trace amounts of dairy vegans

Is It Vegan If There are Trace Amounts of Dairy Present?

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Have you noticed that more and more products that used to have the word vegan boldly placed on their labels have quietly removed it? I’ve asked around and gotten the same answer. Trace amounts of dairy get into the product during production. Companies have removed vegan from their labels despite the fact that the product itself has no animal products. Do these trace amounts matter to vegans? Let’s explore this problem.

How The Heck Does Trace Amount of Dairy Get into Non-Dairy Products Anyway?

In order to answer that question, we have to look at how foods are manufactured. Some use the same plants as other companies.  They have no control over the food products the other company is making.

Many use the same production equipment for their dairy based products as they do for non-dairy based products.

food manufacturing vegan
Food manufacturing Source:

You may have seen a statement in the ingredients on food labels like “.1% dairy” or “.1% milk”. Others list it under the allergens with a statement such as “Trace amount of dairy may exist due to the shared use of equipment.”

It would be impossible to remove all traces of dairy from the equipment prior to running through non-dairy loaves of bread or batches of cookies. Because companies cannot be certain that a drop or two of dairy hasn’t gotten into the mix, they won’t call their product vegan.

That’s exactly what the FAQ for Luna Bars says.  While it states that many products do not include animal source ingredients, it also notes:

“We want you to know that those products with a label that includes a statement such as ‘contains’ or ‘may contain’ milk or dairy may have possible cross-contact with an animal source in the making of our food. Knowing that information, you can decide how comfortable you are in light of your own dietary preferences or dietary restrictions with the risk of possible cross-contact.”  (source: ClifBar FAQ Are your foods vegan friendly?)

There is no way that they can guarantee dairy hasn’t gotten into products when produced on the same equipment lines. They’d rather air on the side of caution for labeling purposes.

This book opened my eyes about food production in America.

Does This Trace Amount of Dairy Matter To Vegans?

This is something I’ve thought about from time to time. The answer lies in just how far you want to go to restrict your choices. Truth is there aren’t that many companies that have their own dedicated equipment for vegan food lines. Chances are many vegan products contain traces of dairy and we don’t even know it.

The thought occurred to me that this isn’t much different than a kitchen shared by vegans and non-vegans–except for the mass production aspect. My household is vegan and non-vegan like so many.

vegans share toasters
Vegans and carnivores share toasters, don’t they? josealbafotos / Pixabay

Utensils, pots, baking sheets, bowls, and so forth are shared within a household. We wash these things when we dirty them, but, can we really be sure that there are no trace amounts of foods left over in cracks and pits?

Someone I know has Celiac Disease and she’s found that wheat sprue can linger. She uses her own dedicated cooking equipment.   If sprue sticks around, can dairy?  I have no idea.

Have you ever used the toaster that has also held non-vegan bread?  Seems to me this is similar to food produced on the same production lines.

At home, I don’t worry about it. I don’t even think about it.

And, restaurants do it, too!  They certainly don’t have vegan and non-vegan pots and stoves.

I’m not willing to get too upset over it in the foods that I buy either. If .1% dairy might be in my granola bar, I accept that risk.

What if I’m Allergic to Dairy or Am Lactose Intolerant?

This is where it is really important. Are you allergic to food ingredients? Do you have Celiac Disease? Are you lactose intolerant? Trace amounts can make a huge difference if you are allergic or have a food sensitivity.

I’m lactose intolerant to the extreme. The lactose aid products stopped working for me in my late 20s making it a lot easier for me to go vegan.

allergic reactions might occur in processed food
If you suffer an intolerance or allergic, food production makes a difference. Myriams-Fotos / Pixabay

When it comes to trace amounts of dairy, I let my digestive tract be my guide. I’ve made note of those products that have no dairy but I have a reaction to. Endangered Species chocolate bars are delicious, but I can’t eat them. They are made on the same equipment as dairy products and enough dairy gets into them that I have minor lactose intolerance episodes.

On the other hand, Dagoba bars lists .1% dairy on their labels.  I reached out to the company and they confirmed they list this ingredient because they are produced on the same equipment as their dairy lines. I’ve never had a reaction to a non-dairy Dagoba bar.

Since I am pretty sensitive to lactose, I figure if I don’t have a reaction then dairy hasn’t gotten into the product.

This Means Eggs and Meat, Too

Time to be realistic! If a company runs cookies with and without dairy on the same equipment, they are doing the same with eggs, meant, and other animal based ingredients. They may even run the vegan burgers on the same lines as the meat burgers…who knows?  Not me!

vegan means more than dairy
Dairy, meat, and eggs may be in our vegan processed foods wilmapolinder / Pixabay

Unless we tour the plants, we’re really not going to know how food is produced. Oh, sure, we could cook all our food, but that’s not going to happen for the majority of us for a variety of reasons.

Not every day.

Modern food production is a convenience, but it also creates dilemmas for people who are vegan, lactose intolerant, and even those with Celiacs Disease.  Keeping away from the ingredients you want to avoid can be challenging.

What’s Your Opinion?

If you’re a vegan, how do you approach this problem? Tell us in the comments!

  • Do you adhere to a strict diet and stay away from any product that might have traces of eggs and dairy in them?
  • Do you take a more balanced approach and accept there might be traces of animal based ingredients in some foods?
  • Do you avoid reading the fine print on labels altogether? If it says dairy-free or vegan then that is good enough for you.



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