When you’re first diagnosed with a dairy/milk allergy, it can be completely overwhelming. Dairy can be found in just about every corner of the grocery store. Not only are there obvious sources, but milk can hide under different names. I’m going to break it down for you so you can spot milk in the wild and avoid it. If you have a severe milk allergy, you’ll need to assess if you’re able to tolerate food made on shared equipment with milk, as well as a shared facility with dairy.
Milk and Dairy Definitions
When it comes to milk and dairy, you may hear terms such as:
- Lactose/Lactose Free
- Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA)
- Milk Fat
- Milk Solids
- Milk Powder
The conventional definition of dairy (where food allergies are concerned) is: food made from or containing dairy. The dairy can come from Buffalo, Camel, Cow, Goat, and Sheep.
Different Parts of Milk
Casein: The main protein present in milk and cheese.
Ghee: Clarified butter made from the milk of a buffalo or cow. Some feel this is “dairy free” since it’s the fat content and the protein is removed.
Lactose: The sugar present in milk.
Whey: The watery part of milk that remains after the formation of curds.
What’s The Difference Between Milk and Dairy
An easy way to think about this: dairy items are made with milk. Think about the last time you were in the grocery store. Items such as milk, yogurt, sour cream, and butter are all sold in the dairy area of the store. They’re each made with milk.
In some cases it’s goat milk or a different mammal, but all milk containing ingredients are grouped together in the dairy section.
How to Check Labels For Dairy and Milk
Finding milk and dairy on a food label is mostly straight forward. Pick up any packaged food item with a printed ingredient list and read it over. In some countries, if a major allergen is included it must either printed in bold or called out at the end (contains milk). The US is one of those countries.
As you read over the label, look for the milk terms I shared above. You’re looking for milk, powdered milk, casein, ghee, lactose, whey, and whey isolate. Those are the terms you’ll most likely see.
No matter which country you live in, even if it’s supposed to be called out on the label, make an effort to read over labels twice. It’s very easy for the eye to skip over ingredients, and it doesn’t help that the print is so tiny.
How to Find Hidden Milk and Dairy on Food Labels
All over the world, dairy is considered a major allergen, which should make identifying it on a food label easier. However, this is not always the case. Some labels may say “may contain traces of dairy” or “contains milk” or “made on shared equipment with milk”, etc. This free Food Allergy Help 101 Course on Hidden Allergens can explain in greater detail..
Before consuming products, it’s important that you call/email to learn more about the sourcing of raw materials, how the food is processed, stored, and packaged. Each step in manufacturing can expose the product to something you’re allergic to, including dairy.
Some companies are putting their best food forward by creating pages on their website that list all of these details for each product. A great example of this is Simple Mills. Others aren’t great at listing their protocols and you will need to get comfortable calling companies.
The thing about hidden dairy is that it won’t be on the label. For example, cream (milk) can be used as a defomer in maple syrup production. IT’S NOT ON THE LABEL. It’s a processing aid. This is really what finding hidden dairy is all about. It’s understanding HOW something was made, the equipment, and much more.
You need to go to this extent of investigation if you (or the person you manage) cannot tolerate trace amounts of dairy. I’ve found that about 30% of people with food allergies (self-report) that they fall into this group.
If you want to learn more about what is required for companies in terms of labeling for food allergies, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the FDA guidelines. Just know going in, there are loopholes.
Hidden Sources of Milk and Dairy
Now that you have a little primer on dairy and milk, let’s look at hidden sources of milk. I consider these sources “hidden” as most people wouldn’t think, “oh, that has milk in it”.
- Baby Formula
- Baked Goods (cookies, cupcakes, pastries, pies, etc.)
- Baking Mixes (bread, brownies, cake, cookies, pancakes)
- Chocolate (items containing chocolate usually have milk mixed into the chocolate)
- “Dairy Free” Cheese
- “Dairy Free” Ice Cream (some are lactose free only, some sherbets are an issue as well)
- Deli/Lunch Meat
- Drink Mixes
- Granola Bars
- Instant Potatoes
- Potato Chips (usually found in flavored chips rather than plain sea salt)
- Protein Powders
- Salad Dressing
- Vegan Products using Lab-Grown Milk Proteins
Hidden Milk and Dairy in Non-Food Items
Like gluten, (parts of) milk can also be found in non-food items. This becomes an issue for people who are contact allergic to milk. Some examples include:
- Bath & Body Products
- Hand Sanitizer (I KNOW!!)
- Industrial Materials
Easy Ways to Avoid Milk and Dairy
Make food at home. When you start with clean raw materials in your safe kitchen, the end result is dairy free food, every time.
Avoid products made in shared facilities and/or on shared equipment with milk. There have been several recalls as of late for undisclosed milk. Honestly, this terrifies me the most, which is why in our home, shared equipment food is a no-go for our kid with a milk allergy. Many of the recalled products are probably things you’ve never heard of, but a couple were from brands that specifically market to those who are dairy free.
The Safe Product Guides and Lists contain hundreds of products, all of which are made on free-from equipment. I’ve done the work and made over 1,000 calls to find out information from the manufactures to compile our lists.
Further Reading & Resources:
Want to dig even deeper? Awesome! Here are more resources to keep you informed.
- The Dairy Free Diet: Things to Know When You’re Going Dairy Free
- Dairy Free & Milk Free Swaps
- Spokin App: a personalized app for info on food allergies
- Allergy Eats: an app to find places to eat out, based on user generated reviews.
- SnackSafely.com offers a product guide to get you started.
- Go Dairy Free has a great page on hidden dairy.
- Kelly Mom has a handy pdf with more items to avoid.