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Shipping Flowers this Valentine’s Day? Here’s How to Prep Your Shipment for CBP Inspections

Whether they’re sending roses, chrysanthemums, tulips, or mixed bouquets, the millions of Americans who will shower their loved ones and sweethearts with flowers on Valentine’s Day want to know that those beautiful arrangements are free of bugs and pests. To make this goal a reality, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), will literally inspect every single flower stem as it enters the country ahead of the popular holiday.

Leaving No Stem Left Unturned

Historically, Valentine’s Day is the second busiest time for cut flower importations, with Mother’s Day being the busiest. During the January 1st -February 14th period in 2015, for example, CBP agriculture specialists intercepted a total of 2,870 pests nationwide. During the the same period, approximately 976 million cut flower stems were processed compared to 801 million stems during the 2014 season, an increase of 21 percent.

As the two largest ports of entry for cut flowers, Miami and Los Angeles garner the most attention from the CBP during this time of the year. Miami ranked first with more than 875 million flower stems and Los Angeles ranked second in the nation among U.S. ports of entry for the number of cut flower shipments during this season, with most of those shipments originating in Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico.

According to the CBP, the top 10 ports of entry by volume (i.e., number of stems), that processed shipments of cut flower imports for the 2015 Valentine season were:

In 2015, the Los Angeles airport processed over 37 million flower stems and intercepted 372 pests in 2015, according to a CBP press release. “CBP agriculture specialists are the first line of defense against pests and diseases that could harm the U.S. agriculture industry,” said Mitchell Merriam, CBP acting port director of Los Angeles International Airport. “These pests can seriously damage America’s crops, livestock, and the environment.”

The potential impact of flower-borne pests is a real cause for concern for shippers, whose flower shipments are treated, re-exported, or destroyed when pests are found. “If CBP doesn’t detect pests that are tagging along with either legitimate or illegitimate shipments, those bugs will destroy crops and non-commercial plant life here in the U.S.,” says Heather Burke, Schenker, Inc.’s Director of Regulatory Compliance, noting that invasive species like the Emerald Ash Borer beetle are  currently causing significant damage to green ash, black ash, white ash, and blue ash trees in North America.

“CBP works hard to prevent these invasive species from getting into the country and wreaking havoc,” says Burke, “but that added layer of protection can create delays and other concerns for shippers that don’t pay close attention to the rules and regulations.”

5 Ways to Keep Your Flowers Cool and Safe 

To ensure a smooth inspection process as imported flowers make their way through the nation’s entry points and into the homes of happy recipients across the country, shipper should take these five steps:

  1. Always submit complete and accurate documentation. Skipping this step is a risky move, particularly when you’re dealing with fresh cargo that needs to get to the florist in time for Valentine’s Day. Without the proper documentation, your flower shipment may not even make it to the agricultural station for a full stem inspection.
  2. Factor in the high seasonal shipment volumes. The Valentine’s season is no ordinary time for inspectors, who are tasked with visually examining millions of flowers stems to ferret out any nefarious hitchhikers. To give your own stems a fighting chance, be sure to ship on time, follow step #1 above, and be ready to address any questions or concerns as they come up. “Anything you can do to ensure a smooth process while also factoring in the reality that CBP is going to be extremely busy,” says Burke, “will help your imported flowers get to the florist on time.”
  3. Use clear, concise product descriptions on your packing lists. CBP uses packing lists to pinpoint which packages require greater attention than others, so it pays to use very clear product descriptions on your documentation. At minimum, your packing list should include information about the cartons, pallets, or other shipping containers; measurements (i.e., gross and tare weights for every item); and details about the merchandise that each individual package contains.
  4. Think in terms of stems—and not shipments, boxes, or containers. Shippers don’t always think down to the individual product when grouping their goods for import, but in the case of flowers that’s exactly how you should address it. “Think in terms of individual stems, and not bouquets or boxes,” says Burke, “knowing that CBP will be looking at every single one to determine whether the flower is harboring an invasive pest.”
  5. If possible, utilize one of the busier entry points at this time of year. Because they handle the bulk of the flower imports coming from countries like Columbia and Ecuador, the ports of Miami and Los Angeles will likely be well equipped to handle the onslaught of Valentine’s flowers. “Miami’s CBP and USDA are set up for a very expeditious process, and they staff up for the rush,” says Burke. “They also have specialized, cold storage warehouses where the flowers can flow through inspection smoothly and safely.”
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