MIf you or someone in your household is allergic to
milk, take heed: a recent study by the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) tested 100 dark chocolate
products and found that many contained milk. More
importantly, you can’t always tell that’s the case
simply by reading the food label.
“This can be a problem, since even one small bite of
a product containing milk can cause a dangerous
reaction in some individuals,” says researcher
Binaifer Bedford, M.S., an Oak Ridge Institute for
Science and Education (ORISE) fellow at FDA.
Milk is one of eight
major food allergens (the others are wheat, eggs,
peanuts, tree nuts, fish, Crustacean shellfish and
soybeans). U.S. law requires foods containing a
major food allergen to provide its name—in this
case, milk—on the label. This is one of the ways to
help ensure consumers know what’s in the food they’re
eating. Undeclared (not listed on the label)
allergens are a leading cause of food recall
requests by the FDA.
From September 2009 to
September 2012, about one-third of foods reported to
FDA as serious health risks involved undeclared
allergens. The five food types most often involved
in food allergen recalls were bakery products, snack
foods, candy, dairy products and dressings. Within
the candy category, there were many reports of
undeclared milk in dark chocolate.
A manufacturer may not
intend to use milk in a dark chocolate product,
Bedford says. But if the dark chocolate product
shares equipment with, for example, a milk chocolate
product, traces of milk may inadvertently wind up in
the dark chocolate.
After hearing from
consumers who had eaten dark chocolate and
experienced harmful reactions, FDA tested 100 dark
chocolate bars for the presence of undeclared milk.
The selected bars were obtained from different parts
of the U.S. and each bar was unique in terms of
product line and/or manufacturer.
“We divided the bars
into categories based on the statements on the
labels,” Bedford explains. The categories included
precautionary statements such as “may contain milk”
or “may contain traces of milk”; statements such as
“dairy-free” or “allergen-free”; no mention of milk
on the label; and inconsistent statements.
Even a consumer who
carefully reads the label may be confused by a
statement such as “vegan” (which implies that no
animal-derived products were used) along with a
precautionary statement referring to the presence of
milk, Bedford says. Moreover, a consumer will not
know how much or whether milk is present when a
product is labeled “may contain traces of milk,” or
when the product was manufactured with the same
equipment used for products containing milk.
“First of all,
milk-allergic consumers should be aware that a high
proportion of the dark chocolates we tested
contained milk, even when the label failed to list
milk as an ingredient,” Bedford says. Of greatest
concern are chocolate samples that have no statement
regarding milk on the label or have inconsistencies
in the label. Several of the chocolates labeled
“dairy free” were also found to contain milk.
While dark chocolates
labeled “dairy free or allergen-free” were the least
likely to contain milk, two out of 17 of these
products were found to contain milk.
All seven bars that
declared the presence of milk on the label contained
milk; however, 55 (59%) of 93 bars without any clear
indication of the presence of milk also were found
to contain milk.
Six out of the eleven
chocolate products labeled “traces of milk”
contained milk at detectable levels high enough to
potentially cause severe reactions in some
For more information
Food and Drug Administration - FDA