CHICAGO — In the International Terminal at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, ‘Oz,’ an agriculture detector dog is busy at work.
‘Oz’ is one of 10 beagles at the airport, trained by the United States Department of Agriculture to sniff all sorts of prohibited food and plant items passengers try to bring to the US in their luggage.
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When ‘Oz’ locates a scent, he will approach a bag and sit next to it. On Tuesday, a banana and an apple were some of the minor discoveries, before a bigger haul near a baggage carousel.
“Sausage, meats, we have a lot of fresh leaves here and bark, there can be a ton of insects,” said K-9 Agriculture Specialist S. Hall.
Customs officials typically see a spike during the holidays; this year, a 36% increase.
Chief Corey Everton is in charge of separating the contraband and discarding it.
“I have a passion for what I do here,” he said. “I’m a biologist by training and I feel it’s very important to keep invasive species out.”
To prevent the spread of disease in plants, animals and humans, all the meat products taken are steam sterilized before being discarded, and the fruits and other items to into an industrial grinder.
“We just say enjoy it over there but it can’t come in because of the risk factor,” Hall said.
Passengers who don’t declare prohibited food and plant items are flagged, typically receiving a warning. A minimum of $300-$500 could be imposed, however.