18 Foods That May Contain Hidden Milk Ingredients


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you’re allergic to milk, you probably know to look for code 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 safeguard your allergy and prevent 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 those places in order to keep yourself safe with your milk allergy.

Dairy Foods That May Contain Hidden Milk

Many dairy products contain milk ingredients. Some you might not expect include:

  • Lactaid milk: This is designed for individuals with lactose intolerance, not a milk allergy. Lactaid milk contains milk protein (casein and whey) but has had the milk sugar (lactose) removed.
  • Simplesse: This ingredient is a fat replacer made from egg and milk protein (whey), and 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 the term “egg and milk protein.”
  • Dips and salad dressings: Any dips made with milk, yogurt or sour cream, such as ranch or blue cheese, may contain milk.
  • Soy or rice cheese: These may be manufactured in a plant or on a factory line that also produces milk-containing products. The risk for ​cross-contamination may 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 milk like sheep’s milk have similar milk proteins and may cause an allergic reaction. It is recommended that milk allergic individuals 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 always should check the ingredients.

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. Here's where to look:

  • Deli meat: Deli meat slicers are frequently used for both meat and cheese products. 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 are not required to list allergy ingredients since meats aren't subject to the same allergen labeling rules as other products.
  • 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.
  • Pate: 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 pate. Read ingredient labels or ask how the pate was prepared prior to consuming.
  • Tuna fish: Some brands of canned tuna fish contain casein, a milk protein.
  • Shellfish: Some manufacturers dip shellfish in milk to eliminate the "fishy" odor. Always ask about that possibility before you buy.
  • Steak: This is an 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.

Other Foods That May Contain Milk

You'll need to learn to look for hidden milk ingredients in these places:

  • 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 (a milk protein), so read the labels for over-the-counter medications or ask your pharmacist to ensure your prescription medications are milk-free.
  • Chewing gum: Look for milk protein ingredients here like Recaldent, which is made from casein and found in chewing gum brands such as Trident.

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, and when in doubt, skip it, and avoid the risk of any serious reaction.

A Word From Verywell

Milk is one of the top food allergies that are the most common among food-allergic 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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  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA). Updated July 16, 2018.

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