imported produce falls under the jurisdiction of APHIS, a division of the USDA. 

To get even more specific, the APHIS National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO) deals exclusively with importing plants like fruits and vegetables, as does the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). 

Those who wish to import vegetables and fruits into the United States will also require the following certifications and permits.

Phytosanitary Certificate 

In order to be accepted into a U.S. port of entry, your imports will need to be accompanied by an official phytosanitary certificate from their country of origin. This document is issued by the exporter and will inform APHIS that the foreign agency inspected and, if required, treated the shipment before it left port. 

It serves as evidence that all the appropriate steps were taken to ensure compliance with U.S. regulations. It also provides the scientific names of the individual plants.

Plant Permit 

Most fruit and vegetable imports will require a permit issued by NPPO’s Plant Protection Quarantine (PPQ) program. The program is part of the government’s efforts to prevent contamination of the U.S. agricultural supply. 

To receive this permit, you will need to fill out PPQ Form 587. Make sure you follow the instructions at the end carefully, or else your request may be rejected. 

When you apply for a permit, be prepared to provide the same shipping information you’d put on any shipment, as well as additional information like country of origin and plant type(s).

If you are not granted an import permit, there may be something wrong with the way you filled out the form. In that case, a customs broker can help you get through the paperwork correctly.

Fruits and Vegetables Import Requirements: The FAVIR Database

Each individual type of fruit or vegetable has different regulations that apply to them based on their susceptibility risk factors, including:

  • Pest infestation
  • Contamination by pollutants
  • Country of origin

Some specific fruits and vegetables can only come through certain ports of entry, while others can come through any port that’s convenient. The regulations for importing produce fluctuate based on the time of year, the presence of different pests, and various trade rules with other countries.

In order to combat the confusion associated with trying to import a specific fruit or vegetable, APHIS launched a database with entries for each type of produce, and countries they can be sourced from. It is called the Fruits and Vegetables Import Requirements (FAVIR) Database. It is constantly updated with the most current information, so you can find suppliers and import produce with confidence.

One of the most helpful lists in the database is the All Countries List, which lists off fruits and vegetables that are preapproved for import into the United States from any country. That means that anything on that list can be safely imported without an APHIS import permit. Additionally, the database can send out emergency notifications to users about changes to commodity or country requirements. 

The FAVIR Database is just as useful to Customs personnel as it is for importers, since it also provides CBP agents with an easy-to-reference guide about which fruits or vegetables are permitted into the country and which are prohibited. 

The FDA is the next regulatory body involved in the process of importing fruits and vegetables into the United States. Alongside the CBP and the USDA, it sets the specifications to ensure all fruit and vegetable imports are properly monitored, inspected, and regulated. 

The FDA and USDA also works together to make sure domestic and foreign quality standards don’t differ much. That means importers won’t need to go to any extreme lengths beyond the typical import procedures.

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FDA Regulations for Importing Fruits and Vegetables

The Food and Drug Administration is the next regulatory body involved in the process of importing fruits and vegetables into the United States. It creates the specifications alongside the CBP and the USDA to ensure all fruit and vegetable imports are properly monitored, inspected, and regulated, and that they meet all safety and sanitary requirements. 

The FDA also works with the USDA to ensure that imported fruits and vegetables are not held to a higher standard than domestic products, to encourage continued trade with other countries. 

Prior Notice

Prior notice is part of the process of preventing contamination in the food supply from agricultural pests, diseases, and bioterrorism. The importer needs to submit it to the FDA no more than 15 days before the shipment of fruits or vegetables is expected to reach the U.S. port of entry. This prior notice requirement also applies to all food items being imported into the United States, and it ensures that the FDA and CBP have the appropriate amount of time to prepare for the incoming shipment. 

This document should contain information like the country of origin for the import, the registration numbers of any facilities involved with its packing and handling, and the names of any country to which the import is refused entry. This is to help the CBP make the most informed decisions about the risk factors associated with your import. 

To submit this document, you could go through one of two online portals. The CBP Automated Broker Interface can allow importers to take advantage of the existing connection between the CBP and FDA, making it easy to submit alongside other documents. This can help to keep everything organized and in the same place. Or, you could choose to submit through the Prior Notice System Interface (PNSI) if you wish to submit more directly to the FDA, instead of going through the CBP portal. 

The FDA would prefer to receive online documents, but faxing or delivering the documents to the Division of Dockets Management is also an option.

Registration of Food Facilities

In 2002, the FDA began requiring that all food facilities register with them in accordance with the policies of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act. “Food facilities” include any facility that had anything to do with the manufacturing, processing, packing, storage, or other handling of food products. Farms are the only type of food facility that does not need to register with the FDA.

In order to register a food facility, individuals or companies can submit extra documentation through the FDA Industry System (FIS), which allows them to file everything online. In order to complete the registration, facilities must allow the FDA to make regular inspections of the food facility in order to ensure it is still compliant with food safety regulations. If the FDA determines the facility to be in violation of those regulations at any time, they can revoke the registration. These FDA food facility registrations must be renewed every other year. 

Learn how to import specific types of fruit like grapes!

The registration number of all registered food facilities involved with your import of fruits and vegetables must go on the BOL.

Labeling Requirements for Fruits and Vegetables

Sacks of potatoes stored on shelves in a warehouse.

A lot of thought goes into the labels on fruits and vegetables. Both bulk shipments and retail packaged produce must follow strict labeling requirements in order to comply with FDA regulations. Even the little stickers on bananas and other produce are regulated by the FDA to ensure that they are composed of materials that have been approved for food contact. 

Although the way fruits and vegetables are shipped can affect the way that the shipment is regulated, some regulations apply to all fruits and vegetables regardless of the manner in which they are packaged. For instance, all imported produce must have a label clearly stating the country of origin, regardless of whether the produce is bagged, boxed, or sold individually. 

If you want to import organic fruits or vegetables, then you’ll need to know the rules associated with organic labels. Any product that makes claims to be organic must display a USDA Organic Seal to prove it. It must also contain a statement to verify that the seal is genuine, by naming the certifying agent that determined the product to be organic.


For more information on the topic, check our article on importing organic food to the U.S.

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Labeling for Shipping Containers Containing Fruits and Vegetables

To import fruits and vegetables, all shipping containers need to be specifically labeled to meet CBP expectations. There are several pieces of information that need to be labeled on the outside of the shipping container. 

  • The name and address of the shipper
  • The name of the product
  • A net content statement (in traditional terms, like bushels, quantity, or weight)
  • The full chemical names of all pesticides and their purposes
  • The full chemical names of all post-harvest food additives and their purposes (including waxes, resins, and other similar materials)

The label allows CBP officers to quickly identify the shipment and determine the contents within it for taxing and inspection purposes.

All wholesale containers must contain this label, along with a master list on the outside. Keep in mind, this only applies to bulk, wholesale shipments. If your import of fruits and vegetables is already packaged for retail sale, you’re going to need to follow another set of instructions for ensuring your retail labels are compliant.

Labeling for Retail Packages of Fruits and Vegetables

You might be importing produce that has already been prepackaged for retail use, in which case you will need to pay special attention to the way that the retail containers are labeled. However, the outside of the shipping container should still have the same information specified above; the use of individual labels does not change the fact that the shipping container must be labeled from the outside as well. 

Individual labels on retail containers, like clamshell packaging or mesh bags, must contain at least the following information:

  • The name of the product
  • The name and address of the packer or distributor
  • The net weight
  • An ingredient statement (which includes post-harvest food additives)

In addition to those requirements, packers can choose to include a nutrition facts label as well, though it is not required. However, if they do choose to include one, it must be factual and compliant with the FDA’s Nutrition Labeling Requirements.

Since the use of any and all pesticides should be listed on the outside of the shipping container, it does not need to be on the individual retail labels. However, if for some reason that information is omitted from the shipping container label, like if the shipment doesn’t fill up an entire shipping container, then it must be on the retail label to compensate.

Inspections for Imports of Fruits and Vegetables

CBP inspectors in a warehouse standing next to palletized fruits and vegetables.

All incoming shipments of fruits and vegetables need to be inspected before being allowed out of the port of entry to prevent the spread of foreign pests that could harm the ecosystem or agricultural supply in the U.S. 

Other threats, such as disease, fungi, and contaminants, must also be prevented from passing through the port of entry to protect the health of American consumers. 

The USDA’s Agricultural Quarantine Inspection Program is responsible for risk assessment testing. It is also responsible for determining the protocols that apply to each agricultural commodity based on the statistical information gathered from previous shipments. Even shipments of frozen or processed fruits and vegetables must be inspected to ensure that all health and safety standards are followed appropriately. 

The importer is responsible for paying the labor costs for these inspection services. Those costs vary dramatically based on factors such as:

  • Commodity
  • Shipment size
  • Detected contaminants 

Be aware that APHIS is not held responsible for any damages that occur to the commodities as a result of inspection or treatment. The packaging and presentation of products should account for their need to be inspected.
Some foods like mushrooms, which crossover into the vegetable category while really being a fungus, undergo additional scrutiny. For insight on this, check out our article on importing mushrooms to the U.S.

National Agriculture Release Program

The National Agriculture Release Program (NARP) was designed by the CBP to speed up the process of importing high-volume, low-risk shipments of fruits and vegetables. Only fruits and vegetables that are on the list of NARP approved produce are eligible for this type of expedited release. 

For importers to benefit, the entire shipment must contain only NARP approved produce.

Because the commodities on that list are statistically unlikely to contain harmful contaminants, they can be accelerated through the customs process to save time. However, that doesn’t mean a NARP-approved shipment can’t be pulled aside for spot inspections.   

CBP agents will remove a statistically appropriate number of boxes from a shipment to inspect, to ensure the commodity’s continued status as a low-risk import. It might not happen with every shipment every time, but it’s something to be aware of.

Risk-Based Sampling 

Based on the risk factors associated with your specific import of fruits and vegetables, Customs will determine what sample size is statistically appropriate to test from your shipment. 

High-risk commodities will require larger sample sizes, while low-risk ones require rather small sample sizes. The size and weight of the shipment also help determine the size of the sample that will be tested. This is one of the ways that CBP agents organize their time to give high-risk commodities more attention during the inspection process. 

Plant Inspection Stations

When attempting to import fruits and vegetables into the U.S., you may have noticed that some types of produce have to come through specific ports of entry. This is because the U.S. only has 16 plant inspection stations where the produce could be examined. 

In order to ensure the timely transportation and inspection of the fruits and vegetables, the port of entry selected for import must be close to the appropriate plant inspection station. 

Plant inspection stations can be found in these states and territories:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Guam
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Puerto Rico
  • Texas
  • Washington

Unless your produce is exempt from inspection due to special circumstances, this step is required to ensure your fruits and vegetables clear U.S. customs.

30 Minute Licensed Expert Consulting Will Personally Guide You
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Get Professional Help To Import Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables must comply with strict import requirements.

Our food import experts will guide you through the entire process.

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What if my Import Does Not Clear Customs?

Watermelons boxed and packaged for delivery.

If Customs puts a hold on your shipment of fruits or vegetables, you should do everything in your power to ensure that it gets cleared as soon as possible. When dealing with perishable foods, especially those that are organic, even a delay of a single day can wreak havoc on your potential profits. 

To make this more frustrating, produce is sometimes subject to inspection after it arrives at the port, even if it has already passed inspections in its country of origin!

If your produce is determined to be in violation of the CBP regulations, one of several things could happen as a result. The CBP may choose to have the shipment:

  • Cleaned
  • Disinfected
  • Fumigated 
  • Recalled
  • Reexported
  • Completely destroyed

It is important to follow all regulations closely, and if you do not understand how to bring your shipment to compliance, you can always enlist the help of a customs broker to help you through the process. 

It’s not uncommon for outside factors to create a shortage for common fruits and vegetables. Keeping an eye on global agricultural trends and even weather events can help importers plan for potential drops in production.

Top Fruit and Vegetable Imports

Foreign fruits are exploding in popularity, but the most popular fruits are those still grown primarily in the U.S. and therefore familiar to consumers.

Imports are often used to supplement the domestic market so specific fruits and vegetables are available year-round.  

To get an idea of what sells best in the USA, let’s take a look at some top-selling imported produce from 2020.

Type of Imported ProduceImport Value in USD
Tomatoes$2.5 billion
Avocados$2.1 billion
Peppers$1.4 billion
Bananas$1 billion
Strawberries$897 million

Source: visualcapitalist.com

Notice that there aren’t any overly exotic fruits and vegetables on the list, like dragonfruit or guava. Although there is a growing market for those in the U.S., they cannot compete with America’s love for the essentials.

Top Exporters of Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables can come from nearly any place in the world, but there are a few countries that dominate the market of exporting produce to the U.S. For example, Canada and Mexico supply over 90% of the imported vegetables that come into the U.S. This means importing from Mexico is big business for fruits and veggies.

Imported fruits are a little more varied in their countries of origin. Mexico supplies 26%, Guatemala supplies 19%, and Costa Rica supplies 17%. Other fresh fruit suppliers include Ecuador, Chile, Honduras, and Colombia. 

If you’re looking for ideas to import fruits and vegetables, then start by looking for suppliers in those places first.

Do I Need a Customs Broker?

Warehouse workers moving palletized cabbages with forklifts. They are forklift certified.

Although you don’t strictly need a customs broker to import fruits and vegetables, they can prevent import issues that arise from inexperience. When a delay can cost you the entire shipment, it’s a struggle to tackle all the regulations and import documents by yourself. 
If you want to make the most of your time and not get bogged down with customs clearance, then you should employ a customs broker to handle everything on your behalf.

How USA Customs Clearance Helps Fruit and Vegetable Importers

Food is never going out of fashion, so there will always be demand for imported vegetables and fruits. If you want to get a piece of this profitable market, we can help.

USA Customs Clearance’s team of licensed customs brokers has over a century of combined experience helping importers like you clear the red tape surrounding a successful produce import transaction. 

Trust us for the following import services.

Don’t let fruit and vegetable import regulations drive you bananas. Call our team of expert brokers at (866) 900-2314 or contact us online. We’re ready to help you produce some profits. 

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Latest comments (12)

Mofeed Rageh

I am an Egyptian exporter. I can export many Egyptian agricultural products, including fruits and vegetables, such as: . Bananas, oranges, strawberries, distinctive Egyptian mangoes, pomegranates, distinctive grapes, onions, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, yams, and distinctive Egyptian eggplants, in addition to many agricultural and non-agricultural products such as marble and furniture. I am in New York now. For contracts to export some or all of these products from Egypt to the United States. I speak Arabic and English, but I am not good at the American accent. Contact: 929-428-4700
Dr/ Mofeed Rageh

Joseph dayan

I like to import some lemon
And other product to the U.s.a.
I would like to some off the hustle around before I starts if the broker could all this problem please right
Me some clear story about that trade in my emails thank you joseph

ANGELA VALLEJOS

Hi! The company I work in is interested in exporting fresh fruit and wine from Chile to the USA. We would like to get in contact with buyers from the US but we haven’t found any direct contact information to import companies on the internet. We would like some guidance on that, please!

Thanks in advance.

Marla Mohamed

My husband wants to import garlic from Egypt but garlic isn’t on the list. can he still import it? How can I get more information for importing and where can I get all the applications and licenses? we live in Denver Colorado?

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