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10 US Foods You Never Knew Were Illegal

It may be surprising to know that there are certain food items that are banned in the US. The same foods that are considered traditional dishes or delicacies in some countries are not welcome at all in the good ol’ US of A. To find out why these products are banned from entering the country, here are the 10 US Foods You Never Knew Were Illegal. 

10. Japanese Pufferfish

Japanese pufferfish go by many names, including fugu, bok, blowfish, and globefish. It is a delicacy gingerly prepared by the best sushi chefs in the world. Why “gingerly”? Because the skin, liver, gonads, and intestines are chocked full of a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin-saxitoxin, which is more dangerous than cyanide. If pufferfish is not adequately prepared and rid of the toxins, neurological symptoms can manifest between 20 minutes and 2 hours following consumption. Initial symptoms include tingling of the lips and mouth, which may be followed by dizziness, tingling of the arms and legs, muscle weakness, paralysis, and vomiting. Poisoned diners can even die as a result of respiratory paralysis. Cooking or freezing pufferfish will not destroy the toxins. In fact, thawing the whole fish can cause the toxins to saturate into the flesh, making the entire animal poisonous, even after expert preparation. The import of pufferfish is currently restricted to one plant in Japan, where specially trained cutters ensure food safety. They take the preparation of this fish so seriously in Japan; they have the skin of the fish hanging in the windows of restaurants to let you know the chef is a pufferfish expert. It should also be noted that pufferfish are found in the waters of Florida. Consequently, Florida has banned harvesting the fish, too. 

9. Traditional Haggis

Haggis may be the national dish of Scotland, but its traditional iteration is unwelcome in the United States. While some people love haggis, others think it’s awful. The reason for such controversy largely lies with the main traditional ingredient of the dish: offal, or sheep organs that include the lungs, hearts, and liver. Once minced and cooked with onion, the offal is then mixed with oatmeal, suet, and seasoning; stitched into the sheep’s stomach; and boiled for up to 3 hours. It is served with potatoes, turnips, and, depending on the tastes of the cook, a shot of Scottish whiskey. In 1971, the US banned the importation of haggis due to the fact that proper haggis contains sheep’s lungs. All animal lungs are prohibited by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) over concerns that dangerous fluids, including stomach fluids, may contaminate the animal’s lungs during the butchering process, which increases the risk of foodborne illness in humans. Indeed, in one study, researchers found that freshly procured Scottish haggis contained several strains of bacteria, including Bacillus, Lactobacillus, Staphylococcus—yeasts, and molds. After three weeks of spoilage, the number of contaminants and lactic-acid bacteria increased ten-fold. Because of the large Scottish heritage in the US, there has been talking for years about allowing Haggis back into the US, but it has yet to happen. 

8. Ackee Fruit

Not many people will have heard of this fruit, but it is actually quite a popular fruit around the world.  Also known as Ankye, Achee, and Ackee apple, this fruit is part of the Sapindaceae family which also has Lychee and the Longan fruit, found in West Africa. This tropical fruit is the national fruit of Jamaica and is eaten when fully ripe. It is used in an assortment of jams, drinks, and candies and apparently tastes like scrambled eggs when cooked. When it’s unripe, however, ackee can be dangerous. It contains high levels of the toxin hypoglycin A, which disrupts blood glucose production and can increase the risk of hypoglycemia. Left unchecked, hypoglycemia can lead to coma and even death. Thus, the importation of raw fruit has been banned by the FDA since 1973. On the plus side, the fruit may still be purchased in canned and frozen forms, but it is still very rare as the FDA doesn’t really fully trust this fruit. We know that we are all supposed to get our portion of fruits and vegetables each day, but the Ackee fruit will probably never be in yours if you live in the US. You’re better off eating berries and carrots instead. 

7. British Beef And Lamb

For the next entry on our list, we have another British classic food item, which also happened to be banned in the US. Way back in 1989, the United States banned the import of British beef and lamb because of concerns regarding bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a condition that became more commonly known as mad cow disease. Although the ban still stands today, some health experts believe that concerns over the risk of BSE derived from British beef or lamb are likely overblown. In 2015, for instance, there were only two cases of BSE in the United Kingdom and no cases in 2016, compared with more than 1,000 cases per week in 1993, at the height of the BSE epidemic. Just like with haggis, there have been rumors that the United States may be considering lifting the ban on British beef and lamb. In 2019, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposed updating current regulations regarding BSE. Since it has been shown that sheep, goats, and other small ruminants pose a minimal risk of spreading the BSE disease agent, APHIS is proposing to remove the current BSE-related restrictions on imports of live domestic sheep, goats, and small ruminants, as well as most sheep and goat products.  

6. Kinder Surprise Eggs

Our next entry could be the most surprising food item on our list so far. If you have a young child, you’re likely familiar with Kinder Joy eggs. These egg-shaped, split-chocolate treats come with a toy separate from the chocolate egg. Well, the earlier iteration of the delicacy sold in Europe, called Kinder Surprise eggs, has been banned by customs in imports in the United States because the toy is contained inside the chocolate egg, which poses a choking hazard per the US government. According to the FDA, the following are banned: “Confectionery products containing non-nutritive components, such as small toys or objects, which may be partially or completely embedded in the food product.” As of 2018, the United States Customs and Border Protection has seized more than 160,000 Kinder Surprise eggs from international travelers and in international mail shipments. While the Kinder Egg is still banned from bringing into the US, they are starting to produce their own versions and Kinder products for kids to enjoy. Luckily for us all, as let’s be honest, it’s not just kids that enjoy this chocolate with the toy surprise inside. 

5. Absinthe With Thujone

Absinthe is fabled to increase creativity and was well-loved in the artistic community. It was a known favorite of Vincent Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Hemingway. But, how exactly does absinthe inspire creativity? It’s long been held that the drink may cause visual hallucinations and psychotropic effects. Because of this, when bans on alcohol were lifted following prohibition, absinthe remained illegal in the United States until recently. In 2007, the sale of absinthe became legal, as long as the bottle contains only 10 parts per million of thujone. Thujone is a neurotoxin found in plant oils like wormwood, which is the key ingredient in absinthe and gives it its distinct bite. Adverse effects of thujone include hallucinations, insomnia, kidney failure, restlessness, seizures, vomiting, and more. Thujone is banned as a food additive in the US, and its presence in foods and beverages is regulated in several countries. However, many of the thujone-containing plant oils are used as flavoring substances in the alcoholic drink industry. Absinthe is available in Spain, Denmark, and Portugal. Vermouth, chartreuse, and Benedictine all contain small amounts of thujone, and wormwood is popular as a flavoring for vodka in Sweden. It might be worth noting that, by the end of the modern distillation process, authentic absinthe contains very little thujone. In fact, some experts have suggested that a consumer would be stricken with alcohol poisoning before they would experience any hallucinogenic effects from the brew. 

4. Beluga Caviar

There are many reasons for countries to ban importing certain items and foods. Many of them have to do with the threat they pose or how harmful they could be to people, which we think is fair enough. However, sometimes a food item can be banned because it’s actually harmful to the animal itself. That’s exactly what the US did with Beluga Caviar, and there are plenty of people that are happy about this. If your idea of a casual snack is a small dollop of Beluga Caviar on top of a crisp piece of melba toast, we’re sure you’ve been weeping since the US banned it in 2005, but your bank account has probably been happy. The New York Times reported that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service issued the ban because of the over-fishing of the endangered prized Beluga sturgeon, which primarily calls the Caspian Sea its home. The salty treat, which is considered one of the most expensive foods coming in at roughly $220 per ounce, did have its international ban lifted in 2007 by the U.N., but the US ban is still in effect, and hopefully, this will go a long way to helping the animal thrive once more. 

3. Unpasteurized Milk 

The debate over raw or unpasteurized milk is a very heated one in the United States. Currently, 18 states have banned the sale and buying of raw milk, but this looks set to increase to 21 states. Way back in 1987, the FDA required all milk and milk products to be pasteurized for human consumption if they wanted to cross state lines. You probably remember the story of French scientist Louis Pasteur from your middle school science classe who discovered pasteurization, which is the heating of raw milk in order to kill off bacteria, so it is safe to eat and consume. Obviously, unpasteurized milk or raw milk skips this step which means it’s pretty much milk straight from the source. The CDC has stated that consuming raw milk can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, and possibly death. Raw milk is basically a host for all sorts of nasty stuff such as listeria, E.coli, and salmonella. Even if you live in a state such as California or Pennsylvania where raw milk is currently still available for sale, be extremely careful when drinking it and know the risks. Despite these known dangers, raw milk advocates still say that the pros of drinking unpasteurized milk outweigh the cons. However, a lot of states in the US disagree, and drinking or using unpasteurized milk is likely to be banned for a long time to come, and it may well increase to even more states. 

2. Ortolan 

The traditional method of cooking this little songbird would make many nature enthusiasts encourage a ban. It is so bad, in fact, that tradition says those who eat this French delicacy should cover their head with a napkin to hide the shame of such a decadent and disgraceful act. The birds are captured during their migration to Africa and kept in dark cages where they are fed grain until they nearly double in size. Then, they’d be thrown into a bucket of Armagnac, a type of brandy, where they’d drown and marinate at the same time. Even more disgusting and disturbing, if that’s even possible, is the fact that diners would eat the bird in one bite, put it in your mouth and eat it whole; head, beak, and bones included. It was supposed to be extremely tasty. The late president of France, Francois Mitterrand, was a big fan of this dish. While the cooking method is certainly controversial, because of the popularity of this dish, the Ortolan population decreased dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s, and in 2007, France ramped up the ban, setting a six thousand Euro fine for the killing of one of the little songbirds. The ban stretched right across the EU and into other parts of the world, including the US. Not only was the cooking method banned in the US, but since these birds are endangered, American chefs are prohibited from the barbaric and cruel preparation, and thankfully, there will be no one eating this once popular dish in the future. 

1. Casu Marzu

Many people love a good chunk of cheese and love nothing more to try all the cheeses the world has to offer. But, for a lot of other people, the thought of eating congealed milk isn’t very appetizing. If you fall into the latter category, then you may want to look away now as the next entry on our list will no doubt have everyone’s stomach-turning and reaching for the nearest bucket! Casu Marzu literally translates to rotten/putrid cheese. However, it is more affectionally referred to as Maggot cheese, which is a food from Sardinia. Yes, we know, the name itself is enough to get this food banned. While the Mediterranean is known for its delicious cheeses, according to many, Casu Marzu isn’t one of them. This cheese is made from Goat’s milk, which isn’t unusual for cheese, but what gives it its edge is the other part of the process. During the early part of the fermenting process, larvae are introduced into the cheese. Off to a great start so far. After a few weeks, the larvae hatch and begin to feed inside the cheese. Then the cheese is ready to eat – larvae and all. If the thought of maggot-filled cheese doesn’t excite you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In recent years, health authorities have put their foot down on this cheese as it doesn’t meet modern sanitation requirements, and it is now illegal to make in many countries, the United States included. And honestly, we have to say, we are very relieved by that decision, and we support it one hundred percent!

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