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Allergy Today News Bites: Dark chocolate and cow’s milk cross-contact

This risk of cross-contact has lead manufacturers to making an allergen labelling change for dark chocolate.

A recent spate of food recalls for dark chocolate products in New Zealand has highlighted an issue for consumers and manufacturers alike.Dark chocolate-734

Dark chocolate is often seen by consumers with cow’s milk allergy as a safe chocolate for them to eat. Milk has traditionally only been mentioned in precautionary allergen labelling (aka ‘may contain’ statements), which is assumed to mean a trace may be there, if at all. 

However, it has been identified that dark chocolate is often made on the same production line as milk chocolate. New Zealand (and Australia) are small-scale markets and therefore dedicated dark chocolate equipment and production lines are not commercially feasible.

Because of challenges unique to chocolate product, cleaning and removal of residual milk chocolate on production lines is difficult to achieve. The result can be that some dark chocolate products have milk in them that is more than a trace. Levels may be higher at the beginning of a milk-to-dark production changeover and reduce over time as the production continues.

A complication is the lack of clarity in relation to the FSANZ Food Standards Code on food allergen labelling. It only requires a food allergen to be declared if it is in the product as an ingredient or processing aid.

In recognition of this, and to ensure the best protection for consumers with milk allergy, several chocolate manufacturers in Australia and New Zealand are changing their labels to list milk allergens in the ingredient declaration. Typically, in these cases, ‘milk’ will be listed as the last ingredient, even though the milk is not an intentionally added ingredient.

Allergy New Zealand supports this industry initiative to ensure the best protection of consumers with cow’s milk allergy. We would also like to see the FSANZ Food Standard Code on allergen labelling reviewed to ensure this and other anomalies can be addressed in a similar way, to enable  manufacturers to provide consumers with the information they need to make an informed decision when purchasing food.

Allergy New Zealand Allergy Advisor Penny Jorgensen

March 2019