There is no standard or regulation for “dairy-free” claims and these claims should be read cautiously by the consumer. “Dairy-free” should mean free from dairy and dairy derivatives like milk, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, casein, lactose and other dairy allergens. However, since this is unregulated, many “dairy-free” claimed products have been found to contain dairy. The FDA released the results of a new survey of dark chocolate products labeled as “dairy-free” and found that 12 of 119 samples had potentially hazardous levels of milk allergen. The levels, ranging from 600 to 3,100 parts per million (ppm), had the potential to cause severe reactions in consumers with milk allergies. All four products were recalled. The problem with “dairy-free” claims alone is that they are unregulated and without universal standards. Also, items that say “dairy-free” that have flavoring may have dairy components in the flavors that the company itself is not aware of.
“Non-dairy” on a label could allow for the presence of milk protein, and may in fact contain some form of dairy, whey, casein, or lactose. If a product doesn’t have a “pareve” symbol on it, the best way to know if it contains dairy ingredients is to check with the kosher agency that certifies the item.