As a vegan who is lactose intolerant, I am in a bit of a quandary when I buy processed foods. I don’t eat dairy products because I am vegan. But, it will cause me problems if I eat some unintentionally. When it doesn’t say vegan or dairy free on the label can I really be sure?
FDA rules on ingredient labeling are murky. The label must declare ingredients if those items are added in whole to the product. What if those ingredients are part of another ingredient like natural flavoring or gravy? The answer is maybe. According to this article, a label only has to list ingredients if they are substantial to the recipe. Things like spices and flavoring do not have to be listed as anything other than spice, flavoring (see no. 10 on the article). For instance, dairy added to flavoring doesn’t have to be listed as a separate ingredient.
This may not seem like a big deal to the FDA or food manufacturers. It is to a vegan and even more so to someone who is lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy. It’s no fun going through a dairy episode. (This goes for those who have other types of food sensitivities as well.)
There is also the problem of cross contamination from equipment. Many products are made on the same equipment as those with allergens. Some companies are voluntarily adding this information to labels, others are not.
I find it interesting that I don’t always have a reaction to products that have no dairy but are produced on equipment that also produces food with dairy. The Dajoba bar doesn’t bother me, but Endangered Species bars do. I have no explanation for it except to follow my body. If I have a reaction, I cross that food off my list.
When in doubt, I am reluctant to buy an item. I prefer food products that clearly state whether there is dairy, vegan, or whether they have been run on machinery that also produces dairy products. I give a big thumbs up to companies who provide this information. I wish more would.
Education is important. The more we know about the regulations that are applied to food labels and what the terms themselves mean we can make better purchases.