What You Should Know from the FDA’s Warning on Dark Chocolate

Think dark chocolate means dairy-free? Think again. (Photo: Getty Images)

The FDA set off alarms in February when it warned that most dark chocolate bars contain milk — including many billed as dairy-free. “This can be a problem, since even one small bite of a product containing milk can cause a dangerous reaction in some individuals,” researcher Binaifer Bedford, M.S., an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education fellow, said in an FDA statement.

In a new report out today, the FDA shed more light on their testing, findings, and what consumers need to be aware of. Here’s what you should know:

1. The FDA suggests reading “may” as “likely”
If an bar has any type of warning, ranging from “may contain milk” to “manufactured in a facility that uses milk,” consumers should assume that the bar contains some amount of milk — the FDA found that 3 out of ever 4 bars with a warning contained milk.

Related: The Healthiest Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever

2. Dairy-free isn’t always true
The FDA found traces of milk in 15 percent of bars that claimed to be “dairy-free.” The same goes for bars labeled “vegan” or “lactose-free” — while they’re theoretically free of dairy, that’s not always the case.

3. No mention of milk isn’t any safer
Even if milk isn’t listed in an ingredients list or in a warning on the label, it may still be present in the bar. The FDA found milk in 33 percent of bars that had no mention of milk anywhere on their labels.

Frustrated? You should be — the FDA has found dairy labeling on chocolate bars to be inefficient at best, and downright dangerous at worst. 

So what’s a consumer to do? First off, if you’re severely allergic to milk, it’s worth seeking out a trusted source of allergen-free chocolate. This might be a local brand with dedicated allergen-free production materials, or a larger brand that’s marketed toward people with allergies. Either way, know that dark chocolate is what the FDA calls a “high-risk food” and proceed with caution.

If you’re just trying to avoid dairy, be aware that most dark-chocolate bars do, in fact, contain milk. The FDA is working on building stricter labeling and manufacturing legislation, including a proposed “Preventive Controls for Human Food” rule that is set to go into practice in the fall. Here’s hoping that leads to safer — and more honest — chocolate for all.

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