Beware of hidden dairy in foods

Posted by Josette Dunn on 22nd December 2010

Fonterra said today it is advising international customers of the potential need to identify the dairy content of foods containing specialised dairy proteins, following the publication of a new academic study.Fonterra produces specialised dairy proteins used as ingredients by international food companies.

Fonterra Chief Technology Officer, Jeremy Hill, said it is obvious that certain foods contain dairy – such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. However, increasingly companies are using dairy-based ingredients in products that do not necessarily look like dairy foods and there is a need to ensure consumers are adequately informed that these products contain dairy.

“Today, dairy protein ingredients can be used in many different types of food to provide consumers with health and dietary benefits. These include protein bars, sports drinks, flavoured waters and dietary supplements.

“These specialised dairy proteins have been used for years and are recognised as safe for consumers. However, consumers who are allergic to dairy may not realise these products contain dairy.”

Fonterra’s new recommendations follow the publication of an academic study in the Canadian journal, Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology (AACI). The study, by Associate Professor Rohan Ameratunga and Dr See-Tarn Woon of Auckland City Hospital, examines the allergenic properties of functional foods, and in particular Whole, a product launched by Fonterra in New Zealand last year.

Dr Hill said Fonterra had taken on board learnings from Assoc. Professor Ameratunga’s work.

Whole was a functional water fortified with dairy protein and fibre designed to help bridge the hunger gap between meals. After the product was launched, three consumers with dairy allergies had an allergic reaction when they consumed Whole not realising it contained dairy protein.

“When the allergic reactions were brought to our attention, we put a comprehensive plan in place, working with Allergy New Zealand, to alert the community about Whole’s dairy protein content. Although Whole fully complied with New Zealand Food Safety Authority requirements, we also changed the labeling to more prominently state that the product contained dairy,” said Dr Hill.

“We have learned from this experience and we can all do better to minimise the risks in the future.

“Our international customers already have rigorous standards in place and abide by local labeling laws, however we are further encouraging them to conduct a risk assessment of products containing specialised dairy proteins to determine whether additional labeling or communication could be warranted,” said Dr Hill. “This is particularly important for products such as clear beverages which consumers may not intuitively expect to contain dairy.”

Whole was removed from the market in April 2010 because sales were not meeting expectations. Fonterra is not currently producing any consumer products containing specialised dairy proteins, however, any future products which do contain these specialised proteins will follow a similar risk assessment process.