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Top 5 Illegal Foods in the U.S.

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 23, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For a country that prides itself as being on the cutting edge of hot dog pizza, fried cheesecake, and Dorito-shelled taco technology, there are a surprising number of foods banned in the U.S. Some foods are illegal due to health concerns, some due to environmental hazards, and others because the main ingredient is an endangered species.

So what deliciousness are you missing out on?

1. Milk.

Well not all milk, obviously, just the unpasteurized stuff. Back in the day before extensive dairy sanitation laws, there was concern about bacteria in raw milk, and the pasteurization process kills potentially dangerous bacteria. There are actually quite a few overlapping laws regarding the sale of raw milk, and the Centers for Disease Control has an extensive primer on raw milk and pasteurization. Even if it's legal to sell in your state, you probably don't want to cross state lines with raw milk.

2. Redfish.

Popularized by Dr. Seuss and chef Paul Prudhomme, blackened redfish was once a magical dish. Now that the main ingredient is endangered, the fish is no longer available for sale in restaurants outside Mississippi. As the law stands now, one fish, two fish, and blue fish are still on the menu.

3. Sassafras.

How can a food so fun to say be illegal? It turns out oil from this sweet sounding root (that actually used to flavor root beer and tea) is a potential carcinogen. This landed safrole on the FDA's list of Substances Prohibited From use in Human Food.

4. Japanese Puffer Fish.

Not totally banned, but you do need a license to sell or serve puffer fish in the U.S. Called "fugu" and served as a delicacy in Japan, puffer fish (AKA blowfish) can be deadly if not prepared properly. According to the FDA:

"[S]ome puffer fish contain the toxins tetrodotoxin and/or saxitoxin. These toxins are more deadly than the poison cyanide and can affect a person's central nervous system. There are no known antidotes for these toxins. Puffer fish must be cleaned and prepared properly so the organs containing the toxins are carefully removed and do not cross-contaminate the flesh of the fish. These toxins cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing."

OK then.

5. Absinthe.

Once thought to be the hallucinogenic inspiration for artists and writers in France around the turn of the 18th century, absinthe was also thought to be dangerously addictive and cause epilepsy and tuberculosis. It was subsequently banned in the U.S., and though restrictions have been relaxed, the FDA considers absinthe's central ingredient, wormwood, to be a poisonous plant. Therefore, only absinthe with less than 100 parts per million of thujone (the toxic chemical present in wormwood) are allowed for import.

Bon appetit!

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