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.

  • Jenny D

    Good. There’s a reason we have laws against bringing fruits and vegetables into this country without proper information and inspection. Everyone should be fined instead of letting it be someone’s decision.

  • Salome

    It’s ironic that the family was coming from Israel. Israel is famous for the strictness at its airports.

  • kms

    Mr. Hennessey,
    You have the facts wrong. There is never a choice between destroying the prohibited products or issuing the fine. The prohibited items are always destroyed by incineration or steam sterilization. Travelers may be fined for not declaring the products but even if they are not the prohibited items are always confiscated.

  • pb

    Mom didn’t want them to eat garbage on the plane but failed to retrieve the nutritious snacks stowed in the backpacks as the garbage trucks started rolling down the isle. In other words, she would rather tell the whole world she is a lousy mother rather than just admit she got caught breaking the law, pay the fine and move on. I’m willing to bet that realization will never even occur to her.

  • kim

    be careful how you respond to this story. The other side of the story my shed a different light on matters..just sayin.. think of all the different things that could have happened, like …..customs told her she would have to destroy the food and she got all smartass on them… If I’m in a 10.00 and hr job and get “sh_t” from somebody who just got off a flight that I couldn’t afford i’d say BOOM . Most often in life,not always, you reap what you sow if your nice and reasonable and respectful of the one your dealing with life goes pretty pleasantly.

  • Richard

    Where were these hot dog customs agents when the insects from Asia entered the country and started destroying all of our trees?

    • Mike Hunt Hertz

      Richard you’re an ignoramus. USDA mismanagement was responsible for the invasion of woodboring insects in this country. This epidemic got started in the 70’s and 80’s. Tons of wood crating material and dunnage came into the seaports from all over the world. USDA Inspectors regularly found harmful wood boring insects in them. However, USDA management did not want to impede trade by mandating Methyl Bromide fumigation as a condition of entry for all crated material …Today, all wood products must be heat treated or fumigated as a condition of entry. Unfortunately, they’re way too late to stem the tide of the invasion of wood boring insect pests

  • Howard

    Customs did exactly the right thing. The people were simply idiots.

  • p8nt

    Who goes on a flight, let alone an international flight, and not pay attention to the rules, and what they have in their carry-on????

  • B L Reed

    Why was the’contraband not found in Florida? Why couldn’t the agent allow them to consume the items on the spot, or provide a trash receptacle so they could discard it? Seems a little harsh to me. This is America, not Iran!

  • Trolldoll

    On fights from Israel, Hitler used to confiscate everything.

  • SHlomo

    How much you wanna bet that that woman opened her huge mouth at the agent? I can see it as if I was there: Who?! Us?! We did not violate anything! And if we did, we did not know about it! How dare you harass blah blah blah!!!! Instead of “sorry, officer, we will be more careful next time”

    So he exercised his discretion and made her pay. Be nice. And those who complain that they are always get searched, maybe your look fits the profile. Like long uncombed hair, tattoos all over your body, piercing everywhere..and whether you are coming from Amsterdam or Afghanistan..guess what they suspect you are trying to bring in

  • patricia

    I have done limited international traveling, however I do understand the Ag.Regs on imported foods and animals, and by far they are there to protect our Ag industry. This was a total waste of time for the inspectors and the travelers. Once the mother explained the oversight, they inspector could of tossed the offending foods and moved along, Perhaps a warning? I traveled from farm to farm while in England, my “tour” thru customs and the Ag inspector took all of 5 minutes. Big deal. Remembr the Marial boatlift? Those folks were bringing goats (cuba is an active hoof and mouth country), fowl (cuba was an active NewCastle’s area), humane groups went crazy over the slaughter of those animals, but never stopped to think about how fast those diseases could of destroyed our farmers and growers.
    I am not in favor of TSA, in any way shape or form. However, I do understand both sides of the argument.

  • Bankrupt farmer

    Let’s see, It is OK to fail to obey the law which they are clearly advised of by a written form on the aircraft, asked again by a Customs Officer, then asked again by another Customs employee? For the record Apples are known to carry fruit flies. Have we forgotten the $2 billion spent in Cal & Fla since 1992? The Tomataoes are in the Solanacae family, can carry fruit flies and tomato/potato mozaic virus wich also affects peppers and anything else in the family. This can result in a close to 100% crop failure. The purpose of the $300 has nothing to do with collections for the government. It is designed to prevent repeat offenders and to get the word out, which in this case it has. One commenter stated that the fruit did not go to incineration. That is probably corrrect since the EPA and the states have outlawed incinerators so now it goes to a pressure steam vessel (autoclave). The discretion is not for the officer to “fine or seize” it is strictly to fine if certain criteria are met. If you want to be fully informed, read 7 CFR 319.56, it is all there. The suggestion to irradiate things was proposed in 1992 but the Clinton admin felt that 14 microfarads was too much for a repeated exposure. The Japanese use over 1000. By the way, every Customs Agriculture Specialists has a degree with 30 hours of biology, is sworn to enforce the law and protect the United States of America from all enemis, foreign and domestic. I take the view that the person did their sworn duties. I am curious as to why someone who can spend several thousand dollars in tickets is so adamant about $300. Some countries charge more than that in exit fees. As for the comments about race, creed or origin, that is all strictly prohibited under Title 7 & others. Usually people who make such comments are the worse violators. I am not a fan of TSA either, but they should not be included in this scenario, they are simply obligated to protect the traveling public, regardless of how despicable the method or how harsh the criticism. Let there be one downed aircraft and TSA will be the first whipping boy to feel the raft of the American public. By the way, a second violation will cost them $500 and the third can not be settled with a penalty at the port and they will have to deal with the USDA and a Federal court. All of this is public information that can be found at USDA.Gov and CBP.Gov.

    • Mike Hunt Hertz

      Atta Boy!!! Finally a well informed person!

  • Marco

    And guess who would get blammed if some invasive bug got by? Suri Steinberger or Customs? $300 didnt actually same all that steep. Suri could have done a lot more damage with a fruit fly.

  • William

    word to Fed employess, I wouldnt ware your uniforms when dinning out. There is no telling how much spit you will get in your food

    • JAy


  • Got Economic Collapse?

    Stupid American WAR CRIMINALS, running around the entire globe searching for “terrorists” when all the while the REAL terrorists were YOU all along!!!!!

  • Clark

    What idiot wrote this story? Since when does a family flying from Florida to Newark go thru customs? What was left out?

  • JR

    Rules are rules. Whether they forgot or it was intentional is not relevant to whether or not the law was broken. The punishment fit the crime. A fine versus a trip to jail seems reasonable to me. People need to take responsibility for their actions. Those forms are there for a reason and by signing a false form you are breaking the law. Maybe if he would have been more diligent about filling out the form and asking his family they wouldn’t have had this issue. If the kids didn’t eat the food on the flight throw it away in the plane or declare it those are your choices. Again people need to be accountable for there actions these laws are there to protect us. Bringing over contaminated produce is a serious health concern and people need to take it seriously.

  • Mark Ponemon

    Look bottom line is customs didn’t do the right thing and let the family off with a slap on the wrists. I can’t judge the family whether it was an over-sight or not. But, my feeling is $300 is a bit too much to pay for some fruit, especially when it is at the discretion of the officer.

  • Baker

    Why was the Customs department even involved? It was state to state travel correct? Or did I misread something? If they were just flying from Florida to New Jersey, why is Customs even examining their bags?

  • DBCooper

    The fact that this is a news story is what surprises me. That would indicate that there is something about this particular instance that makes it newsworthy. Millions of passengers go through US customs, some carrying prohibited items, without making the news. It sounds like these people want to create a stir. And likely did at customs, too.

  • Gordo Kupper

    We’re only hearing about them because they are Jewish. As such, they can more than afford to pay the fine. Perhaps we should add a fine for Goldman Sachs, too.

  • jason morse

    This is a serious federal issue and warrants a complete congressional investigation. Meanwhile, the only thing I will declare is liberty.

  • Justin Case

    I’m still amazed that a man would take his family to an airport with the TSA or customs to began with. I look at this male a think he is not a man, he is a bad father and a bad husband. Where is it that you have to go that is so important that you freely give up your right to your family and allow another person to lay hands on them? Is your vacation really that important that you would turn your wife and your daughters over to the hands of another person? Not much of a man in my eyes. These males are a sad excuse and show how they are subordinate to other humans.

  • The Clintidote

    Government is the enemy. Strangle the cashflow and thus strangle the parasites.

    • Justin Case

      Government is not the enemy, the leader of the family is the enemy. Government always tries to push and take what is not theirs, It is the job of the man of the house to push back, defend what is his and stand against others that try and take from him. America is filled with weak men that have no respect for their wife or children. Fact is, these are not men, these are cowards that fear loosing their toys or being inconvenienced by their responsibility as a husband and father.

  • RWB

    They are protecting all of us. If you are not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about.

  • Publicus

    Sorry, Dillweed, but yo u are the ignorant ass here. Bringing in FRESH fruits and vegetables – and meat (like sausage) – has been against the law for decades. It is called disease control. Do I agree with it? For plants and produce – yes. For processed meat – you don’t know how much I yearn to bring in a genuine Hungarian salami – but the Beagle Brigade will find it every time. Mrs. Steinberg is being totally unreasonable – acting like a typical J.A.P.

    • JaJaJa

      All customs had to do was listen to a reasonable explanation and throw the veggies in the bin in a ziplock bag. Honestly, a 300 dollar fine for a innocent mistake is outrageous.
      Maybe Mrs Obama can intervene. The woman was just trying to follow Mrs Obama’s campaign of raising healthy kids.

    • Mike Hunt Hertz

      Bless you Publicus…you are an intelligent being….rare for these posts!

  • Not Chicken Little

    Government at all levels is OUT OF CONTROL and needs to be slapped down and squashed like a blood-sucking bug.

    Who is supposed to be the master, and who the servant?

  • Jessica L

    The fruits and vegetables in the grocery store have been fumigated or cold-treated.

  • cunno

    You’re the “pompous arrogant fool.” People and kids are forgetful sometimes. How is fining them after the fact going to keep agricultural disease in check’ They found it….let ’em destroy it at the airport. Maybe that’s too simple for a Nazi fool like yourself to understand.

  • AJB

    I lament the level of English being taught to journalism students. “They were told they had violated a federal crime”. One doesn’t “violate a crime.” One COMMITS a crime. One VIOLATES a law.

  • Mr. Rogers

    “So I just started to cry,” Suri Steinberger said.

    Loser. Great example you set for your kids. Now we are going to have even more losers.

  • Emma

    Unless you are living with Chinese stinkbugs invading every crevice of your home and ruining the crops in your state, you might not understand how important it is to watch agricultural products moving through our country, especially when they are from overseas. Produce can’t even cross Arizona state lines the bug issue is so critical. When you are traveling from overseas, no matter how tired or frazzled you are, you MUST be diligent in making sure that everything is in order. They have you fill-out the customs forms while you are still on the plane, to say you had no time to take inventory, especially with children in tow who are YOUR responsibility, is a lazy exciuse.

    • Smoke Screen

      Your an idiot, the mom and kids are not going to infest the country with bugs, the massive world wide import of produce is taking care of that for us. These imported products are hardly checked at the country of origin and the ports here in America are over whelmed with the task. If you worked in imported produce you would know this and this is also the reason we hear about foreign invaders like poisonous spiders in the produce case at the local store from time to time. Customs is in place as another way to shake down the public with the excuse of public safety as their message. You are an ignorant person and need to educate your self in real world affairs. Good day.

  • MasLiberty

    LOL…typical government stupidity. Mean while the government is bombing people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and Libya. Oh and they are also racking up debt, debt and more debt that we will never be able to pay off – I hope our children’s children enjoying paying for this mess. And how is that war on drugs going? Yeah there is another great idea via our government.

  • Unreal

    19 hours from israel to new York? Were they flying on a prop plane? The trip from Beijing to Newark is only 12 hours. What they hell were they doing up there?

  • mike

    Ed…spoke like a true liberal idiot. Government intrusion is never a good thing. The arrogant, so-called, customs official could have used discretion…instead, the power-hungry individual decided to throw his weight around. People like you better wake up…and “normal people”, you either have your head in the sand, or you’re just an idiot.

    • nygrump

      Ed is the kind of guy who would have help round up the Jews because the Government said so. Has nothing to do with liberals, but that makes you feel powerful just to say it doesn’t it.

  • John Smith

    I heard that the Federal Government was running a deflict. Perhaps they should layoff some custom agents.

  • GarandFan

    Government employees and common sense have nothing in common.

  • Brian

    You broke a law and you were given a fine and that is tramatizing? there was no beating, no handcuffs, no jail time, no strip search. I think you “tramatized” youself for getting so worked up. Mistake, on purpose, in ignorance you still broke the law.

    DOn’t break laws and you won’t be tramatize or get thicker skin.

  • Bob

    You’re a pompous arrogant jerkoff.

    • walljasper

      How dare you insult the practice of jerking off, you pompous arrogant prude.

  • JR

    So confiscate it instead of fining the family 300 bucks.

  • Vicki

    I am glad to hear that customs is doing their job of enforcing the rules on importing produce. That is a lot of food for somebody to have in their bag and not notice it is there. People need to take responsibility for their actions. People act like they should not be responsible for their actions. They had to sign a piece of paper that said that they did not have produce. They packed the produce so they knew that they had it. It is not the baby’s fault, the parents were stupid and most likely argumentative.

  • Michael Wolfe

    In 45+ years of traveling as a Merchant Seaman I changed crew in many foreign ports. I found that by packing my dirty clothing on top of my seabag the baggage search at customs was much less invasive.

    How hard would it have been for the customs troll to just put the produce in the nearest garbage can? I’m sure even one of those troglodytes would have been able to preform that action.

    • Michael Wolfe

      Now that I think of it maybe they got the fine dimply because they tried bringing in healthy food stuff instead of a Big Mac.

      • Jason D

        Shouldn’t Ms Obama be proud?

    • kms

      You are a troll and a troglodyte. For you information: prohibited produce can not be put in the “nearest garbage can”; it has to be disposed of properly by incineration or steam sterilization.
      Tell me, what is wrong with respecting the law of the country and protecting your food supplies?

  • Dr Dirt

    Of course – the apples are not sent to some incinerator under quaranteen – – they just toss them in the trash to be hauled away –
    So the action stops NOTHING

    And Naturally all of the in flight meals and snacks represent no threat at all – just the kids apple in their back-pack.

    I agree with another poster, that they likely got hammered with the fine instead of the warning because they were A-holes about it.

    • Mike Hunt Hertz

      Dr. Dirt…you are a horses ass of the first order. I know for a fact that all Ag Contraband seized by CBP/USDA (plant material-inspected for insect/disease pests) and either ground up in a large garbage disposal or safeguarded for incineration at an approved plant.
      Where the hell do you get your information from? Jerk Magazine?

  • pat

    The US Federal Government is self serving. It is complete bull manure that these products would create a problem. Litmus test? Why not have machines irradiate and inspect the fruits for organisms like they do for us slave people?

    It’s time we just let the Federal Government implode. The US Federal Government is out of touch with the rest of the country. They are their own world. It is a bloated pompous arrogant organization that creates wars.

    The US currency is a big lie. It is fiat money created by the bankster owned Federal Reserve. Did you know that the Federal Reserve is actually owned by private shareholders (namely the NY City global banks).

    The bigger the lie the more people fall for it.

    The IRS is nothing more than the Congresses redistribution mechanism to keep them in power. The two parties are about dividing and conquering. They are both about the same =- bunch of fools.

    Wake up people. We need to desolve the Union like 1860 and let the States decide what they want to do – regroup, or go alone.

    The Washington DC beltway bandits and their Wall Street cronies have bankrupted us.

    Fat cats.

    Time for a diet.

  • Oren

    TSA and customs is a joke, a very bad joke and getting worse.

    This is not a crime, this is not news, this is par for the course with a government out of control.

  • Husker Fan

    When I flew back from Jamaica earlier this year, the flight attendants told us, while we were still in the air, we had to fill out the customs and immigration form, to double-check our carry-on bags for items that we would need to declare, and to ask if we had any questions. They gave us every opportunity to make sure that items were correctly listed on the forms. They even told us that the rum we bought would have to fit in our carry-on luggage or it would be confiscated. When I pack snacks for my kids, fruit and veggies are cut up and put in bags. This makes them easier to eat and dispose of. Just another example of some people who feel they are above the law.

  • wishiwasonanotherplanet

    its not worth flying with the gestapo at every airport.

  • Hank Warren

    Useless TSA, yet another violation of our rights. Add it to the list of gov’t violations of our rights:
    They violate the 1st Amendment by placing protesters in cages, banning books like “America Deceived II” and censoring the internet.
    They violate the 2nd Amendment by confiscating guns.
    They violate the 4th and 5th Amendment by molesting airline passengers.
    They violate the entire Constitution by starting undeclared wars for foreign countries.
    Impeach Obama, vote for Ron Paul.
    (Last link of Banned Book):

  • Drew in Pa

    In Eric Holder’s America everything is policed except crime

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