The Surprising Reason Ritz Crackers Are Banned In Other Countries

When it comes to snacks, Ritz crackers may be at the top of your list. These versatile crackers are great to dip into hummus or guacamole, top with cheese or deli meat, or pop in your mouth just as they are. If you attend a party or gathering, you may go straight for a box of Ritz crackers and a dip, and you're all set to contribute some deliciousness to the festivities.

There is no denying that these salty crackers are popular and have been since Nabisco launched them in 1935, according to Food & Wine. Ritz crackers are the third leading cracker brand in the United States, with sales of $485.6 million, per Statista.

Ritz crackers are ubiquitous and easy to get your hands on whether you are shopping at the supermarket or in the grocery aisles of big box stores, such as Walmart and Target. So it may come as a big surprise that if you visit certain countries, and you head to the snack aisle to pick up Ritz crackers, you won't be able to find them.

This one ingredient is the culprit for the ban

It is debatable whether you can claim Ritz crackers are a healthy snack. Yet, the reason some countries do not allow Ritz crackers to be sold has to do with the ingredients list and how they are made.

The problematic ingredient is partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil. It is a type of trans fat that is not allowed in food products in many European countries, including Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland, according to Stacker. However, it is not only prohibited abroad but in some regions in the United States, too. 

Trans fats are created during the refinement process of vegetable oils that turn them into a colorless and non-odor producing oil, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). "The processed food industry considers refining essential to 'improve' the oils 'sensory value' and to make the oils more versatile and interchangeable," noted the EWG. Many food companies depend on hydrogenated oils because it increases the shelf life and helps ingredients mix well together (via NPR).

Trans fats increase heart disease

Trans fats are known to cause negative effects on the body. According to the University of California, Davis, trans fats increase low-density lipoproteins (LDL), a type of cholesterol known to be bad for the body. LDL can build up in the bloodstream and block arteries. It can also increase the possibility of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks. Plus, trans fat also increases the levels of high density lipoproteins (HDL), which is considered to be the "good" type of cholesterol.

In 2015, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that many partially hydrogenated oils, also known as PHOs, are not safe to consume. "Removing PHOs from processed foods could prevent thousands of heart attacks and deaths each year," according to the FDA. Despite stating the dangers of PHOs in food products, the FDA has provided several extensions for food companies to get rid of the harmful substance, with the final date set for January 2020. However, there is not any updated info on the FDA's website, and the official website for Ritz crackers still shows PHOs listed as an ingredient.

Food manufacturers can mislead

You can't always rely on the nutrition label of your favorite snack food because there are loopholes that allow food manufacturers to state a food product has zero trans fat, even if it still contains it. If you're scratching your head how this is possible, it is because food products that have less than half a gram per serving of trans fat can be labeled as having zero. The FDA says so itself, "If a serving contains less than 0.5 gram, the content, when declared, must be expressed as '0 g.'" The FDA provides a problematic loophole that benefits giant food companies, not the consumer, and allows them to mislead and mislabel products. 

Not only are they misleading, but it can be harmful to the person who may not pay attention to the actual serving size, or eats various foods that claim zero trans fats, because they can be consuming a lot of trans fat unknowingly. It can all add up quickly. "Trans fat is ubiquitous in the food supply, thanks to decades of lax regulations, and it's dangerous," stated the EWG.

So next time you go to reach for a box of Ritz, you may want to reconsider if you really want to eat these crackers.