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Buyer with Food Allergies Beware: Not All Allergen Friendly Products Created Equal

The other day I was completely bamboozled at my favorite HEB. The culprit? A bottle of dairy-free, or so I thought, coffee creamer. I’m not lactose intolerant, but actually allergic to milk. Those with lactose intolerance cannot make enough of the enzyme lactase, and thus can’t digest lactose which leads to issues like abominable cramps and nausea.

I, on the other hand, am allergic to milk proteins. As a result even the slightest bit of dairy in a product books me a quick ticket to the nearest ER. So why was I bamboozled by an innocent bottle of dairy free creamer?

It actually had milk in it. What was up with that? It was like all the vegan products I had eagerly coveted, only to see a warning sign on their ingredient label: “MANUFACTURED ON A SHARED FACILITY WITH MILK, EGGS,” etc. One vegan chocolate even warned that it may contain traces of dairy and wasn’t suitable for people with dairy allergies.

So I did some digging, still flabbergasted by the arrogance of the non-dairy creamer that actually had dairy. How could that be allowed? Apparently the devil was in the details. Allow for this handy graphic to explain.

Source: The Spruce
Betrayed By The FDA

Seriously though, why is this a thing? For me, checking the ingredients on EVERYTHING was drilled into me from the second I could read. But what if a well-meaning parent or friend had bought the creamer, or perhaps forgot to double check? It’s frankly hard for a lot of people to comprehend how serious food allergies can be unless they experience it first hand. It’s completely understandable.

Any normal person is going to assume that a label that has “NON-DAIRY” emblazoned on the front would be well, non-dairy. I get that the FDA has to try their best to assist businesses and obviously it would cost a lot of money to change labels that have already been printed. But poor labeling can have deadly consequences. A woman named Celia Marsh died after eating a flatbread that contained yogurt that was labeled as dairy-free. After Marsh’s death, the family discovered that the yogurt was the culprit and was in fact contaminated with milk.

The Bottom Line

While it’s highly unlikely that the FDA will change this anytime soon, I think raising the issue is important. There are so many people living with severe, life-threatening food allergies, and even a trace of the suspect allergen can send them straight to the emergency room, and in many times can be a fatal mistake. Honestly, I feel like this shouldn’t be an issue. If something’s labeled non-dairy, it should be fully non-dairy. That’s just one example out of many allergens that can be deadly. Small differences like truth in labeling make all the difference.