Family Fined $300 For Having Apple, Tomato, 3 Cucumbers In Backpack At Newark Liberty

Steinbergers Had Just Gotten Off Flight From Israel, Forgot About Kid's Snack

MONSEY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A family of four from Florida visiting relatives in New Jersey got an unwelcome surprise at the Customs gate — all because of some forgotten fruit and vegetables.

The oversight was an expensive one that has the family fuming, reports CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey.

“I don’t have to be traumatized like this. Nobody should have to be traumatized,” Suri Steinberger said.

Suri and Peter Steinberger are livid after what they call an over-reaction by customs agents at Newark Liberty Airport. They were told they had violated a federal crime — forgetting about an apple, a tomato and three cucumbers in their son’s backpack.

“For me it was like, you know, what you see on TV. I thought I was going to get handcuffed, they have my kids. So I just started to cry,” Suri Steinberger said.

The run-in with Customs agents happened Thursday at the end of a long trip from Israel. Suri packed the vegetables as snack for her boys.

“Let them eat it on the plane instead of eating garbage,” Suri said.

The problem was she didn’t sit with her husband and two boys on the flight and Peter didn’t know the produce was in the bag.

So when the declaration form came around, Peter said he “checked no on all the boxes.”

Customs officials told Hennessey strict rules are for “agricultural integrity” and that passengers have multiple opportunities to amend the Customs declaration form.

“I have no idea what they mean by that except for the fact they say you should have been looking at the posted signs,” Peter said.

While passengers were stunned at the strictness, others said it was par for the course.

“Other countries do it, too. They’re pretty strict. I travel a lot for work and I get the same thing,” said Christine Colella of North Brunswick, N.J.

Customs did say it’s up to the discretion of the officer to “destroy” the product or “fine the traveler,” discretion this family said was sorely missing given the Customs sheet showing the prohibited items and their $300 fine.

“You’re coming off a flight after 19 hours. You’re all flustered. You don’t know what world you’re on. The first thing on your mind isn’t vegetables in your backpack,” Peter said.

The family hopes what happened is a lesson to others that even an innocent mistake at customs may be a costly one.

The Steinbergers said they don’t expect to get their money back but do plan on taking the case with higher ups at customs.

Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.

  • jbmw

    I agree, but apparently there are a larger amount of people that think they are the exception to the rules and don’t care what could happen if they “accidently” bring something back that kills our crops and livestock.

    • gmt

      What crops and live stock? Last I checked just about everything we consume comes from another country.

  • James

    Ed – Your an idiot and probably a government employee. Governments are always justifying their corrupt and stupid practices by telling us its for public safety.

    Gosh – if it were not for the government we’d all be fat, lazy, filthy and unhealthy. We just would not know how to take care of our selves now would we Ed?

    • Kristen

      How is preserving agricultural integrity a “corrupt and stupid” practice? Just asking.

  • Trueobserver

    The worst part is, had they been arriving from Rowanda or Saudi Arabia they most likely would not have been searched at all. What worker is going to put a family through all this when he or she has the option to just through it away. After-all, it wasn’t illigal drugs or other contraband. I wish they had shown a photo of the worker….I can only guess as there IS a pattern of attitude umonsgt a certain portion of the population when given any authority at all. Know what I mean?

    • Me

      These people just came from Israel, what if they had violated a law while trying to enter Israel? Oh wait, only ‘a certain portion of the population’ is allowed free entry into Israel, others would be put in jail….. Know what I mean?

    • Me Too

      You mean those pesky terrorists that they hassle? If the US were attacked brutally and daily like Israel, I’m sure our policies would mirror theirs.

    • Todd

      Well, Me Too, if we did mirror Israeli policies the the founding fathers would be rolling over in their graves. The United States of America would cease to exist and those very same terrorists will have won by destroying our democracy.

    • James

      Umm, Todd, they already are. Have you traveled by air lately? TSA blatantly tramples the 4th amendment. Naked body scanners, groping, confiscation of anything on their checklist, it’s ridiculous. What does Israel do that’s any worse? From what I can tell, their policies are far less intrusive.

  • Martha

    No he is not. If the purpose was to keep pests in check, then customs would not create a climate of fear. If this family had declared the vegetables, they would have been subject AUTOMATICALLY to an invasive search and brusque treatment of their children. They did the right thing under the current atmosphere at the airports. I can not emphasize enough – police yourselves and DECLARE NOTHING – or you are asking for trouble. Customs/TSA is on a power trip – and they are staffed by an army of Eds – they are not actually trying to accomplish anything useful.

  • stencil

    What’s the name of that airport again?
    .Uh huh, sure.

  • DanTe

    what does Chuck Schumer have to say about this?

  • Martha

    Ed, you make me embarrassed to belong to the same species as you. I hope you are kept safely away from the rest of society.

    • walljasper

      Yoo elitist, yooooo!

  • Vince

    They deserved the fine. You’re not aware that you have a salad bar in your backback? I have a degree in agriculture, this is a serious offense. How about packing a @#$ veggie sandwich. Sick of the ‘victim’ mentality, you’re luck they didn’t slap on some gloves and ‘search’ for cocaine bags….

  • sid

    Hey, Joos are the ones facilitating and supporting our being treated like Palestinians and fighting these wars for Israel.
    They shouldve cavity searched them too.
    To hell with em.

    • Drew in Pa

      You probably aren’t treated like a Palestinian Sid, but there is a very good chance that you are treated as a moron

  • JT

    Government workers. They need to collect revenue so they can retire at 50 on 90% of their salaries–just like the rest of us…..

  • John Petushin

    Terror Alert, Domestic terrorist were caught today by US customs agents entering a New Jersey airport with a produce bomb hidden in a child’s back pack . The flight originating from the muslim state of Floridastan, known for it’s suicide produce bombers were taken into custody for interrogation and water boarding torcher by the TSA. The Family having ties to local farmers in Floridastan said the produce was of the non explosive type used by many Muslim vegetarians living in Floridastan and the muslim south east. The terrorist later released and given a fine of 300 US dollars or roughly 7 Mexican pesos.

  • Rod Anders

    I agree these pests are dangerous … but so are Muslims coming into the country. Shouldn’t they be subject to similar laws.

  • John

    Why? Because of where they came from. But it’s taboo to say so.

  • Grant

    Good to see we can at least stop SOMETHING from making it across our borders.

  • Don Williams

    1) Look, foreign pests cause enormous, costly damage to US agriculture. The customs rules are EXPLICIT on the form and are reasonable.
    2) This whining mother doesn’t explain WHY she didn’t acknowledge the produce that she put in her children’s backpack when SHE was given the customs form –which every passenger on a plane receives. The fact that her kids were sitting maybe 30 feet away is no excuse. She not only forgot the produce, she forgot that she had kids???
    3) In my opinion, the right wing news media depicted this story in a misleadning way in order to stir up all the anti-government morons we have out there. Men in the GOVERNMENT military forces are giving their lives overseas defending this nation and a bunch of lazyrightwing punks who would never get within a mile of a military base tear down this country while falsely waving the flag.

  • tramky

    It is all about the money. Why is there ‘discretion’ on the part of customs agents? Either confiscate & destroy only or add a $300 fine. Let’s see, we can just confiscate the stuff, or we can collect a fat fine from this tourist family. Ah, well, let’s collect the money because, well, we can.

    Oh, my god, they violated a Federal statute! Do you know how MANY Federal statutes there are?! Tens of thousands. Want to have a quiz on them?

    America is cannibalizing itself.

  • lalala

    The TSA is full of liberal busybodies who are out to punish us for being mad at muslims. Because they think we are being racist about this, they target whites at the security checkpoints for extra-oppression. Without a trace of irony. (teaches us a lesson it does!)

    Just love it when the liberals are in charge. Life becomes so fun and everyone is so friendly to one another. No?

  • LTCB

    So, if your wife is dealing drugs from your house and you didn’t know ANYTHING about it, then it’s OK for the feds to use the “rules” you love so much to confiscate EVERYTHING YOU EVER THOUGHT YOU OWNED AND LOCK YOU UO AS AN ACCOMPLICE? And don’t say it isn’t the same thing. The parents had no clue the kids had the stuff still in their bags and hadn’t eaten their ‘health treats’. Use your head for something other than a ‘billybob’ hat rack.

    • Kristen

      Ed I absolutely agree with you. What is so hard about the concept of knowing what is in your luggage? And yes, that includes YOUR KIDS. Society has a problem with being responsible for one’s own actions, which I do not comprehend. In response to LTCB, if you didn’t know your wife was dealing drugs from your house you probably are a moron. And why would that prompt the “feds” to confiscate everything you ever thought you owned? The husband would only be charged as an accomplice if he aided the wife in the commission of the crime. Bad analogy.

  • j

    how hard is it to check all the bags if you’re not sure? this family assumed that there were no foods in their luggage and they had to pay a hefty fine for a very easily preventable situation.

    certain foods from foreign countries are not allowed in the united states since they could potentially pose a serious agricultural issue. some people take this lightly until a bug or disease wipes out crops that sends the country into a horrible situation…when it could’ve easily been prevented by screening luggage. a lot of people do not understand the potential severity of the situation and claim that it is ‘just simple fruit and vegetables’… there is a reason why the federal government has classified this as a crime. maybe this family will not forget to check their luggage (all of the bags) for undeclared food.

  • LTCB

    You sir, are the type of person who should be catapulted into the Arctic ocean. Get a life. As the article says, the customs officers have discretion to confiscate and destroy the produce. This family is clearly NOT some smuggling ring bent on violating our “produce Nazi’s” rules. This is EXACTLY why NO ON trust the government any more. The idiots can’t make simple and intelligent, reasonable, decisions and conclusions from facts presented to them. We’ve dumbed down our schools and now we’ve reaped idiots running things (idiots need jobs too but, they don’t have to stay stupid). Get a life and grow up.

  • John

    It’s simple:they just got an a..hole as a customs officer, or maybe his name was Abdullah , or he just did not like Jews

  • will

    All a bunch of Bull do do. Our government is taking over our live’s !

  • Ken Hodges

    A very poorly written story.

    “They were told they had violated a federal crime”

    “The Steinbergers said they don’t expect to get their money back but do plan on taking the case with higher ups at customs.”

  • Mark Belanger

    Wow, there are a lot of people posting here who didn’t take the time to read the article…sad state of affairs – it’s not that challenging of a story to comprehend.

    To those who are “applauding” Customs for fining them and pointing out that the rules are in place for a reason – keep in mind that they family is not arguing that they should have been allowed to pass with the fruit; it’s a matter of them simply forgetting. They aren’t petitioning the confiscation of the snack, but rather the unneccessary fine. Especially since the agent could “use discretion”. The right thing to do, given it’s a family returning from vacation with a snack (not a fruit smuggler with 300 lbs of exotic produce) would have been to confiscate and discard the fruit, and sternly warn them to pay more attention next time. Fining them $300 when you have the lattitude not to is a demonstration of a miserable attitude and a BS power trip.

  • McDade

    Government is hard up for money….. We all probably violate some federal regulation of some type everyday, we just don’t get caught. They, like we, don’t even know we’re breaking some obscure federal reg – – we do it without INTENT. That’s the key – – most states will only charge with a crime if you KNOWINGLY and INTENTIONALLY break the law. Not so with the fed – people get into all sorts of legal hassles because they violated a federal regulation they didn’t even know existed. It is likely the customs agent would have exercised his/her discretion had the flight not come from where it did, given our political climate now days.

  • desert dweller

    It’s way past time to start KICKING ASS in this stinking ass communist society!! And soon!

  • Larry

    BS to your silly post… many thousands of containers come into this nation and are NEVER inspected and your telling me a carrot stick will bring in the baddy ash bore. Get a grip…..Customs wants the money…..Now research containers from around the world and rewrite you goofy post…

  • Ouch Man

    Anyway you look at it it’s called smuggeling. They got off easy with just a fine.

  • Montford John Greenwood

    This story is about fear. They want you to fear being wrong at the airport so you declare everything.

  • skeeter

    Except the emerald ash bore didnt come from someones back pack it came from another bunch of government dipsh1ts who decided it was a good ideal to bring in the emerald ash bore to save tobacco crops…..the government thugs are the problem not the solution…

  • James Foye

    Actually, shows the bumbling hand of bureaucratic incompetents at Customs and Border Protection. They did not have to be fined – they could just have had the evil vegetables confiscated and destroyed. To charge them $300 instead just goes to show how overbearing our government is becoming.

    • Alex

      Right, JH, because it costs _so much money_ to walk over to the nearest garbage can and toss them in.

    • J H

      So you want to pay for the added costs of destroying stuff they were not supposed to have? Makes perfect sense that they should have to pay money.

  • JewBoy-MichaelH

    They’re Jews… they can afford the fine, and more

    • Don Williams

      1) It is kinda hilarious — millions of black kids are locked up in prison or are unemployed and that rolls over Matt Drudge like a cool summer breeze.

      But let an arrogant couple return from ISRAEL and be held accountable for ignoring clearly stated, justified customs rules and Matt Drudge is ready to proclaim the return of the Holocaust. I’m waiting for his headline “J’ACCUSE!”

      2) The next time any of your get a speeding ticket, call up Matt Drudge and see if he wants to make a national issue out of it.

    • desert dweller

      you freaking dimwit!!

  • HobokenRSB

    Clearly the folks that have responded ‘did not’ read the article, this family apparently flew from Israel to the US, where from Florida and landing in NJ. Got it. Now we have over zealous customs agents with a little power that want to prove they can enforce dumb rules when mere common sense would work just as well… The government allows illegals crossing our borders 24-7 carrying food and fruit…and they can’t stop them, catch them or fine them…why does this make sense… I agree we need to keep the dangerous pest out of our country, let’s start with the overpaid and senseless government employee pests we allow to control our lives.

    • desert dweller


  • melissatx

    Oh hell, why not just profile those who look like those who have attacked us and quite molesting grandmothers and children and slapping around kids with vegetables. It is a violation of our 4th Amendment rights, and heavy handed tactics by an overreaching gov that wants to not hurt the feelings of Muslims. Please, get a clue and profile, profile, profile.

    Meanwhile, 2% of cargo and trains are ever looked at so where do you think the Muslims will attack next? A no-brainer for sure.

    Meanwhile, if you are offended by these comments, good. You are part of the problem. It has never been Catholics, Episcopalians, Masons or Girl Scouts that have tried to hijack planes and kill Americans, no it is the usual suspects our gov goes out of their way to protect, they have perpetuated these crimes. We are being penalized for their crimes. Sheer lunacy.

  • Jason

    So, do illegal aliens ever carry vegatables across the southern border? Maybe now we can finally crack down. LOL

    • desert dweller

      Yeh…government frigging leeches…..go get those tomato carrying aliens…’SIC’EM”

  • chuck in st paul

    I agree with you Ben. Up here in the Peoples Republic of Minnesota the Ash trees are being destroyed by the damn bug. There’s even a state law/regulation forbidding movement of firewood more than 50 miles from origin to try to contain this scourge.

    I got busted for bringing in those wonderful deep fried pig skins, sometimes known as pork rinds or cracklings, from the Philippines. They’re pretty much okay from many places but the PI had swine flu in full force at the time. My bad for not checking ahead of time. It was a fair bust, as was this one.

  • Mike Lee

    Hey.. please explain to me how you violate a crime? Why did it take 19 hours to fly from Florida to New Jersey? Since when do domestic flights go thru customs? Don’t you find something fishy about this story?

    • TxTx


      You are correct, the opening of the story was poorly written. One has to get to almost a third of the way into the story to read that they were coming in from Israel.

      Even I was wondering why they had a tangle with US C&I traveling from Floriida to NJ.

      Have a great weekend!

    • Mike Lee

      Am I not reading the first line of the story “A family of four from Florida visiting relatives in New Jersey got an unwelcome surprise at the Customs gate.” What about “They were told they had violated a federal crime” What does that mean? I know I am not the brightest blub in the box but this story is very confusing. Why did the writer not open with ” while returning from a trip to Israel a family from Florida was stopped by customs at the bla bla airport. I am still confused what is violating a federal crime?

    • Joe

      “the seedy underbelly of Florida to NJ fruit smuggling operations”, love it!
      Mike Lee, you’re an idiot

    • Mike Lee

      I’m too g*ddam lazy and stupid to read.

    • Len

      Re-read the story..they are from Florida and were visiting friends in NJ as they were returning from Israel..
      Make sure you can understand a story before commenting on it…..

    • Leslie

      They were from Florida, flew from Israel, went thru customs after landing from that FLIGHT. It is a tiring flight… because not only of the hours but the time changes throw your whole system off – When my family flew to Israel – my 13 year old daughter left her passport on the airplane. Fortunately my husband had not gone thru the check inline yet because they would not let me go back & be with her while they went to search the plane… She was green from the flight, upset with how they treated her… I understood the precautions & rules so I’m not complaining about our experience; it just was not a good experience! (wish I had not already gone thru 1st- moms are better with comforting kids than dads…so moms- or the more nurturing parent -get your kids thru customs 1st – just in case…) Customs should have just confiscated the food… I have made mistakes going thru customs with declaring jewelry – I lived in Columbia (S.Amer.) for a time & forgot to declare a ring I bought there- fortunately customs never knew, and when I remembered it, a day later…oh,well…

    • chuck in st paul

      sounds like they did the return trip via New Jersey on the way back from Israel, sometimes our return from Asia to Minnesota was routed to Detroit then the Twin Cities… go figure…

    • Chris Bronis


      They are from Florida but were flying back from Isreal and their stopover was in Newark. Read the article.

    • Bryan

      @Mike Lee, I find it fishy that you didn’t read the story but still comment as if you have some deeper insight into the seedy underbelly of Florida to NJ fruit smuggling operations. lol

    • Edward


      The article clearly states the family was returning from Israel. New Jersey was probably a connecting flight.

  • kendrick1

    Those veggies weren’t union produced!!

  • Dallas Mcmillan

    All you have to do is try to remember the American Chestnut tree (not many alive today who do), live through a japanese ladybug swarm in the fall, look at the diseased dogwoods, the dying hemlocks, the dead and dying fir trees, and you don’t feel sorry for people brining back stuff from foreign countries and then getting busted.

  • Alx Moon

    Come on, people .. the crime wasn’t in the veggies. The crime was in giving the TSA ape the prerogative to destroy the veggies or to fine. WHY .. couldn’t he simply have destroyed the veggies? Then we wouldn’t be reading these horror stories about TSA apes.

    • Inday

      Customs and TSA are to different entities.

      • Inday

        I mean two different entities. Sorry for the typo.

  • Rich

    GOOD! They got fined $300 for endangering our agriculture. Plenty of cases of someone releasing an agricultural disease has started with a careless person who thought it wont matter.

  • Taybor

    Isn’t one of the safety rules that you’re supposed to adhere to is knowing what is in your bag? Don’t they ask if YOU are the one that packed your bag? Was it out of your sight? Him not knowing what was in the bag was absolutely no excuse.
    They broke the law. $300 seems excessive until you think about the damage caused by pests brought in to this country from around the world.

  • MichaelH

    Generally speaking, you’re a bigot of the worst sort. Your “generalizations” about Jews are total fabrications.

    Incidentally, I’m not a Jew.

  • LIAM

    The federal government does not have the legal authority to regulate THINGS. The feds may regulate the activity known as commerce to which states, by making laws, are involved but nothing more. Everything everyone thinks they know about the commerce clause is wrong because of the lies told by the courts and the government. IF the current beliefs are correct, why was the 18th amendment necessary? Guess those folks back then were just stupid!

    • boradaxe

      If you are looking for stupid look in a mirror, you will surely find it based on your idiotic post.

  • Reverend Rev

    How does she pack “a snack for her boys” and then not tell them about it??

  • Mumbles

    So if you are tired when you leave the aircraft after a flight you do not have to follow any rules? People are in their own little world onboard an aircraft and do not pay attention to any announcements or instructions. My guess is Suri Steinberger treated the customs official with contempt and it cost her $300.00. Hey, Suri, contrary to what you might think you do not make the rules. You got just what you deserved! Hahaha!

  • DanTe

    Rules are rules. No ifs and buts. If you can’t play by the rules then pay the fine.

  • joe

    The “victims” are whining and it’s news because they are “connected”.

  • Hazel Burke

    They didn’t violate a federal crime. How does one get to be a reporter these days? That being said, people really need to develop a thicker skin and stop being traumatized. Is the fine a little stupid? Sure. That’s the way life goes sometimes. Next time eat the damn bag of peanuts.

  • andrew

    Mistakes have consequences.

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