Got Milk (In Your Chocolate)?After peanuts and tree nuts, milk is the most common allergen that can cause anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction that can narrow airways and block breathing). Less dire symptoms include hives, wheezing, and vomiting.
By the way, an allergic reaction like one of these is different from the separate condition of lactose intolerance, which does not involve an immune response to the dairy.
In either case, whether allergic or intolerant, you still must be very careful around foods that might contain milk. Unfortunately, chocolate falls squarely into this category.
And although some chocolates say their dairy-free, and others state that they are vegan, and still more don’t even list milk in the ingredients, a recent report from the FDA indicates that consumers are far from safe.
The FDA sampled 94 unique brands of chocolate, and ran an assay for milk on each one. The results were astounding, and instructive as well.
Out of 94 chocolate bars tested, you could find the ingredient ‘milk’ listed on only 6 of them. The other 88 bars, given that they did not list milk as an ingredient, would seem to be acceptable for someone with an intolerance or allergy.
That assumption would be incorrect. An amazing 61 percent of those 88 bars (n=51) tested positive for milk. That’s largely because the manufacturing facilities that handle “dairy free” chocolates also process milk chocolates and other products that contain milk. This leaves open the possibility that, even though the label tells you there is no dairy in it, this may not be true.
In fact, if the chocolate bar states that it “may contain dairy”, or “processed in facility that uses dairy”, the FDA found that your odds are 75% that the chocolate bar contains it.
Even when the chocolate label informs you that it is a vegan product (therefore, no dairy) but was made in a plant that processes dairy, 7 out of the 8 bars tested were positive. The FDA testing also revealed that the most reliable labeling came from products that stated they were vegan or dairy free, AND contained no warning that it was manufactured in a facility that also processes dairy. Under those conditions, only 2 out of 12 samples tested positive for dairy.
What It Means
Of course, for someone who has severe reactions to dairy, even the best case odds (2 out of every 12 chocolate brands) are unacceptable. And the fact that there is currently nothing between you and a severe reaction but the now questionable assurances of some product label, makes eating dark chocolate a risky proposition. Until we can be certain that our chocolate is not just “dairy free”, but actually free of dairy, the best solution may be to go to a locally produced product.
Speaking to the owner of the chocolate maker allows you to hear exactly what is made, and how. This takes the uncertainty out, so you can feel confident about having a dark chocolate bar again.
On the other hand if your dairy aversion is due more to discomfort than to potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis, you may be okay with those odds. If so, just be sure to choose a chocolate that does state that it is dairy free or vegan, AND does not state that it is produced in a facility that also processes dairy. That’s your best bet for a reaction-free dark chocolate experience.