candy The Story Behind The Unexpectedly "Deadly" Kinder Surprise Egg  

Matt Manser
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If you've traveled outside of the US, you may have come across a strange candy known as the Kinder Surprise Egg. Since these eggs are noticeably absent from American gas stations, you may have wondered, "are Kinder Surprise Eggs illegal?" Surprisingly, the answer is actually "yes." 

For the uninitiated, Kinder Surprise Eggs are strange, hollow bits of chocolate that contain small, inedible toys. Though the candies were created for Easter, they're now available year round. However, for safety reasons, the eggs are banned in the US (though Americans can purchase a special, sort of lame analogue). Considering how much the rest of the world loves the treats, the question remains: "are Kinder Surprise Eggs deadly?" After learning about the history of Kinder Surprise Eggs, you'll be able to weigh in on this controversial issue yourself. 

The Original Kinder Eggs Are Banned In the US Due To A Law From 1938


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Photo:  United States Customs and Border Protection/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

How does a piece of chocolate come to be banned in the United States? Well, it all goes back to the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. According to the law, food cannot be sold if it contains "non-nutritive objects." In the case of Kinder Eggs (specifically the Kinder Surprise Eggs), the plastic toy at the treat's center is pretty obviously not nutritious. However, non-edible items can be sold with food if they have a purpose related to consuming the food (such as the stick of a lollipop).

Many Consider The Eggs A Choking Hazard, But No One's Ever Died From Biting Into One


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Photo:  Mysid/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

On the surface, it actually seems rather sensible to ban Kinder eggs. The chocolates have a plastic toy in their centers, so an unsuspecting child could easily take a bite and start choking. Tragically, there are a handful of incidents wherein children have died from choking on Kinder Egg toys. However, these incidents are never the result of the victim biting into the egg and inadvertently swallowing the toy inside. According to a 1985 report on one such incident in the UK, "it appears that eating the egg and swallowing the set of wheels were separate events." In this case, the victim's death had nothing to do with the toy being packaged inside of the egg, as the child swallowed the prize after the egg had been consumed. 

Kinder Eggs Fetch A High Price On The US Black Market


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Photo:  Public Domain/Max Pixel

Just because Kinder Surprise Eggs have been banned in the US doesn't mean that they're completely unavailable. People who have experienced the eggs while visiting other countries can't seem to get enough of the chocolate/toy combo, and some have resorted to drastic measures to get their fix.

Over the years, a black market has developed, with people smuggling the eggs into the United States. However, if a smuggler is caught by customs, they face a hefty fine of $2,500 per egg. You've likely heard of people smuggling drugs or weapons, but egg smuggling is apparently also a very real thing.

The 1938 Law Was A Reaction To The "Elixir Sulfanilamide Incident"


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Photo:  mbtphoto/Flickr

The US law that prohibits food containing "non-nutritive objects" didn't come out of nowhere; the whole debacle began with the "Elixir Sulfanilamide Incident" of 1937.

That year, chemist Harold Cole Watkins tried to make liquid version of sulfanilamide, a drug used to treat strep throat. However, to make the liquid, he used diethylene glycol, a compound that's also found in antifreeze. If Watkins had properly tested the product, he would have realized that diethylene glycol is extremely poisonous. Sadly, no such testing occurred, and when the product was released to the public, several children died. 

To prevent such an incident from happening again, a law was passed in 1938 that aimed to stop edible products from containing toxic substances. Just to be safe, the law also included the now infamous ban on "non-nutritive objects."