Are There Any Foods That Are Illegal To Eat in the United States?

Over the last few years, the American palate has broadened considerably with flavors from every corner of the globe popping up everywhere. But some foods that are considered common fare or rare delicacies in other countries are actually banned in the United States. This could be because of safety concerns, issues over the treatment of animals, environmental impact, or a number of other considerations. Whatever the case, these foods are banned in the USA:


Once completely banned in the U.S., Absinthe has recently been made legal again as of 1997, but only under very strict controls by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The reason absinthe was illegal for so long and is still so tightly regulated is that the highly alcoholic drink is derived from herbs, including wormwood, and was once thought to be an addictive hallucinogen. The only forms of absinthe that are currently legal under FDA standards are those that contain less than 100 parts per million of thujone, a toxic chemical found in wormwood. Any greater levels, while potentially giving the drink more of its alluring kick, also makes it illegal in the U.S.


Ackee is a fruit, and is in fact the national fruit of Jamaica. Unfortunately, it contains a substance that suppresses the body's ability to release its supply of glucose. This can plunge one's blood sugar level to dangerously low levels, and even cause death. As a result, importation of the raw fruit is banned in the U.S.

Casu Marzu

Casu marzu is a traditional Sardinian cheese. It develops when the larvae of a particular fly are introduced into Pecorino to promote fermentation. As the larvae hatch, they eat through the cheese and it softens. The cheese is supposed to be eaten before the maggots die. Add to this wriggly feast the fact that the cheese is unpasteurized, and it was destined to be banned in the U.S.

Chilean Sea Bass

Overfishing left this food fish in short supply. As a result, the U.S. implemented bans on Chilean sea bass, only allowing certified Chilean sea bass fishing boats to harvest and sell it. FDA regulations control the numbers of the fish any certified fishing boat can catch in an effort to allow the animal population to grow. The U.S. is not alone in its efforts to help the Chilean sea bass. 24 other countries have banned the fish or strictly regulated it.

Foie Gras

This food is quickly becoming a banned food, though the adoption of its banning has only just begun in limited jurisdictions. The city of Chicago, Illinois banned the food from 2006 to 2008 citing concerns over the force-feeing of geese as part of the preparation of the animals. The force-feeing encourages fattening of the animals, but is considered by some to be inhumane. While Chicago ultimately repealed the ban, the State of California implemented a similar ban against force-feeding in 2012.

Horse Meat

A contentious matter across the U.S., horse meat is technically legal to consume in most states, but the slaughter of horses for human consumption is banned. Why? Well, it is mostly because people like horses a lot. Consumption of horse meat by humans used to be commonplace in the U.S., but sentiment began to shift throughout the later part of the 20th century. As a result, in June 2010, Congress voted to extend the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 to prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Horses are still regularly slaughtered for human consumption overseas, and are still often used for animal feed even in the U.S.

Japanese Puffer Fish

Japanese puffer fish is a delicacy to fans of sushi, where it is called “fugu,” but it is largely banned in the U.S. and, where permitted, it can only be served by those with a license. The European Union actually bans it all together. The reason is well known, and often the basis for jokes or tense moments in movies and television shows. While many consider the fish delicious, the puffer fish's skin and certain organs contain an extremely poisonous toxin called tetrodotoxin. In humans, tetrodotoxin can lead to paralysis or even death by asphyxiation.


The purple mangosteen is a fruit that is much-prized in Thailand. It was once completely banned in the U.S. because of fears that it would allow for the import of the Asian fruit fly. The ban was lifted in 2007, but the fruit must still be irradiated in order to rid it of the flies.


The ortolan is a tiny bird, prized by French gourmet chefs. Unfortunately, overhunting has caused the population to decline severely since the 1960s. The led France to ban selling ortolan. The U.S. followed suit and it is banned in the U.S. Indeed, even smuggling the bird into the U.S. is a crime.


In 1980, famed New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme publicized a recipe for blackened redfish. The rare fish suddenly became a craze; so much so that it actually ended up on the endangered species list. In 1986 the Commerce Department forced redfish fisheries to close their doors and limited sales to allow the population to rebuild. Today the redfish is banned outright in all U.S. states except Mississippi. Because it is native to North America, most states will allow fishing for redfish for personal use, but strictly regulate the practice.

Sassafras Oil

Sassafras, once a popular ingredient in teas and root beer, was banned in the 1960's when the FDA identified a compound in Sassafras called safrole was a carcinogent. While the sassafras oil is banned, root extracts, which do not contain safrole, are permitted.

Shark Fins

“Shark finning” is the act of removing the fin of a shark and dumping the animal back into the ocean. It is illegal in U.S. waters. But, perhaps not surprisingly, shark finning is how shark fins make it to the table. As a result, by law shark fins can only comprise five percent of a fisherman's total shark haul in the United States. While consuming shark fins remains legal, as in Chinese shark fin soup, the supply of shark fins is very limited making the dish prohibitively expensive for most. In fact, the demand is so low in the United States that most of the shark fins gathered in U.S. waters are exported to Asian countries.

Unpasteurized Milk

Once the only way it came, unpasteurized milk is now banned in 21 states. Of the other states that allow it, some only allow it if bought directly from the farmer in small quantities. The reason is safety. Milk is generally loaded with bacteria and other pathogens before pasteurization, though some have argued that modern standards for farm sanitation make the levels of contamination within safe standards for human consumption.

Wild Beluga Caviar

Wild beluga caviar, exotic delicacy famously enjoyed by daring super-spy evildoers, is prohibited in the U.S. The caviar is made of the eggs of wild Beluga sturgeon. Much as with the redfish, the popularity of the caviar drove demand to far exceed nature's capacities, and the wild Beluga sturgeon became endangered. As a result, in 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned wild Beluga caviar.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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