Your “Dark” Chocolate Might Contain Milk

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We do not know whether any of these bars were among the the "non-dairy" chocolate bars that the FDA found to contain milk.

What do Observant Jews, vegans and certain allergy suffers have in common?

They all need to know whether there are dairy products in their food.

  • Vegans avoid milk as an animal product for ethical or health reasons.
  • Some allergy suffers are lactose-intolerant.
  • After eating meat or poultry, Observant Jews wait a period of time (e.g. 6 hours for most Sephardic Jews and Chabad, 3 hours for German Jews and 1 hour for Dutch Jews) before consuming dairy products. (The rule for meat after dairy is much more lenient.)

Many people assume that the list of ingredients is complete and will make their food choices accordingly.

However, that is not the case. according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 11% of the reports of food likely to “cause serious adverse health consequences” between 2009 and 2013 “were attributed to undeclared allergens in chocolates and other confections”, so in the case of severe allergies, putting your faith in the list of ingredients may be extremely dangerous.

The FDA recently surveyed 94 dark chocolate products for the presence of milk. Only 6 indicated milk as an ingredient, but an additional 54 chocolates were found to contain milk. Many of those had some sort of warning such as “may contain milk”. Others didn’t say anything about milk and about one-third of those were found to contain milk. Some explicitly said that they were “dairy-free” or “lactose-free” yet they actually did contain milk. In one case (identified only as sample “F12” in the FDA survey, the chocolate was marked “Lactose-free; Vegan” but was found to consist of milk with a concentration of 0.39% by the Morinaga Milk Protein ELISA Test.

Observant Jews as well as vegans and the lactose-intolerant can get further guidance by looking for the product’s kosher certification:

  • A symbol like this or is used for Parve products containing neither meat nor dairy.
  • A symbol like this is used for dairy products.
  • A symbol like this indicates that while there were no dairy ingredients per say, the food was prepared with equipment that had also been used for dairy products.

Nevertheless, even rabbinical supervision has its limits. According to the Orthodox Union:

“The trace nuts and dairy disclaimer that is now printed on many products is there to warn consumers that although there are no nuts or dairy in the ingredients of the product itself, there is a possibility of parts per millions floating in the air and ‘contaminating’ the product.”

The ‘contamination’ would only affect consumers with extremely severe allergies who can detect even the most trace amounts of the substance that they are reacting to. A product that is labeled OU (and thereby certified kosher parve) is halachically (by Jewish Law) parve. The parts per million does not affect the status of a product, because parts per million are negligible and have no halachic significance.

As an example, a factory might produce dairy and parve products on two separate production lines. Nonetheless, air-born particles of milk or whey powder might float onto the parve production line. Though a person might suffer an allergic reaction, the product is still halachically parve.

Companies have been especially cautious in the past few years to publicize this information as the public’s knowledge of allergens has grown.

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