Milk or Dairy Allergy

Dairy allergy is one of the most common food allergies in the United States. A dairy allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly interprets the proteins in a dairy product as a harmful substance. When a person with this allergy comes in contact (touching, breathing or eating) with dairy, the body produces antibodies to fight the harmful substance, and this triggers an allergic reaction.

The most common reactions include rash (atopic dermatitis), redness and swelling around the mouth, hives (urticaria), asthma, stomachache, cramping, diarrhea or vomiting, asthma, and in extreme cases anaphylaxis. Reactions can occur within minutes or several hours after consuming the allergen.

Many people confuse dairy allergy with lactose intolerance, which is an inability to digest the sugar lactose. A person with dairy or lactose intolerance may have an adverse reaction (gas, bloating, cramps and diarrhea) when consuming a food containing dairy, but this reaction does not involve the immune system.

Most children grow out of dairy allergy by age five or six, although some people remain allergic for their entire lives. It is also possible to develop a dairy allergy later in life.

If you suspect you have a dairy allergy, avoid all foods that contain dairy, and please see a board certified allergist or immunologist as soon as possible. A skin prick test or RAST can confirm the allergy. (Do not use antihistamines for 7-10 days prior to the test.)

Note – If you are nursing a baby and suspect or know the baby has a dairy allergy, do not eat any foods containing dairy. The protein is passed through breast milk. Also, consult with your pediatrician before switching formulas.

Note – The proteins in goat’s milk and sheep’s milk are similar to those found in cow’s milk. If you or your child has a dairy allergy, please consult with your allergist/immunologist or pediatrician before consuming goat or sheep milk products.

Which Foods and other Products Contain Dairy?

Dairy can be found in a number of surprising places, both food and non-food. It is commonly found in a variety of non-food products, such as cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, and pharmaceuticals (oral and topical medicines), lotions, creams, ointments, vaccines (flu and chicken pox), and more. Some dentists use a toothpaste called Recaldent™, which contains dairy. Some whitening chewing gums also contain Recaldent™.

Always read all labels for foods and personal products. Manufacturers occasionally change recipes and manufacturing processes.

“Non-Dairy” Foods
Non-dairy creamers, non-dairy ice cream and other so-called non-dairy products can contain dairy, and still legally be labeled “non-dairy.” According to the FDA’s regulations, only a product containing actual milk in specific forms can be labeled dairy. The FDA does not allow milk derivatives or milk by-products to be called dairy. So if a product has a milk derivative or byproduct, it can be called non-dairy. Lactose is a great example. Many of the so-called non-dairy products contain lactose, which is a derivative from milk.

Grocery Stores
Grocery stores and delis often have only one machine to cut both meat and cheese. My grocery store has a separate machine for each, which was great until they started slicing “Pesto Chicken” (dairy) and “Mortadella with Pistachios” on the meat only machine. The machine is now contaminated with dairy and nuts, and we can no longer buy deli meats from our grocery store. Fresh chicken and beef and pork may contain “a solution”, which is not defined on the label and often contains wheat or soy.

Be vigilant when eating out. Cooking surfaces and utensils are easily cross-contaminated. You may order a plain grilled hamburger with no seasoning to avoid a dairy or fish allergy, but it is cooked in the same spot as a cheeseburger, or is flipped with the same utensil used to flip a cheeseburger. Your plain fries may have been fried in the same oil as jalapeño poppers or cheese sticks. Your plain pizza may be cut with a pizza cutter used to cut cheese pizza. The person making your salad may use a hand or utensils to sprinkle cheese on someone else’s salad, then use the same hand or utensil to sprinkle peppers on your salad. Some restaurants put a pat of butter on steaks after grilling to add extra flavor. The butter is not visible after it melts. See Dining Out.

Kosher Symbols
Kosher Symbols can be helpful in determining if a food contains dairy. Jewish dietary laws have strict rules regarding preparation of foods. If a food is “Kosher”, then it was prepared in accordance with Jewish Dietary Laws. Kosher symbols, called hechshers (pronounced “heck-sures”), are usually found on a food label near the product’s name. The Kosher symbol “K” or “U” indicates that the product is Kosher. If there is a “D” or “DE” on the label, the food was produced on equipment shared with dairy, and should be avoided by people with a dairy allergy. The symbol “Pareve” or “Parve” indicates the food contains no dairy, dairy by-products or meat. This symbol only ensures that the equipment used to produce the food has been cleaned using the process of kosherization. It does not, however, guarantee that the food is free of trace particles of dairy. Even under Jewish Law, a Parve or Pareve food may contain enough milk to cause a reaction in a highly allergic person. The symbol “P” means Passover. It does not mean Parve or Pareve.

These Ingredients Contain Dairy

These Foods Contain Dairy

These Foods are Likely to Contain Dairy

Read ingredient labels carefully. In some cases, the food may not contain egg as an ingredient, but is contaminated during manufacturing or packaging.

Cooking with Milk Substitutes

Milk is one of the easiest ingredients to substitute in baking and cooking. Just replace it with an equal amount of rice milk (or other dairy-free milk), coconut milk (not cream), water or fruit juice.


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