Something about the dozens of individually wrapped chocolate bars in the luggage of a man flying from California to Japan struck a federal Customs and Border Protection officer as odd. Sure enough, when unwrapped, they turned out to be more than 4 pounds of methamphetamine covered by a "chocolate-like substance."
That bust at Los Angeles International Airport in July 2012 was one of tens of thousands of drug seizures made by customs agents each year at the nation's airports, including many where drugs were hidden inside food.
Customs officers stopping travelers coming and going from the United States have found drugs disguised as cream filling in cookies, in bags of coffee, bottles of rum, and stuffed inside bricks of frozen meat, among other places.
"Drug smugglers, mules, what have you, they use various consumer methods. Depending on how much experience they've had, (officers have) probably seen every concealment method under the sun," said Anthony Bucci, the public affairs specialist for Customs and Border Protection's New York regional office.
Customs officials made 153,000 drug seizures from people trying to enter or leave the country between the 2011 and 2015 fiscal years in the top five ports of entry alone, according to the agency.
Officers in the New York region — including Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports — made more than 72,000 stops over the five-year span, and Chicago had more than 36,000.