If you or your child have a milk allergy, be careful about the type of chocolate you purchase. According to a recent study from the Food and Drug Administration, dark chocolate products often contain milk – even when it is not listed as an ingredient on the label.
Following reports of people experiencing allergic reactions from dark chocolate, FDA staff decided to test 100 different bars from a variety of manufacturers for undeclared milk ingredients.
Fifty-nine percent of bars that gave no indication of the presence of milk in fact contained the protein, the agency said in releasing its findings on Feb. 11, 2015. As well, six out of 11 bars with “may contain” milk warnings, showed enough of the protein to trigger a serious reaction in some allergic individuals.
“Even one small bite of a product containing milk can cause a dangerous reaction in some individuals,” noted researcher Binaifer Bedford, an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education fellow at the FDA.
Milk is one of the Top 8 priority allergens and manufacturers are required by law to clearly indicate when it is an ingredient in their products. If products have no mention of an allergen on their label but are found to contain it, they can be recalled.
However, a gray area in the regulations is “may contain” or precautionary statements. These are voluntary, and included at the discretion of the manufacturer. The warnings are meant to indicate that an allergen could be present, not as an ingredient, but due to its presence in a facility and use in other products.
Bedford noted, for instance, that if a dark chocolate bar was produced on the same equipment as a milk chocolate bar, traces of milk might inadvertently wind up in the dark chocolate.
The FDA investigators divided the 100 dark chocolate bars into categories based on the allergen statements on the labels. The categories included “dairy-free” or “allergen-free”; as well as precautionary statements such as “may contain milk” or “may contain traces of milk”; and bars that made no mention of milk on the label or had inconsistent warning statements.
The key findings of the study are:
- 59% of bars that had no clear indication of the presence of milk, contained milk.
- 2 out of 17 of the chocolate products labeled “dairy-free” or “allergen-free” contained milk.
- 6 of 11 of bars that indicated they “may contain” milk or traces of milk contained enough of the allergen to trigger serious reactions in some people.
- The bars that clearly listed milk as an ingredient contained milk.
Bedford says these results should alert milk-allergic consumers to the high proportion of dark chocolates that could contain milk, even if milk is not listed as an ingredient. “Because consumers can’t be sure that a statement about milk is completely accurate, they may want to contact the manufacturer to find out how it controls for allergens such as milk during production,” the researcher said.
Allergic Living also recommends looking for products made in dedicated allergen-free facilities. We remind consumers that if you have an allergic reaction to a packaged food and have concerns that an allergen was not properly declared, contact an FDA complaints coordinator here.
For more on the study, click here.