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SALT LAKE CITY — Say it isn’t so! A heart-healthy indulgence that many reach for at the end of a long, hard day may pose some major health risks to those with food allergies, thanks to an undeclared ingredient.
That’s according to a new FDA study, which found that an alarming percentage of dark chocolate products contain a lurking danger, despite labeling that indicates otherwise.
The culprit: milk.
Dark chocolate is generally accepted as a tasty alternative for those who need a chocolate fix without the milk, which is just one of the reasons why this new revelation is troubling.
In response to complaints from people who’d become seriously ill after eating dark chocolate, researchers tested U.S.-manufactured 100 dark chocolate products for traces of dairy. The products were sorted into groups based on claims made on the label, including “may contain milk,” “dairy- or allergen-free,” or no mention of milk at all.
- 59 percent overall contained milk
- 2 out of 17 labeled "dairy-free" or "allergen-free" contained milk
- 6 of 11 bars labeled "traces of milk" had enough of the allergen to cause a severe reaction
The results were alarming: 59 percent of the dark chocolate bars tested — including those claiming to be dairy-free — contained traces of milk.
“This can be a problem, since even one small bite of a product containing milk can cause a dangerous reaction in some individuals,” said FDA researcher Binaifer Bedford.
The products labeled “dairy-free or allergen-free” were found to be the least likely to contain milk, but even so, two out of the 17 tested contained the unwanted ingredient. Six out of 11 bars that claimed to contain “traces of milk” were found to have enough milk to potentially elicit severe reactions in those with a serious allergy, researchers said.
Perhaps the most concerning finding: 55 out of 93 bars that didn’t contain any clear mention of milk on the label contained traces of the allergen.
While the milk contamination is likely unintentional, researchers said, it most often occurs when dark chocolate products are made using the same equipment that produces milk or white chocolate.
“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,” said Bedford.
U.S. law requires manufacturers of food containing one of the eight major allergens — milk, wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish and soybeans — to list the ingredient on the product label, according to the FDA. Even so, undeclared allergens are the leading cause of FDA food recalls.
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.
–Binaifer Bedford, FDA researcher
The FDA reports that one third of the foods reported as serious health risks between September 2009 and September 2010 involved mislabeled or unlabeled allergens.
A full list of recently recalled foods can be found here.
On a lighter note, dark chocolate has become known for its health benefits. Recent long-term studies have shown that eating at least one serving a week can cut the risk of heart failure in women by a third, according to Women's Health.
Another study showed that dark chocolate is more filling and can promote weight loss.