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Three Things You Need to Know about Importing Chocolate

When you give someone chocolates for Valentine’s Day, you want those sweets to melt their hearts. What you don’t want is for those chocolates to melt out on the dock while U.S. Customs & Border Control and/or the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) decide whether to let them into the country or not.

Valentine’s Day is big business. On average, 62% of American adults celebrate the holiday, which generates $448 million in candy sales alone during the week leading up to the big event. Chocolate gets the biggest piece of that pie, so to speak, with merchants selling 58 million pounds of the confection ensconced in 36 million heart-shaped boxes to starry-eyed lovebirds, according to

Know the Rules 

For companies that are shipping chocolate right now, time is of the essence when getting the goods into stores and/or directly to recipients. “Because chocolate is a food product, the federal government oversees its safety not only to ensure that the products are consumable,” says Heather Burke, Schenker, Inc.’s director of regulatory compliance, “but also in terms of potential terrorist-related acts related to the nation’s food supply.”

And while they may seem innocuous enough when nestled in their paper candy cups and drizzled with caramel, chocolates are treated just like any other food product as they make their way into the country. Because of this, Burke says it’s critical that importers use the right documentation—and that all product descriptions are clear and accurate—or risk having their precious cargo spoil while regulatory agencies decide how to handle it.

Top Three Things You Need to Know about Importing Chocolate

If you’re concerned about potential delays or freight rejections for your chocolate shipments, here are the three most important factors you need to be aware of:

1) Educate yourself on the food import process. Because chocolate is an FDA-regulated product, when imported into the U.S. it must comply with the same FDA laws and regulations that apply to domestic products. Entries are submitted to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which then refers entries of FDA-regulated products to them for review.

The FDA divides the standards of identity for chocolate and chocolate ingredients into the following categories:

    • Chocolate liquor
    • Sweet chocolate
    • Milk chocolate
    • Buttermilk chocolate
    • Skim milk chocolate
    • Mixed dairy product chocolate
    • Bittersweet chocolate

Within each of these sections, the FDA states requirements regarding the formulation of each type of chocolate, such as the milk and sugar content that the chocolate must have to be classified into each category as well as restrictions as to what ingredients may be added to the product. Note that there isn’t a separate category for dark chocolate, and confusion about this sometimes causes import delays.

2) File your prior notices accurately and on time. Since 2003, food importers have been required to provide the FDA with advance notice of human and animal food shipments imported or offered for import. This allows the FDA, CBP, and other government agencies to conduct (and target) import inspections more efficiently while helping to protect our food supply against potential public health issues, acts of terrorism, and so forth.

3), and factor in the FSMA. More recently, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) shifted the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it. In 2011 the FDA published an interim final rule requiring that a person submitting prior notice of imported food to report the name of any country to which the article has been refused entry.

When entry is made for FDA-regulated products, importers or their customs brokers must also include the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) code in the entry submission. This classification code is used to provide the applicable tariff rates and statistical categories for all merchandise imported into the U.S., and is based on the International Harmonized System. (See the U.S. International Trade Commission HTS page for more information.)

Avoid Costly Delays
Entry submissions containing incomplete or inaccurate information are flagged for manual review by the FDA. The FDA’s screening tool uses various sources of information to assess risk; for example, a firm’s previous compliance history or known compliance problems with a certain product.

“FDA entry reviewers look for complete and accurate data in the entry submissions,” according to the agency’s website. “Providing FDA with complete and accurate data expedites the review of your entry.”

By understanding the rules and process of importing perishable food products such as chocolate, you can ensure that your precious cargo will get to market on-time rather than literally melting on the dock. And romantics will thank you – after-all, some 36 million Americans agree that nothing says “I love you” like a heart-shaped box of chocolates!


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