10 facts about milk: the everyday, everywhere allergen

Milk is part of human life from the moment you’re born – yet a 2017 study estimated that 68% of people across the world have a milk allergy or intolerance! (1)

Here are nine other facts about milk allergies.

What causes a milk allergy?

A milk allergy happens when your body reacts to the proteins found in milk.  In people with milk allergies, your immune system sees milk proteins as a threat, which triggers a variety of reactions, from rashes or hayfever-like symptoms, to wheezing or in serious cases, anaphylaxis.

Milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance

Lactose is the natural sugar found in milk.  If you’re lactose intolerant it means that you don’t have enough lactase, an enzyme in your body that breaks down lactose.  Consuming lactose will cause symptoms such as an upset stomach but does not trigger an immune system response, and so is not defined as an allergy.

You can be allergic to milk, but not other dairy products

When milk is turned into other products – like cheese or yoghurt – it changes its chemistry, meaning that, for some people, its proteins may no longer have an effect.  

Similarly, some people are not allergic to milk when it’s been used as an ingredient in products that have been cooked, such as bread or cakes. 

However, some people are allergic to any traces of milk proteins and need to be extra vigilant because…

Milk can be an ingredient in lots of products that you wouldn’t expect

These can include:

  • salad dressings

  • cake mix

  • bread, biscuits and cakes

  • battered and fried food

  • canned and processed meats

  • chewing gum

  • granola bars

  • gravies and sauces

Milk-derived ingredients can be hard to spot

Look out for the following ingredients if you have a milk or dairy allergy:

  • Whey

  • Casein or caseinates

  • Diacetyl

  • Ghee

  • Hydrolysates

  • Lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate

  • Lactose, lactoglobulin, lactoferrin, lactulose

  • Rennet

In the UK, food labels are required to highlight milk ingredients as an allergen

The introduction of Natasha’s Law from 1 October will increase the number of food products that require labelling, and many pubs and restaurants have got better at highlighting allergens.  However, if you have a milk allergy you should still make staff aware when eating out and ask about any dishes you think may contain milk.

Allergy to milk is the most common allergy affecting babies and young children

The NHS estimates that around 1 in 50 children have a milk allergy, but that 20% will grow out of it by age one, and most by age three.

It’s less common in developing countries, and it’s thought that this could be down a higher rate of breast-feeding, and milk and milk products being less prevalent in local diets.

Breast-fed babies can still be prone to milk allergy

For babies that are particularly sensitive to cow’s milk or dairy, mothers may have to avoid those products in their diet while breastfeeding. 

Milk can be in non-food products too

Milk or milk-derived products can be ingredients in cosmetics and skin care and even medicines. 

Advice for food businesses

Make it easy for your customers to spot allergens in your products.  Having a robust system for recording and communicating allergen ingredients will keep you compliant with the law and make you popular with customers: it’s estimated that 2 million people in the UK have a diagnosed food allergy.

With Allergen Checker, you can meet all your food labelling needs, from printed ingredient labels to menus, from less than £1 per day.

Contact us now for no-obligation advice on how we can help you and your business or sign up for a free 7-day trial.

[1] Storhaug CL, Fosse SK, Fadnes LT. Country, regional, and global estimates for lactose malabsorption in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2017;2(10):738–746.