Every year, billions of dollars in illegal narcotics circle the globe, driven by the demand of millions of users.
At every step, authorities try to intercept the drugs and apprehend their purveyors.
In response, traffickers have developed a variety of inventive ways to obscure their cargos.
In August 2016, US border agents uncovered more than 4,000 pounds of marijuana hidden among limes.
In two incidents in July, border agents found well over 200 pounds of meth hidden in shipments of jalapeños and cucumbers.
But food isn’t the only method of concealment.
Fake carrots, real doughnuts, catapults, drones, submarines, and the human stomach — here’s a non-exhaustive list of the clever ways traffickers have smuggled drugs.
Stuffed chili peppers and fake carrots
Drug traffickers have mixed legitimate business with their illicit activities, in part so that the former can conceal the latter. Vaunted drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, now awaiting trial in the US, was no exception.
“He opened a cannery in Guadalajara and began producing thousands of cans stamped ‘Comadre Jalapeños,’ stuffing them with cocaine,” Patrick Radden Keefe wrote in a 2012 New York Times Magazine profile of Guzman, before “vacuum-sealing them and shipping them to Mexican-owned grocery stores in California.”
In one instance, according to a court in San Diego, 1,400 boxes of canned peppers, filled with “hundreds of kilos of cocaine,” were intercepted at the border.
In January 2016, agents in Texas discovered a shipment of marijuana wrapped in orange tape and a concealed within a cargo of carrots. The bust uncovered more than a ton of weed worth a half-million dollars.
In October 2016, Customs and Border Protection agents stopped a tractor trailer loaded with a commercial shipment of carrots. Among the carrots, agents found 159 packages of 88 pounds worth of what was thought to be meth.
Watermelons, pineapples, and other produce
In February 2014, just a few days before Guzman was captured for the second time, it was reported that authorities in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, seized more than 4,000 cucumbers and plantains stuffed with cocaine.
In another case, a checkpoint in Arizona came across a shipment of marijuana that had been packaged in green plastic with yellow streaks — giving the bundles the appearance of watermelons.
Authorities on the US-Mexico border have also discovered crystal meth hidden in pineapples.
Drugs hidden within food shipments can make it deep into the US. In December 2016, police in Chicago were tipped off to the arrival of a tomato shipment with 54 kilos of cocaine in it — drugs with a street value of almost $7 million.
Bananas are especially popular
Colombia is a major producer of bananas. Colombia is also a major producer of cocaine.
Traffickers have seized on that overlap.
In September, Spanish police busted a 2,000-pound cocaine haul hidden in a commercial shipment of bananas in the southern city of Sevilla.
The bananas don’t have to be real, however.
In November, Spanish police in the southern coastal city of Malaga and the Mediterranean coast city of Valencia uncovered 37.5 pounds of cocaine — just over 15 pounds of it concealed in fake bananas made of resin, with the rest hidden in the flaps of the cardboard boxes the bananas were shipped in.