Why The FDA Is Warning People About Dark Chocolate


Two new pieces of chocolate news may have us reaching for candy hearts instead this Valentine’s Day. (Photo: Getty Images) 

Allergic to milk, or know someone who is? A recent study by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  found that 59 percent of dark chocolate products in the U.S. contain trace amounts of milk.

And, you can’t always tell that’s the case simply by reading the food label.

“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.

Dark chocolate has long been heralded as a way to enjoy delicious chocolate flavor sans milk. But the FDA test of more than 100 dark chocolate bars revealed that many of them contained undeclared milk. While it’s probably not on purpose, this contamination could happen when a dark chocolate product shares equipment with a milk or white chocolate product.

Related: The Healthiest Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever

Milk is a major food allergen (one of the top eight in America) and U.S. law requires foods that contain it to name it on the label. 

While dark chocolate bars labeled “dairy-free” or “allergen-free” were the least likely to contain milk, 2 out of 17 of these products were found to contain milk. Fifty-five of the 93 bars without any clear indication of the presence of milk also were found to contain milk — that’s 59 percent. And 6 out of the 11 chocolate products labeled “traces of milk” contained milk at detectable levels high enough to potentially cause severe reactions in some individuals. 

“First of all, milk-allergic consumers should be aware that a high proportion of the dark chocolates we tested contained milk, even when the label failed to list milk as an ingredient,” Bedford says.

If you’re allergic to milk, be wary of dark chocolate. 

“And because consumers can’t be sure that a statement about milk is completely accurate, they may want to contact the manufacturer to find out how it controls for allergens such as milk during production,” says Bedford. Information about the manufacturer, packer, or distributor is required to appear on the label of packaged foods.

In other chocolate (bad) news, some popular chocolate brands may toxic.

Consumer health watchdog As You Sow filed notices of legal action on Wednesday against Hershey’s, See’s Candies, and Mars, alleging violation of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act for failure to warn consumers of the toxic chemical cadmium in the companies’ chocolate products.

Related: 5 Foods That Won’t Break Your Heart 

Chronic exposure to cadmium has been linked to kidney, liver, and bone damage in humans — and kids are especially susceptible.

The organization previously initiated legal action against an additional 13 chocolate manufacturers, including Godiva, Ghirardelli, Lindt, Green and Black’s, Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Earth Circle Organics, Moonstruck, Theo, and Vosges, for failure to warn of lead and/or cadmium in their chocolate products.  Lead exposure has been a significant public health issue for decades and is associated with neurological impairment, such as learning disabilities and lower IQ at specific levels

"Consumers need to know that chocolate may contain heavy metals," said Eleanne van Vliet, MPH, As You Sow’s toxic chemical research director. “Since lead and cadmium accumulate in the body over time, even small amounts should be avoided.”   

Great, just great. 

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