In ruling NY N321071 (September 9, 2021), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) discussed the country of origin of an instant-read food thermometer. The item features a probe that folds into the body of the thermometer, as well as a second detachable corded probe that can be plugged into a receptacle on the thermometer. This corded probe allows users to check the temperature of food inside an oven while the LCD display of the thermometer remains safely outside. The item also contains a magnet that allows the thermometer to be attached to an oven door, refrigerator, or other ferrous surfaces. Lastly, it features a bottle opener and metal clip.

The manufacturing process begins in China, where the thermocouple and thermocouple adapter are produced. These two pieces are the probes used by the thermometer to determine temperature. Alongside these two pieces, the proprietary firmware of the thermometer is also designed and developed in China. Additional components manufactured in China include: the printed circuit board assembly (PCBA), adapter cover, a battery and battery door O-ring, clip, clip spring, clip pad, display panel, gasket, LCD, lock, magnet, magnet cover, opener, power button, and screws.

The components are then sent to Indonesia and assembled with Indonesian plastic parts that form the body and housing of the thermometer. These parts include the battery cover, bottom cover, housing, stand, and top cover. In Indonesia, the PCBAs are assembled into a housing unit with wiring and are soldered into place. The battery is then inserted into the housing unit before the top and bottom housing are assembled and secured. Next, the LCD overlay is placed into the housing. A separate plastic component holding the magnet is also placed inside the housing. Once the thermometer is fully assembled, it undergoes temperature testing using a thermostatic bath.

In its determination, CBP notes that, as defined under 19 CFR 134.1(b), the country of origin is the “country of manufacture, production, or growth of any article of foreign origin entering the United States. Further work or material added to an article in another country must effect a substantial transformation in order to render such other country the ‘country of origin’ within the meaning of this part.” CBP also established that “substantial transformation” takes place when a particular product “emerges from a process with a new name, character or use different from that possessed by the article prior to processing.” In this case, the agency established that the essence of the digital thermometer is established by Chinese-produced thermocouples, thermocouple adapters, and software. CBP found that no substantial transformation took place in Indonesia, but rather a combining process. As such, CBP determined that the country of origin of the instant-read food thermometer is China.