The import of food products to Israel is subject to strict supervision and regulations. There are many laws, regulations, standards, procedures and instructions which are all dedicated to the subject of food imports. Import of small quantities for personal use requires knowledge of which food types are permitted and their maximum permitted quantity. Import for commercial purposes requires you become familiar with all the relevant information to avoid disqualification of your shipment at any point.
This article highlights the essentials, but is not a substitute for careful study of the subject. You can find detailed and updated information on the Ministry of Health’s website.
Keep in mind that the multiplicity of standards and legislation in this field are not designed to make your life difficult, but rather primarily to protect the health and safety of consumers. Food consumption is an extremely sensitive issue. Unlike the import of clothing, for example, where straying from standards can cause disappointment at worst, consumption of spoiled food or food that does not meet these standards can cause health issues at best, but in a worst case scenario can even pose a real risk to consumers’ lives.
Private Food Imports
Import of food products for private consumption requires you to complete a personal import of food and/or dietary supplements declaration. When you import privately using the postal service as your carrier, your application is processed by customs officials in accordance with the guidelines of the National Food Service.
According to the laws of the Ministry of Health, a shipment of food products can weigh no more than 15 kg, with no more than 3 kg per product.
The maximum quantity for private importing of spices is 100g or one bag of each spice with a combined weight of 3kg.
Nutritional supplements can be imported in a quantity appropriate for personal consumption, translating to a period not exceeding three months.
Private import of meat, fish and their byproducts is prohibited excluding canned products with maximum quantities as above.
Private import of milk or dairy products is also prohibited, excluding hard cheeses and powdered milk at maximum quantities as above.
Import of fruits and vegetables for personal consumption requires you to contact the National Food Service at the Ministry of Health and apply for an importer permit, but does not entitle you to an official importer license.
Import of Food Products for Commercial Use: Documents and Permits
Import to Israel of food products for commercial purposes requires you to contact the National Food Service of the Ministry of Health and apply for an importer license. This license is a primary and essential prerequisite for importing food products to Israel.
Who is authorized to import foods commercially to Israel? Any company, corporation or registered business in Israel is entitled to apply for an importer license.
What are the prerequisites for obtaining a license? An importer must have a commercial license for food storage, with suitable storage conditions for the products they intend to import, and are required to submit all required documents. Alternatively, an application can be submitted through a company that offers warehousing facilities and holds a food storage license.
An importer license is valid for a period of one year or less. The license can be extended for one year at a time and there is no limit to the number of times it can be extended. The importer’s name and details appear on the importer license, as well as details of the storage facility where the food will be stored. The license is issued for a single importer only and is non-transferrable.
Another mandatory permit importers need to obtain from the National Food Service is a license for the import of food products. A pre-registration license for import of food products is valid for one to four years subject to payment of relevant fees. Each food import (see below) has a corresponding permit that is valid for that food type only. An importer license and food product import license must be obtained before the imported food product arrives in the country.
Shipping Requirements and Port Release
Importing food to Israel by container requires you to carefully study the food transportation requirements of the specific food item you wish to import. Does it require refrigerated storage and transportation? If the answer is no, what is the maximum temperature at which it can be stored and transported? You’ll need to ensure that from departure from origin until arrival in Israel, the food has been stored in a temperature-controlled environment and has not been exposed to the elements, such as sun or heat.
When the food arrives at the port in Israel, it is checked before it can be granted a port release permit. One of the conditions for granting the permit is confirmation that the food product was stored and transported in acceptable conditions until its arrival in Israel. You have to ensure these conditions have been maintained and can produce the necessary documented proof.
Even after you’ve transported the food product to storage facilities in Israel, National Food Service representatives can inspect your storage conditions. As a food importer, you are required to act in accordance with procedures and at any time present the necessary documents by type of food imported. Most procedures involve a surcharge, except for importer license application and delivery inspection upon arrival at importer’s storage facility.
Imported Food Categories
Familiarity with the specific import procedures of the food products you wish to import, is essential. More detailed information can be found on the Ministry of Health website.
Food products are classified as follows:
- Animal products: Food of animal origin, such as fish, meat and their byproducts or any other food that contains meat or fish. Import of animal products requires you to obtain relevant permits from the Veterinary Unit of the Ministry of Health. Food of animal origin must of course be stored in refrigerated facilities and refrigerated during transportation at all times with stringent temperature control.
- Non-animal products:
Regular food products: This includes dry goods such as pasta, flour, sugar, cookies and candy. Food supplements are also included in this category – substances added to food for preservative, sweetening or food-coloring purposes. This refers to substances that are not intended for consumption on their own.
Sensitive food products: This list is subject to periodic changes, so if you wish to import food that could be classified as a sensitive food product, check for an updated list at the time of import. A partial list of what’s considered a “sensitive food product” includes:
- Dairy products and plant substitutes for dairy products, including various canned goods
- Meat and its byproducts and plant substitutes for meat, including various canned goods
- Fish and its byproducts, vegetable substitutes for fish, seafood and various canned goods
- Nutritional supplements, including plants which appear on the list of permitted additives for food supplements and herbal infusions only
- Foods intended for consumption by infants and toddlers, including infant formula, cereal and grain-based cereal powders, fruit or vegetable purees, cookies and toasted breads, fruit juice and foods for special dietary needs such as food for premature infants
- Special foods for people with illness/metabolic disorders, such as products for PKU patients, lactose or gluten-free products, low calorie products or products with no added sugar which are marked accordingly
- Eggs and egg byproducts, including candy, mayonnaise and other sauces that contain eggs
- Gelatin and products containing gelatin
- Honey and honey byproducts as defined by honey SI #373
- Bottled drinking water and mineral water
- Mineral water based beverages
- Foods for athletes
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Vitamins, minerals and amino acids
It’s quite a long list so keep in mind what your mother told you when you were a kid: Don’t play with your food, and follow food import regulations for your own sake and the sake of your consumers.