There are foods enjoyed around the world that U.S. considers so risky that they’re outright banned there. Some of these pose the risk of foodborne illness while others bring agricultural pests into the country. The process of determining which foods are safe is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and/or the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), depending on the type of food in question. Here’s a list of eight foods that are generally illegal in the U.S. Some of them are only banned in certain states.
1. Horse Meat
No one stateside is noshing on horse meat unless they’re doing so illegally. This is because Mr. Ed and his equine buddies must be inspected for human consumption under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. However, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is not allowed to fund the inspection of horse slaughter for human consumption, since 2006 anyway, according to a representative at the FSIS. Since they can’t inspect it, the slaughter can’t happen.
The ban on slaughtering horses for meat “has become an annual fight” in Congress, according to USA Today. There is bipartisan support for banning it permanently, something the Humane Society of the United States supports but the American Veterinary Medical Association does not.
OK, so haggis per se isn’t banned, but one of the primary ingredients of the authentic dish is. That ingredient is animal lungs. Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, is traditionally made with a sheep stomach used as a sack to contain all the other ingredients (including chopped-up lungs). The FSIS isn’t trying to be party poopers, however, the lung ban is for consumer protection. This is because gastrointestinal fluids can make their way into the lungs of an animal during the slaughtering process, leading to an increased risk of foodborne illness, according to an FSIS representative. So, many in the U.S. make haggis with ingredients like ground lamb and organ meats from other animals like beef kidneys or chicken livers.
This ban mainly applies to people in the Northeastern section of the country these days, a big relief to fans of sweet, sweet gooseberry jam. Maine, Delaware, New Hampshire and a handful of other states maintain the ban on the gooseberry and its cousin black currant because some species aid and abet a tree-killing disease known as white pine blister rust. Since the Northeast is pretty fond of its white pines, it’s not hard to see why residents would want to minimize the risk.
4. Mechanically Separated (MS) Beef
“Appetizing” as it sounds, you can’t find mechanically separated beef in the U.S. because it could contain the agent Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which you know better as “mad cow disease.” MS beef is a paste-like meat product made when edible meat still attached to bones is forced through a sieve under high pressure. This separates the bone from the meat tissue, but the process was deemed unsafe in 2004 by the FSIS. The mad cow risk isn’t limited to MS beef, however. Other cattle parts are also prohibited for human food, including cow brains, skulls, eyes, spinal cords, tonsils and various other bits. So, the next time you’re in the U.S. and have a hankering for cow tonsils, you’re out of luck.
It’s fun to say, but it’s dangerous to eat! Sassafras contains oils that are now-known carcinogens, although they were once used for flavoring all sorts of dishes, foods and beverages, including root beer, and even for treating eye inflammation. Because of the cancer connection, sassafras was prohibited for human consumption in 1960 in the U.S. by the FDA and remains taboo today. So, if great-grandma suggests some sassafras tea to cure what ails you, you know what to say.
6. Foie Gras
The thought of foie gras (French for “fat liver”) makes a lot of people’s mouths water — until they find out how it’s produced. Ducks or geese are force-fed massive amounts of food through a tube until their livers swell to at least eight times the normal size. Foie gras has been banned in California since 2012, due to the way it’s made. Now, other areas are hopping on board, but not without resistance from the foie gras industry, which argues that the ducks don’t feel discomfort. New York City enacted a foie gras ban that goes into effect in 2022, and other cities and states may well follow suit.
7. Unpasteurized Milk
Pasteurization is a process that heats milk hot enough to kill nasty, illness-causing bacteria (such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria). You know, bacteria that cause really bad stuff like listeriosis, tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid fever and other diseases. But some people prefer to drink their milk raw, which has caused many states to make it illegal to sell milk or other dairy products that haven’t been properly pasteurized. Other states only allow raw milk sales on farms, but not at retail stores.
8. Fresh Ackee
Here’s a fruit you’re not going to find at the farmers market. Ackee is native to West Africa and found in other tropical areas like Jamaica (where it is part of the national dish), but it can only be consumed in canned or frozen form in the U.S. This is because the red-skinned, vitamin-rich, pear-shaped fruit, produces a toxin called hypoglycin, when picked before it is fully ripened. This can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar and vomiting. In severe cases, it can even cause death.