Where the Milk Hides


As if avoiding anything labeled with “milk,” “cream,” or “cheese” somewhere in the title isn’t enough, the food manufacturing business has found hundreds of other ways to hide milk in our food supply.  While I consider myself somewhat of a dairy-free guru, capable of spotting the dairy ingredients on a Kraft foods label in a single scan, I was recently busted by the moo juice within yet another unsuspecting form…

This week we met some friends at a sushi restaurant.  Sushi, a safe haven for my milk allergy… or so I thought.  Just following dinner I began to get sick with symptoms known synonymously with my reactions to milk.  But how could this be, I only ate was fish, soy sauce, rice, that spicy sauce, and some guilty mayo?  To my udder surprise, the imitation crab meat stuffed into our California Roll and Mountain Roll contained dairy in the form of whey. Luckily, I only had one piece of each, and the amounts within were small, so only some minor illness for the evening ensued.  Nonetheless, it is certainly not something I enjoy experiencing. 

On my next trip to our local grocers I went through the various surimi products and did discover that some brands were dairy-free, while others were not.  Once again I was reminded how essential it is to read absolutely every food label, and really, how I should just be eating whole foods in the first place (i.e. salmon nigiri rather than imitation crab rolls).  Nonetheless, some of the simplest foods may contain some surprise extras that we are completely unaware of. 

Did you know that some brands of chicken broth contain milk protein?  What about caseinates in that benign-looking can of tuna?  Vegetarians / vegans shouldn’t assume that they are in the clear either. Bread, cereal, and even peanut butter can house a minor milk mystery or two. 

For a heads-up on some common suspects, see our list on Hidden Dairy.  Imitation crab meat will be next to go on the list, but before we make the update, have a look and let us know if we have missed any other potential dairy-containing foods that gave you a surprise.  Just send an email to info at godairyfree dot org (replacing the at and dot of course!).  Ah yes, and just in case you don't have that list of dairy ingredients memorized as of yet, we do have a popular Dairy Ingredient List.

About Author

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.


  1. Wow, I love sushi like it’s my favorite food! And my favorite sushi, of corse, is the California roll. And chicken broth is something that I always have when I’m sick witch I currently am! This really helps with my allergy, thanks.

  2. I’m wondering if any dairy is used in making those sweet sauces on top of our sushi rolls as most of them seem quite creamy…?

    • If you have a severe or highly sensitive allergy, you want to verify at any restaurant – no matter what. But those sauces on sushi rolls are typically mayo-based, not dairy. However, I have seen some tempura batters that contain dairy, and krab (imitation crab) that contain dairy, so I avoid rolls made with fake crab meat or anything “crunchy”.

  3. Jennifer Pearce on

    I had sushi last night thinking I was safe I’ve only been dairy free for a week and a half (doctors suggestion I am lactose intolerant ) anyway so happy to read this because I’ve felt so sick since eating it and I didn’t know what could of caused it. I starting wondering if it’s not dairy but this has settled those thoughts. Thanks.

  4. Hi Alisa

    Just discovered your really useful blog and website for Dairy Free which is awesome. I have spent years trying to figure out what is causing me a lot of digestive issues (maybe for 10 years) and medical tests and they didn’t find anything but i have read enough material to know that dairy and gluten avoidances are a great option and whenever i avoid anything dairy i do not experience those issues.

    I’m really grateful for the info and experiences you share on your website and Instagram. I will use your information daily from this point onwards.
    Thank You

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