13 Foods and Ingredients Legal in the U.S. But Banned in Other Countries

Many Americans buy their groceries without a second thought to the ingredients in them. In many countries, however, you won’t find those same products on store shelves.

That’s because other countries have banned many ingredients commonly found in American-produced foods. These ingredients include additives, preservatives, and artificial dyes present in a range of products, including everything from breads and baked goods to meat and dairy.

These 15 foods are legal in the United States but are banned or restricted in other countries. Mindfully American sourced this data from news outlets, environmental organizations, and government agencies.

1: Potassium Bromate

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Some breads and other baked goods in the United States contain potassium bromate. Manufacturers often use this chemical compound to make dough rise. According to CBS News, potassium bromate is found in over 100 American products.

Europe bans the use of potassium bromate in products, along with China and India. It’s suspected to cause cancer, though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it becomes harmless during production.

2: Azodicarbonamide

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Azodicarbonamide is another ingredient found in many American breads and baked goods. It’s a chemical substance used to whiten flour and strengthen dough.

Despite some studies that show azodicarbonamide to be carcinogenic, the FDA has declared it safe as a food additive. In contrast, azodicarbonamide is banned in Europe and Australia.

3: Red 3

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There’s controversy surrounding the use of artificial dyes, like Red 3, in food products. This additive gives some foods their vibrant color, such as canned cherries and other fruits, snacks, and candy.

The FDA continues to allow Red 3 to be used in American foods, but it’s banned in many other countries. The European Union (EU) largely prohibits Red 3, with some exceptions. Other countries, including Australia and Japan, have banned it entirely.

4: Little Debbie Swiss Rolls

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Other common foods in the United States contain food dyes, like Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. Its ingredients include Yellow 5 and Red 40.

Other countries outside the U.S. ban or restrict the use of these ingredients. Norway and Austria don’t allow the sale of these treats.

5: Farm-Raised Salmon

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Farm-raised salmon has raised concerns from environmental and humanitarian groups. It’s also controversial for another reason; Farmed salmon in the United States often consume astaxanthin to get their color.

Some countries, including Australia and New Zealand, ban fish with astaxanthin. Recently, Argentina also took steps to become the first country to outlaw salmon farming

6: Titanium Dioxide

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Titanium dioxide is another food additive under scrutiny outside the United States. It’s used to brighten the white color of some foods, such as dairy products, soups, and sauces.

The European Union banned titanium dioxide in 2022, citing concerns about toxicity. That said, other countries besides the United States continue to allow its use.

7: Breakfast Cereals

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When you visit a grocery store abroad, you may not find your favorite breakfast cereals on the shelves. Many American cereals contain butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) to increase their shelf life.

Some countries ban or restrict the use of BHT in foods. But the United States isn’t one of them. You can find the ingredient in popular brands, including Cap’n Crunch, Special K, and Froot Loops.

8: Ractopamine

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American livestock producers often use ractopamine to feed pigs and cattle. This additive can increase the animals’ weight and muscle mass.

While the FDA has declared ractopamine-fed animals safe to eat, other countries have taken a different approach. The European Union and China don’t allow the sale of beef or pork with ractopamine.

9: Chlorine-Washed Chicken

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Did you know it’s common practice to wash chicken with chlorine in the United States? It removes bacteria from the animal.

The European Union banned chlorine washing in 1997. In addition to safety concerns, the EU instituted the ban over worries about a broader problem of poor hygiene standards.

10: rBST

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Dairy producers in the United States may use recombinant somatotropin, or rBST, to increase milk production in dairy cows. This milk becomes an ingredient in certain dairy products, such as ice cream, cheese, and butter.

The EU banned rBST in the 1990s, and it’s not permitted in other countries. There’s mixed research on whether the substance contributes to an increased risk of breast cancer.

11: Propyl Paraben

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Propyl paraben is a preservative found in many packaged foods in the United States. It’s used to extend the shelf life of certain products, such as tortillas and cake icing.

After the passage of a 2023 law in California, propyl paraben became one of four chemicals prohibited in the state, though the law doesn’t take effect until 2027. Propyl paraben remains legal in the rest of the United States, but other countries have banned it.

12: BVO

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Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, is another chemical banned under the recent California law. It’s found in some American sodas, sports drinks, and other citrus-flavored beverages.

In 2023, the FDA proposed banning BVO from American food products due to its potentially adverse health effects. Some popular U.S. drinks, including Gatorade and Mountain Dew, have already stopped using the product. Other countries prohibit the use of BVO.

13: GMOs

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Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are present in many American foods. GMO crops in the United States typically include soybeans, corn, sugar beets, and canola.

Federal agencies, including the FDA, regulate the use of GMOs in the United States. While some other countries allow GMOs, many have banned them entirely. 

A Different Kind of Ban

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M&M’s are a favorite party treat and road-trip snack for many Americans. But in Sweden, you won’t find this popular American candy in stores.

The country banned M&M’s in 2016 over a trademark dispute with another candy brand. Mondelez International makes the Marabou brand of M sweets. A Swedish court ruled the brands were too similar, blocking the sale of M&M’s in the country.

McDonald’s Woes

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In the United States, you don’t have to go too far to find a McDonald’s restaurant. In some countries, though, you won’t find a single one.

Bermuda, for example, doesn’t allow fast-food restaurants on the island. In other countries, political or economic challenges have kept McDonald’s from opening locations.

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From deceptive marketing to misconceptions, delve into the surprising reality behind some of America’s favorite “healthy” foods.

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The Junk Food Americans Hate To Love

People eating junk food at a store.
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