The Monitor

Production Process Insights

Ensure High-Quality Coffee with Custody Transfer Sampling

Posted by Tod Myers on 8/23/21 8:00 AM


Coffee can be commercially grown in just two U.S. states, Hawaii and California, because of the tropical climate and high altitude the beans require to thrive. To keep up with demand, the U.S. imports much of its coffee from other regions, including Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. 

When raw or roasted beans are imported into the U.S., they must go through custody transfers, which require close monitoring of coffee quality and properties as beans are handed off from growers to roasters and brewers. Many producers use custody transfer sampling methods during this process, but these methods can lead to product waste and contamination.

Automatic representative sampling is the best way to ensure the integrity of coffee beans at custody transfers to maximize quality and minimize roasters’ risk of overpaying for a low-quality product.

Sampling Challenges at Coffee Custody Transfers

When importing coffee beans into the U.S., coffee producers must follow the rules from three different government agencies: Customs and Border Protection (CBP), The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Coffee duties, or taxes, are based on the price paid for coffee imports, so it’s critical to accurately determine the quality of the coffee beans to ensure importers are paying fair prices.

What’s more, international transportation routes leave the beans susceptible to climate and contamination concerns. Challenges can arise from the type of transportation, how long the product sits in customs and potential cross-contamination with other shipments.

According to FDA regulations for importing coffee beans into the U.S., beans must be marked with the country of origin clearly and legibly on each bag in English. If the coffee is roasted, it requires additional, product-specific labeling that can include:

  • Ingredients
  • Net Weight
  • Gross Weight
  • Content 

The FDA inspects samples of coffee imports based on the following requirements:

  • 100 bags or less: Six bag samples
  • Between 101 and 200 bags: 10 bag samples
  • Between 201 and 1,000 bags: 15 bag samples
  • More than 1,000 bags: 20 bag samples

Automatic sampling improves custody transfer

Due to the nature of processing and transportation, the coffee industry relies on sampling to ensure production meets compliance, quality, and custody transfer standards.

Not sampling imported beans leaves roasters open to potentially overpaying for a poor-quality batch and other quality concerns later in their processes. It also leaves producers potentially leaving money on the table for a higher quality product. However, manual sampling leads to under-representation or human bias related to the sample. It also can miss harmful contaminants hidden at lower points in the batch.

An automatic representative coffee sampling at custody transfers offers a variety of benefits to roasters and brewers.

Financial benefits. Representative sampling ensures that internationally transported coffee producers meet the quality expectations of producers and roasters, providing the highest quality economic yield.

Highest quality. Sampling at custody transfer ensures importers receive the best quality product while exporters receive the highest prices for their yield.

Meet FDA standards. Coffee production often occurs in unregulated countries. Due to this lack of federal regulation, imported coffee might not meet the FDA and company quality standards. Sampling ensures beans can pass FDA inspections and safely enter the U.S. food supply chain.

No contaminants. Coffee can take on physical and biological contaminants if moisture is present during transportation. Sampling at the point of import or custody transfer ensures roasters are not only getting what they pay for, but importers are receiving the highest possible value for their goods.


Sentry Equipment offers high-quality samplers and expertise so coffee roasters can maximize quality and improve cost efficiencies. Our commitment to food safety and certifications gives coffee roasters peace of mind that their samples truly represent their product.

Contact us at +1-262-567-7256, or complete our online contact form for more information on using a customized sampling solution for custody transfers.

Topics: Food & Beverage, Solids & Powder

Written by Tod Myers