Bloom busters: Valentine’s flowers run gauntlet at JFK

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Theresa Carrol, an agricultural inspector for the Customs and Border Protection Service, checks out a load of flowers from the Netherlands. Fifteen to 20 loads a day come pouring into JFK Airport in the run-up to Valentine’s Day.
A load of flowers that is discovered with pests is held for fumigation, paid for by the importer.
The inspection process calls for agents to selected a few bunches and spank them like a new-born baby over white paper, to see what falls out.
The black specks that fall on the paper are inspected with a loupe and, if they turn out to be insects, are bagged and sent off to a USDA lab for overnight testing.
One inspector says that six years of this work has not dented her love of flowers. “But my husband knows not to give them to me anymore,” she says. “I get chocolate.”
Flowers from overseas come into JFK seven days a week. But, say CBO officials, the week before Valentine’s Day is the busiest time of the year.
Branch Chief Robert Redes, who oversees the port of entry at JFK, says that some species of flowers are more high-risk for infestation, meaning five to ten percent are held up.
Cleared customs, ready to ship.


In a cargo warehouse at the edge of JFK Airport, palettes of fresh-cut flowers from around the world pour in like Volkswagons coming off the assembly line.

Valentines is the busy season for Customs and Border Protection, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security whose job it is to make sure no eight-legged illegals — bugs, that is — get into the country.

Mother’s Day is sort of busy, too, says Customs Branch Chief Robert Redes, looking over a boxes of amarylis, orchids and assorted other blooms that had been pulled from a shipment that arrived a few hours before from the Netherlands. “But not like this,” he says.

A few shipments of flowers come into Kennedy, a major port of U.S. entry second only to Miami, every day, he says. But in the week before Valentine’s Day, there are 15 to 20 planes a day loaded with flowers landing in Queens.

Theresa Carrol, an agriculture inspector who works the busy night shift for Customs, says she has not lost her love for flowers — even after 6 1/2 years of doing this work.

But her husband knows not to get her flowers for special occasions anymore. “I get chocolate,” she says.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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