Pictured above is a chocolate novelty called Kinder Surprise or Kinder Joy. It’s a chocolate egg, costing about $2 or $3. Each egg has a little toy inside, measuring no more than an inch or two. While most common in Germany, Italy, and the rest of central Europe, Kinder Surprise can be found around the world — except for the United States, where they’re illegal.
In 1938, the American government passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA), a law which, among many many other things, bans the import or manufacture of confections with “non-nutritive items” embedded in them. Toys packed in cereal are allowed, as are the surprises in Cracker Jack, because those are considered to be in the box, and not embedded with the food itself. Fortune cookies are anyone’s guess, but the paper is probably edible albeit disgusting.
For Kinder Surprise, no such luck. The toys simply violate the law. While the manufacturer of the candy, the Ferrero Group, has tried to get the U.S. government to allow for their sale and import, if anything, that has become less and less likely. In 1997, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a recall over the eggs — which, yes, should not have been made available for sale anyway — citing that the toys inside were choking hazards when given to young children. And in 2008, the CPSC reiterated its objection to the product’s sale again.
Of course, not everyone knows this; it’s not so obvious that a piece of candy which can be legally purchased around the world — for only a couple of bucks, at that — is not allowed in the U.S. Just ask Linda Bird, a Canadian lady who made the news in January of 2011. As reported by the CBC, she was stopped by U.S. officials at the border as part of a routine, random search of visitors entering the country. When they discovered the Kinder Surprise, they had a surprise for her: give up the egg now, or give it up later and face a $300 fine. And then the U.S. government “sent her a seven-page letter asking her to formally authorize the destruction of her seized Kinder egg.” She could object — but to do so, she’d have to pay a $250 processing fee. The egg was destroyed.
Rest assured, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol takes seriously the threat of Kinder Surprise eggs — according to the same CBC article, they have seized over 25,000 Surprises in the year preceding Ms. Bird’s incident. But the Border Patrol isn’t perfect. If you are in the U.S. and wish to buy a few, you can occasionally find them at stores which specialize in imported foods (especially chocolates) or independent food sellers such as delis and convenience stores.
Bonus fact: During the summer/fall of 2011, the city of San Francisco passed a law which prevented fast food restaurants from giving away free toys with children’s meals which did not meet certain nutritional guidelines. McDonald’s, which typically includes toys with Happy Meals, avoided the ban by charging 10 cents for the toy.
From the Archives: The Luckiest Dessert in History: A story of a fortune cookie — or, in this case, 110 of them.
Related: “100,000,000 Guinea Pigs: Dangers in Everyday Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics” by Arthur Kallet. Written in 1935, this book (which is long out of print, but used copies are available) was one of the big reasons for the FFDCA’s passage in 1938.