Food

The Story Behind The Unexpectedly 'Deadly' Kinder Surprise Egg  

Matt Manser
215.5k views 12 items

If you've traveled outside 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
The Original Kinder Eggs Are B... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Story Behind The Unexpectedly 'Deadly' Kinder Surprise Egg
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 a "non-nutritive object." In the case of Kinder eggs - specifically, 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
Many Consider The Eggs A Choki... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Story Behind The Unexpectedly 'Deadly' Kinder Surprise Egg
Photo: Mysid/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

On the surface, it actually seems rather sensible to ban Kinder Surprise eggs. The chocolate treat has a plastic toy in its center, so an unsuspecting child could easily take a bite and start choking. Tragically, several children have lost their lives from choking on Kinder egg toys.

A 1998 report in the Birmingham Post named three children who'd perished after choking on a toy found inside the treat. The paper noted that, since 1991, four other children worldwide had suffered the same fate. A 3-year-old in France reportedly passed after choking on one of the toys in 2016.

Kinder Surprise Smugglers Face Hefty Fines
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Photo: Max Pixel/CC 1.0

Kinder Surprise eggs have been banned in the US, but that doesn't mean 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, an underground market has developed, with people bringing the eggs into the United States. However, if a person is caught by customs, they face a hefty fine of up to $2,500 per egg. You've likely heard of people transporting substances or arms, 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 (away a lot)/Flickr/CC 2.0

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 Watkins tried to make a liquid version of sulfanilamide, a compound 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 dangerous. Sadly, no such testing occurred, and when the product was released to the public, several children perished. 

To prevent such an incident from happening again, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act into law in 1938. It aimed to prevent edible products from containing toxic substances. Just to be safe, the law also included the now infamous ban on non-nutritive objects.