8 Foods That Will Land You In Jail Or Kill You

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foods that will land you in jail

Have you ever wondered why some foods that seem perfectly innocent (raw milk, haggis) are illegal in the U.S. and ones that will kill you are perfectly legal (we’re looking at you, blowfish liver).. well, fear not for Yahoo! Health has put together a list of foods that will land you in jail or kill you… or both.  Many find it bizarre that in the United States it is perfectly legal to eat lion meat and shark fin (in most states), yet raw milk and young cheese is completely illegal.

YH! [1] says:

It’s all a big mess and highlights the fact that the way our food is regulated can be ridiculous. Here’s our list of items that could land you in the hot seat (or in a coffin!), and the (often nonsensical) reasons why.

Raw Milk

foods that will land you in jail

Almost all milk on grocery shelves has been heated to kill bacteria through the pasteurization process. The FDA saysthat “raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to you and your family.” But even though the sale of raw dairy is illegal in most states, it has been gaining popularity in recent years. Fans claim that the beneficial bacteria and enzymes make raw milk more nutritious and easier to digest, and that the risk is low with a trusted source.


FDA crackdowns have brought some element of gangster romanticism to raw-milk runners, especially in California, where a “raw milk gang” called the “Rawesome Three” earned themselves a writeup in The New Yorker in 2012. The state is also famous for FDA raids, with guns drawn, on raw-milk sellers. The debate going on now is whether legalizing raw milk would allow for stricter regulation, since an illegal industry is an unregulated one. Maybe Colorado and Washington state will have some suggestions? Depending on the state, fines for selling raw milk can go above $10,000, and jail sentences can go beyond two years.

Shark Fin

foods that will land you in jail

Shark-fin soup is an ancient cure-all in Chinese medicine, believed to boost both chi and sexual prowess. The demand for shark-fin soup has been growing, and the way fishermen get their hands on the coveted ingredient has become more widely known. It’s not pretty.

Shark “finning,” or cutting the fins off live sharks and throwing the animals back, has been illegal in the United States since 2000. Sharks that have been finned cannot swim, and will die from suffocation or be killed by another animal. Though U.S. law prohibits finning in U.S. waters, it does not forbid importation or trade of shark fins. So restaurants can simply buy the fins from overseas.

Ten states outlaw the sale of shark fins (the latest is Texas, in June), and the Animal Welfare Institute has a list of restaurants that still legally serve the dish so that diners can boycott if they wish. Any restaurant in California caught serving shark fin can face up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail for the owner.

Young, Unpasteurized Cheese

foods that will land you in jail
We think of cheese as an American staple, but we’re missing out on A LOT. In late 2014, the Federal Drug Administration got even tougher on cheese importers and artisans, effectively banning Roquefort, Morbier, and Tomme de Savoie, among others. The FDA changed its acceptable levels of a certain bacteria present in many cheeses, which many claim is harmless.


But the importation of unpasteurized cheese that is less than 60 days old has been illegal since 1949. Mimolette is banned because tiny mites are used to change the flavor of the bright-orange cheese. Though the practice has never caused a known health issue, the FDA said it was a potential allergen and banned it.

Fugu (A.K.A. Blowfish)

foods that will send you to jail

Yes, there is serious danger here, but Fugu is the inspiration for one of our favorite Simpsons episodes [2], so it’s kind of fun, too! Contrary to what the doctor tells Homer, if you eat the wrong parts of the blowfish, which contain the toxin tetrodotoxin, you do not have 24 hours; it’s more like just a few, depending on the dose.

Fugu meat is served sashimi-style, and the tail is edible, too, often served grilled or fried with a sweet sauce. It’s just the internal organs that contain tetrodotoxin, which paralyzes the body without affecting consciousness, so the poisoned party suffocates while completely aware. There is no known cure. But as long as you avoid the organs, you’re all good. Comforting, right?

Fewer than 20 chefs are licensed to prepare Fugu in the U.S., and others may import already prepared Fugu from Japan. Accidental deaths do happen. The most recent Fugu-poisoning incident occurred in Japan [3], when diners ate the fish’s highly toxic liver after specifically requesting it from the kitchen and being thoroughly warned. In the last ten years, a farmed Fugu [4] has been bred to not contain the toxin, but in Japan, the more innocuous fish has met with some resistance from Fugu-preparation experts.

Foie Gras

foods that will land you in jail

Foie gras is essentially goose or duck liver. The unique flavor of foie gras is gained by force-feeding the animals a specialized, overly fatty diet far past what they would eat naturally. This practice increases the fat content in the animal’s liver, giving it a buttery texture.


Due to animal-rights concerns, the city of Chicago banned foie gras from 2006 until the ban was repealed in 2008. During that time, noted chefs continued to serve it, sometimes for free, to get around the law. The famed (and now sadly closed) Hot Doug’s hot dog stand was the first in Chicago to receive a $250 fine for serving foie gras in 2007 [5].

In 2012, a law banning the force-feeding of animals went into effect in California, but a judge put a halt to enforcement early this year because of a conflict with pre-existing federal statutes. The case is still pending on appeal.


foods that will land you in jail

Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, may not seem like something Americans are clamoring for, but the United Kingdom is dismayed that haggis cannot be imported into the U.S., due to our ban on consumption of all lungs.

The theory behind the ban is a little gross, but important to understand. Lungs are very porous, and in the slaughtering process, they can absorb liquids that can be sources of bacteria and disease. Plenty of other cultures consume lungs on a regular basis, but haggis is the most famous dish affected, and no one is objecting louder than the Scots [6]. It should be noted that lungs are a totally acceptable ingredient in pet food…so there’s a head-scratcher.

Trans Fats

foods that will land you in jail

The national ban on trans fats, floated in 2013 by the FDA, finally went into effect this year [7]. Over the next three years, companies must either reformulate their products or petition for special permission to use them. The good news is that the mutant fats that raise LDL cholesterol and contribute to heart disease will no longer be lurking in our snacks.

The FDA estimates that this move could lead to a significant drop in heart disease. However, there are always repercussions when major food ingredients are banned. Some are speculating that rising demand for palm oil, the most likely replacement for trans fats, could have lasting environmental consequences.

Horse Meat

foods that will land you in jail

Horses are part of the ungulate family — just like deer, elk, and bison, which Americans are eating with increasing frequency. But for some reason, we just can’t stomach the idea of eating horses. In 2011, a U.S. ban on horse slaughter was lifted, and a few slaughter facilities prepared to resume the practice. But public opinion was not friendly, and Congress quickly found another way to effectively stop the slaughter of horses by cutting funding for meat inspectors [8]. These kinds of legal acrobatics have kept horses off dinner plates since World War II, though every few years, the issue seems to surface again.

Various states have passed statutes forbidding the sale, slaughter, transport, or purchase of horses for their meat. Currently, thousands of horses are exported to South and Central America for slaughter. Some experts say that the wild-horse population on the Western rangeland is out of control [9], and measures to reduce numbers of the species may be necessary soon. But the public is understandably squeamish due to the horse’s respected place in American culture, and that’s what has kept U.S. horse consumption effectively illegal for the past 70 years. Lion meat, though? Totally legal [10].


[1] https://www.yahoo.com/health/foods-that-will-land-you-in-jail-or-gulp-in-a-124341140503.html

[2] http://www.hulu.com/watch/33383

[3] http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2015/03/02/five-hospitalized-after-eating-fugu-fish-delicacy/

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/04/world/asia/04fugu.html?pagewanted=all

[5] http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-03-30/news/0703300295_1_doug-sohn-foie-gras-tim-hadac

[6] http://munchies.vice.com/articles/the-usda-doesnt-want-us-to-eat-lungs

[7] http://www.refinery29.com/2015/06/89352/fda-ban-trans-fats-health-effects?utm_source=yahoohealth&utm_medium=syndication&utm_campaign=main

[8] http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/01/17/263123572/congress-blocks-slaughtering-horses-for-meat-in-u-s

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/09/eating-wild-horsemeat-america

[10] http://www.vice.com/read/robert-mugabe-lion-elephant-meat-218


Royce Christyn

Royce Christyn

Journalist at News Punch
Documentarian, Writer, Producer, Director, Author.
Royce Christyn

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