18 Foods That May Contain Hidden Milk Ingredients

Dairy

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you’re allergic to milk, you probably know to look for words such as "dairy" on food labels, and to carefully study ingredients and warnings on packages. Fortunately, the labeling rules mandated by the Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) usually let you know where milk and its by-products are lurking.

Still, you can't prevent all allergic reactions simply by avoiding obvious foods that include milk, such as ice cream, butter, and yogurt. Milk and milk-based ingredients can lurk in some surprising places, and you need to know how to recognize them in order to keep yourself safe.

Foods That May Contain Milk Proteins

All dairy products contain milk, but so do some other foods. If you avoid milk due to allergy (as opposed to lactose intolerance), you need to avoid milk proteins: casein and whey. These foods contain milk proteins.

Lactose-Free Milk

This milk is designed for people with lactose intolerance, not milk allergy. Lactose is a sugar, not a protein. Lactose-free milk has had the milk sugar removed, but it still contains milk protein.

Simplesse

This is a fat replacer made from egg and milk protein (whey). It is used as a fat substitute in low-calorie food products like ice cream, yogurt, cheese spread, salad dressings, margarine, mayonnaise, coffee creamer, soups, and sauces.

Simplesse is a trademark name, so you may not find it listed by name as an ingredient. Instead, you may see “egg and milk protein,” "whey protein," or "dairy protein."

Dips and Salad Dressings

Any dips or creamy dressings made with milk, yogurt, or sour cream, such as ranch or blue cheese, may contain milk.

Soy or Rice Cheese

Although they are not made from cow's milk, these may be manufactured in a plant or on a factory line that also produces milk-containing products. The risk for ​cross-contamination can be significant.

Kefir

This fermented beverage is made from animal milk (usually cow's milk) mixed with kefir grains. The result is a thick, smoothie-like drink. Most do contain milk protein.

Goat’s Milk

While not identical to cow’s milk protein, goat’s milk and other animal-based milks like sheep’s milk have similar milk proteins and may cause an allergic reaction. It is recommended that people with cow's milk allergies avoid other animal-based milk.

Candy and Sweets That May Contain Milk

You probably realize that milk chocolate contains milk. But milk ingredients may be hidden in other sweets, including:

  • Nougat: Typically found in candy bars like 3 Musketeers and Snickers in the United States, nougat is generally made with honey, sugar, nuts, egg whites and possibly milk powder, although ingredients may vary. Always check the label for ingredients, or ask about them.
  • Sherbet: This common substitute for ice cream is made with fruit, water, and sugar, but it may also include egg whites, milk, or gelatin. Many brands of sherbet sold in grocery stores contain milk fat or cream. If you want a similar product, go for sorbet, which is made from fruit, water, and sugar. However, you should always check the ingredients to be sure.

Meat and Deli Products That May Contain Milk

Most people would not expect to find milk in meat products, but it's actually a fairly common ingredient. And meats aren't subject to the same allergen labeling rules as other products.

Deli Meat

Deli meat slicers are frequently used for both meat and cheese products, which can lead to cross-contamination. Deli meats also may contain casein (milk protein) to act as a binder.

Hot Dogs

Milk proteins may be added to hot dogs as an extender or filler. This allows the manufacturer to use less meat overall. Manufacturers of hot dogs (and other meat products) are not required to highlight allergens, so it's important to read the ingredients list carefully.

Sausage

Similar to deli meats, milk protein may be used as a filler or extender in the processing of sausages like hard salami, Italian sausages, or breakfast sausage.

Paté

Animal liver such as beef or chicken may be soaked in milk to remove blood (which gives an off taste) prior to cooking, seasoning, and pureeing into a paté. Read ingredient labels or ask how the paté was prepared prior to consuming.

Tuna Fish

Some brands of canned tuna fish contain casein.

Shellfish

Some manufacturers dip shellfish in milk to eliminate the fishy odor. Always ask about that possibility before you buy.

Steak

This is a common issue in restaurants, not in the supermarket. Some chefs will add a pat of butter to the top of a steak to make it look juicy. Unfortunately, this is one of the perils of dining out. Ask for your steak “naked," with no added ingredients, and be sure to alert your server of any food allergies whenever you are dining out.

Other Foods That May Contain Milk

Look for hidden milk ingredients in these places as well.

  • Chewing gum: Look for milk protein ingredients like Recaldent, which is made from casein and found in certain chewing gum brands.
  • Instant mashed potatoes: Read the ingredient label on your instant spuds, which are basically dehydrated potatoes. Some manufacturers add butter and/or milk before dehydrating the mixture so that the end result is a tastier product.
  • Medicine: Some medications contain whey, so read the labels for over-the-counter medications or ask your pharmacist to ensure your prescription medications are milk-free.

If you have a food allergy, always read labels carefully and call the manufacturer if the label isn't clear. When eating out, don't hesitate to ask about any hidden ingredients. When in doubt, skip it, and avoid the risk of any serious reaction.

A Word From Verywell

Milk is one of the most common food allergies among adults and children. Even though milk allergy tends to be outgrown in childhood, it still pays to know where it is hiding. Carry your milk ingredient code words for reference, especially when you branch out and try a new food product.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA). Updated July 16, 2018.

  2. CP Kelco U.S., Inc. SIMPLESSE® Microparticulated Whey Protein Concentrate

  3. Emamieh S, Khaterizadeh Y, Goudarzi H, Ghasemi A, Baghban AA, Torabzadeh H. The effect of two types chewing gum containing casein phosphopeptide-amorphous calcium phosphate and xylitol on salivary Streptococcus mutansJ Conserv Dent. 2015;18(3):192-195. doi:10.4103/0972-0707.157240

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