9 Banned Foods That Could Land You in Hot Water

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Lots of “banned foods” lists circulate online with little specific information about why a food is (or was) blocked from entering the United States. That may leave health-conscious readers wondering: Is this food dangerous for me? And is it still banned, or is that outdated information? The confusion is understandable. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tells us that restrictions and bans on food importation are handled by several government offices and can happen for a wide range of reasons. Here’s the scoop on nine foods that aren’t always allowed into the U.S. and why.

Ackee Fruit

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Ackee fruit is restricted in the U.S. through an FDA import alert because if it is processed under certain conditions, it can be dangerous to your health. A toxin called hypoglycin-A can appear at high levels in unripe ackee. Once it fully ripens, that toxin drops to safer levels in some parts of the fruit, but the rind and seeds can still have more toxin than is safe to consume. In fact, it can be fatal. The FDA does have a list of fruit processors on its “Green List,” companies that have shown that they have enough safety controls in place to offer properly ripened ackees without seeds or rind, some of which are used in some processed products imported into the States.

Read more: 10 Ultimate Smoothies For Any Time of Day

Casu Marzu Cheese

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This traditional cheese from Sardinia is mind-blowing: Making casu marzu involves leaving goat-milk cheese outside to decay. Once flies begin to gather, the rind is cut off to allow the flies to lay eggs in the cheese. (Yep, you read that right.) Digestive enzymes released by the resulting maggots then make the hard cheese softer, creating this uniquely Italian delicacy. According to a spokesperson for the FDA, they are “concerned about the use of maggots in the production of casu marzu because of the documented reports of flies, including the flies used to make casu marzu, causing intestinal myiasis,” and thus it is detained at U.S. borders and banned from import.

Sassafras

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Sassafras, technically known as “safrole,” is an oil extract from the root bark or the fruit of the sassafras plant and was once commonly used to flavor drinks like root beer. In the 1950s and 1960s, benign and malignant tumors were discovered in rats that consumed safrole, which lead the FDA to determined that safrole is carcinogenic and causes liver damage in animals.

Today, most commercial sassafras teas and root beers are artificially flavored, so you only have to worry about the root-beer's calories, not the damage to your liver.

Read more: 10 Trending Health Foods You Need to Know About NOW

Fugu (Puffer Fish)

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Famous for being potentially lethal, Japanese puffer fish is (surprisingly) not entirely banned. But it can contain two central nervous system toxins (tetrodotoxin and saxitoxin) that cause severe illness or even death, so the Japanese government only licenses specially trained fish cutters to process and prepare it. Puffer fish (aka blowfish) are imported into the U.S. just two or three times each year and only by the one approved importer chosen by an agreement between the FDA and the Japanese government. Those imported servings of puffer are likely to be safe.

There are also domestic puffer fish here in the U.S., but the state of Florida bans commercial and recreational harvesting from several counties due to “persistent toxicity.” Northern puffer fish from mid-Atlantic coastal waters (typically between Virginia and New York) are potentially toxin-free. But without routine screening, a risk remains even with those varieties.

Unpasteurized Cheeses

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Raw, unpasteurized milk used in making unpasteurized cheese may carry bacteria, including salmonella, enterotoxigenic E. coli, and listeria monocytogenes. (That being said, boy, are unpasteurized cheeses delicious!) So the FDA requires a minimum 60-day aging period at no less than 35 degrees Fahrenheit for these cheeses to be considered safe, whether they are imported or made in the U.S.

Read more: Should You Drink Coffee Before a Workout? Read This First

Morning Glory

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This delectable green vegetable — also known as water spinach and a staple of daily diets in Thailand — is unfortunately on the USDA’s Federal Noxious Weed List and banned from entering the U.S. Although it is technically safe for consumption, this plant grows invasively near rivers and swamps and can hamper natural water flows and block boats with its dense growth. So feel free to indulge if you happen to encounter it, but you won't find much locally grown water spinach in the States.

Cyclamate and Stevia

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In the 1950s and 1960s, cyclamates were used in a variety of sugar-free beverages and other low-calorie foods and sweeteners in the U.S., including Sweet-N-Low. The FDA tells us that cyclamates and their salts are currently prohibited from use in the United States due to a study in 1969 that resulted in bladder tumors in rats. There have been petitions and new studies with different results, but the ban remains in effect here despite having been lifted in 130 countries, including the United Kingdom.

Another type of sugar substitute, whole-leaf and crude stevia extracts, is subject to an “import alert” and are not permitted for use as sweeteners. But it’s important to note that these forms of stevia are not the same as the highly purified steviol glycosides that are commonly used as sweeteners in the United States. So the highly refined stevia you see available in health-food and grocery stores is not limited by the FDA and not the same as the crude stevia that the government restricts.

Read more: 10 Dessert Recipes That Won't Derail Your Diet

Fresh Szechuan Peppercorns

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This delicious spice, which gives Szechuan dishes their distinctive tingly heat, was banned in 1968 for agricultural reasons, according to the New York Times. The peppercorns were thought to carry a bacterial disease that could harm citrus crops in the States.

Now for some better news: In 2005, the USDA first lifted restrictions on imported, dried Szechuan peppercorns and then, subsequently, raw Szechuan peppers. You can find them at Asian grocery stores and add them to stir-fried dishes or mapo tofu without any worry. More a dried berry than an actual peppercorn, it can be ground or used whole.

Shark Fin

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While the FDA has no overall ban on shark fin, there are restrictions on imports of certain shark products, including shark fins, due to problems with procurement and high levels of methylmercury.

The practice of “shark finning,” the removal of a shark’s fin (often while the shark is still alive), was banned by President Bill Clinton in 2000 on any fishing vessel in U.S. waters and all U.S.-flagged fishing vessels. The legislation also states that imported shark fins can’t enter the U.S. without the associated carcass. Fishermen developed the practice of cutting off the fin, the most profitable part of the shark, and leaving the rest of the body in the water to make room on their boats to store more fins. Unfortunately, after the fin is cut, the shark often sinks and dies from suffocation or is eaten by another predator.

Read more: 14 Best Foods for Your Heart

What Do YOU Think?

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Have you tried any of the foods on our list? Let us know what you think of them in the comments below!

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Overview

Lots of “banned foods” lists circulate online with little specific information about why a food is (or was) blocked from entering the United States. That may leave health-conscious readers wondering: Is this food dangerous for me? And is it still banned, or is that outdated information? The confusion is understandable. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tells us that restrictions and bans on food importation are handled by several government offices and can happen for a wide range of reasons. Here’s the scoop on nine foods that aren’t always allowed into the U.S. and why.

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