We all want to know that the food we buy from shops and restaurants is safe to eat, and one of the roles of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to provide up-to-date guidelines to prevent the consumption of harmful bacteria and parasites. But their list of banned foods includes some dishes that are enjoyed in other countries, proving that there’s no global consensus on food safety.
Some foods are only banned in certain U.S. states. And sometimes, there are loopholes that let you eat the food — if you really want to. But to be honest, you probably wouldn’t tuck into most of these even if they were freely available. Check out the list of foods that are currently banned in the U.S., as well as some that were illegal until recently.
True beluga caviar — the roe from a beluga sturgeon — was made illegal in the U.S. in 2005. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the import of this luxury ingredient to protect the species. However, if you feel the need to splash out on your snacks, you can buy caviar from Sturgeon AquaFarms in Florida, who brought live beluga into the U.S. back in 2003 and has an agreement with the U.S. government to breed five different types of sturgeon, harvest their eggs for caviar and take them to market.
Kinder Surprise Chocolate Eggs
Kids in the UK and throughout Europe know the joy of nibbling through a Kinder Surprise chocolate egg to reach the plastic capsule inside. And that’s only the beginning — the capsule opens to reveal a toy! Now, the toy might not be all that interesting, but that’s not the point. It’s all about the surprise. Sadly, American kids don’t know what that’s like because a federal law from the 1930s bans toys (or any other non-edible objects) from being embedded within food products. Every year, thousands of Kinder Surprise eggs are seized at the U.S. border.
The small, sweet, yellow Mirabelle plums grown in the French region of Lorraine can’t be imported to the U.S. due to a trade agreement, which gives it a protected origin designation. And although some varieties are grown in the U.S., true Mirabelles come only from Lorraine.
The fugu, also known as the puffer fish, isn’t technically banned in the U.S. However, you need a license to cook it, so it’s definitely not something you can pick up at the supermarket and serve for a family dinner. Nor is it something that gets handed out by the dozen. Chefs need to train for two to three years to get the license because fugu contains large amounts of tetrodotoxin, a poison that can paralyze the body and stop one’s breathing. The BBC describes it as “the fish more poisonous than cyanide.”
Mangosteen (Unless Irradiated)
The purple mangosteen, a sweet Southeast Asian fruit, is allowed in the U.S. today provided it’s irradiated to get rid of all fruit flies. But for many years, it was banned due to fears that the Asian fruit fly would set up home on American soil. As well as tasting great, the mangosteen is packed with health benefits — vitamin C and folate, plus xanthones, a unique kind of plant compound that’s believed to have mighty antioxidant power.
Scotland isn’t only known for whiskey, Robert Burns, the Loch Ness Monster and the mighty kilt. The national delicacy is haggis, which contains a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs. It’s the lungs that violate federal food safety regulations in the U.S. — the USDA has had a ban on foods containing lungs since 1971.
Ackee, the national fruit of Jamaica, is safe to eat when it’s properly ripe. But if it’s not ripe, its high levels of hypoglycin A and B can cause serious harm, in some cases coma or death. The FDA banned all ackee until 2000 but, after that, manufacturers were allowed to sell the fruit frozen or canned in the U.S. However, fresh ackee is still strictly off the import list.
The sale of whale meat is illegal in the U.S., but things are different on the other side of the Pacific. In Japan, whale is considered a foodstuff just like fish or squid. Whaling has a controversial history around the world. In 1946, several countries joined to form the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to stop the overhunting of whales, and the U.S. officially outlawed whaling in 1971.
The highly alcoholic beverage absinthe was banned in the U.S. in the early 20th century but allowed back into the country in 1997. However, the importation of this bright green drink, which has never quite lost its hallucinogenic reputation, is subject to strict FDA regulations. It’s only legal in the U.S. if it contains less than 100 parts per million of thujone, the toxic chemical of the wormwood herb that’s used to create it.
Foie gras was banned in Chicago, Illinois, between 2006 and 2008, and has been banned in California since 2012. Foie gras is typically produced by force-feeding ducks and geese via feeding tubes to enlarge their livers beyond normal size. Many farmers and chefs challenged the law but it was upheld by the Supreme Court. So if you want this particular “luxury” ingredient, make sure you’re in another state.
The sale of redfish is banned in all U.S. states apart from Mississippi and it has nothing to do with health concerns. This rare fish became such a craze in the early ’80s — after well-known New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme shared a recipe for blackened redfish — that it ended up on the endangered species list. Redfish will be off the shelves until the population has recovered.
Following research that a compound in sassafras oil called safrole caused cancer in rats, the oil was banned in the U.S. in 1979. However, the tree’s roots are still legal, provided they don’t contain safrole. Once believed to have medicinal properties, the roots were sometimes steeped to brew a tea that was used to treat everything from head lice to eczema.
Removing the fin of a shark and then dumping the wounded mammal back into the ocean, aka “shark finning,” is banned in U.S. waters. But the bans are difficult to enforce and the sale or purchase of shark fins that are harvested anywhere else in the world is allowed. This means you may still find shark fin soup on the menu at your local Chinese restaurant.
The ortolan, a tiny rare songbird, was once a delicacy in its native France. Some 20 years after the European Union deemed the ortolan a protected species, the sale of it became illegal in France. The U.S. followed suit, banning the importation and sale of the thumb-sized bird.
In 2011, the Arkansas Department of Health banned a brownie called “Lazy Cakes,” which contained 7.8 milligrams of melatonin, unspecified amounts of valerian root and other “herbal” ingredients to help the consumer relax — or fall into a long, deep sleep, as was the case of one woman who tested a brownie back in 2011. While we couldn’t find any Lazy Cakes on the market today, other relaxation cakes such as Kush Cakes are still legal in other states, largely because they’re labeled as a dietary supplement and not a food.
Chilean Sea Bass
Seriously overfished and depleted, the sale and purchase of Chilean sea bass are legal in the U.S., but only under very strict conditions. Only certified Chilean sea bass fishing boats are allowed to harvest and sell the fish, and the number of fish each boat is permitted to catch is regulated by the FDA. FYI, the name “Chilean sea bass” was actually created by a fish wholesaler named Lee Lantz in 1977 as a more attractive alternative to the Patagonian toothfish.
When you learn that casu marzu is also known as fly larvae cheese, you have a pretty good idea of why it’s banned. Basically, it looks like it’s completely rotten. This Sardinian cheese is purposefully infested with maggots, who lay eggs inside of it then eat away at it. If that sounds crazy, check this out — the cheese is only edible before the maggots die. Ew.
In 2007, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reported that an estimated 35,000 sea turtles are consumed every year in California alone. But the Endangered Species Act gave sea turtles legal protection in the U.S. and its waters, meaning it’s illegal to eat its meat. If you’re wondering why people don’t eat turtle soup anymore, that’s your answer.
Many countries around the world harvest horse meat, but it’s banned in the U.S. — kind of. In 2007, Congress stopped funding federal inspections of both imported horse meat and domestic horse slaughterhouses. This meant it wasn’t possible for horse meat to be sold in supermarkets and restaurants because USDA inspections are required for all food before it’s sold. The ban was reversed in 2011, but many states have their own specific laws regarding the slaughter of horses and the sale of their meat. Either way, most Americans are pretty horrified at the idea of eating Black Beauty.
The queen conch, also known as Strombus gigas or Lobatus gigas, is a large marine mollusk that can be as long as 9 inches. It’s everywhere in the Bahamas and was once found in large numbers in the Florida Keys, but it’s now illegal to commercially or recreationally harvest queen conch in U.S. waters. However, despite various petitions, it’s still not listed as endangered.
Also known as “raw” milk, most states — including Arizona, California, Maine and Washington — don’t permit the production of unpasteurized milk. Some states allow its sale in stores, while others only permit sale directly from farms in small quantities. The prohibition of raw milk is intended to protect consumers from toxic microbes in the milk, but many farmers argue that modern farm sanitization standards make it safe to drink.
There’s a whole world of cheese out there that Americans are missing out on. The sale of unpasteurized cheese, both homemade and imported, is banned across the country. So some of the most delicious varieties are forbidden, such as unpasteurized brie and camembert. A trip to Europe is a cheese lover’s fantasy.
Bushmeat is the collective term for raw or minimally processed meat from any animals hunted and slaughtered in Africa, including antelopes, elephants and gorillas. It’s banned in the U.S. for two main reasons — it can carry fatal diseases and it encourages illegal trading. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has strict warnings against bringing bushmeat into the U.S. and the offense carries a hefty fine of $250,000.
Edible birds’ nests, made of solidified swiftlet saliva, are prized in Chinese culture due to their rarity and their high nutritional value. But it’s a controversial delicacy because the swiftlet is an endangered species. It’s also illegal to bring one into the U.S. as they can carry Newcastle Disease or the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) virus.