Food Allergy in Brief: Milk in Dairy-Free Chocolate; Sesame Label Update

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in Food Allergy, Milk & Egg, News
Published: October 13, 2020

Milk Risks in Dark Chocolate

Photo: Getty

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found that some dark chocolate labeled as “dairy-free” or “milk-free” contained levels of milk protein that would be dangerous for those with a dairy allergy.

FDA investigators assessed several samples from 52 U.S.-made products (mostly dark chocolate bars, and also dark chocolate chips). Four of 52 dark chocolate bars had dairy protein levels from 600 parts per million up to 3,100 ppm, according to the assessment, released on Oct. 1, 2020. 

While dark chocolate can be made without milk, the FDA identified using shared lines with milk-containing products as an issue. “In these cases, it is possible that milk may inadvertently wind up in the dark chocolate,” said an FDA media release.  

The four chocolate bars, two of which were produced by the same manufacturer, were recalled last year. The FDA didn’t name the manufacturers. Dairy is one of the Top 8 U.S. allergens that must be labeled when it’s an ingredient. While the agency does not regulate “dairy-free” or “milk-free” claims on labels, there is legislation that “absence claims” must be truthful.

To stay safe with a milk allergy, the FDA advises reading a label on a dark chocolate product for ingredient and also “may contain milk” warnings. Even if there are none, the FDA says you may wish to contact the manufacturer and ask: “Was it made on equipment used only to make chocolate completely free of milk? Are the ingredients used free of milk? What steps does the manufacturer take to ensure this?”

Sesame Labeling Update

The U.S. food allergy community has been lobbying for years to get sesame added as the ninth “top allergen,” under FALCPA, the law that governs labeling of allergenic foods. Currently, there are lobbying efforts to get the FASTER Act (H.R. 2117, S.3451) passed, which covers a range of food allergy measures, including making sesame a top allergen.

But while those efforts continue, the FDA has moved forward on a different front. On Oct. 5, it sent a “guidance for industry” document to the Office of Management and Budget for review. This guidance would seek “voluntary” rather than “mandatory” disclosure by food makers of the presence of sesame in food products.  

“While this voluntary guidance falls short of the mandatory sesame allergen labeling that we have been advocating for, we feel it is a promising step in the right direction, the nonprofit Kids With Food Allergies wrote of the FDA’s move

An estimated one million Americans have sesame allergy, and sesame is already a priority allergen in Canada, Europe and Australia.

Preventing Celiac in Babies

Exposing babies as young as 4 months old to wheat may help to prevent celiac disease, according to British and American research. 

The new analysis stems from the Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) study in which breastfed infants began consuming six allergenic solid foods, including wheat, from as early as 4 months. They were compared to babies in the study who exclusively breastfed until 6 months of age. (The food allergy results showed a 20% reduction of allergy, with better prevention results for peanut and egg.) 

In terms of the new analysis for celiac disease, of 1,004 babies in the treatment group, none of the 488 who had gluten from 4 months of age developed celiac disease. However, at the age of 3 years old, the researchers were surprised to find that 1.4% of the 516 who didn’t introduce gluten until 6 months of age tested positive for celiac-related antibodies.  

“This is the first study that provides evidence that early introduction of significant amounts of wheat into a baby’s diet before 6 months of age may prevent the development of celiac disease,” said lead author Dr. Gideon Lack, a professor of pediatric allergy at King’s College London and head of the allergy center at Evelina London Children’s Hospital. 

Lack says this is one study and can’t be considered conclusive, and his research team recommends a larger clinical study. For American babies at-risk for celiac disease, the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center currently recommends introducing less than 5 grams of gluten a day as a solid at four-to-six months.   

Related Reading:
FASTER Act Would Make Food Allergies a Public Health Priority, Add Sesame as Allergen
Sesame Allergy a Significant Health Issue in the United States, Study Reveals