Kosher Labeling and Milk or Dairy Allergy
"Kosher" foods are foods which meet Jewish dietary laws. These dietary laws prohibit the consumption of certain foods, require that foods be processed in certain ways, and, most importantly for the food allergic, prohibit the mixing of dairy products and meat products. Although many parents of dairy-allergic children find it convenient to check for the Kosher labeling of a product to see if the product contains dairy ingredients, Kosher labeling is not an accurate way to determine if a product is safe from a food allergy standpoint. A basic explanation of Kosher labeling from the standpoint of the food allergic is as follows:
- In the Kosher system, foods are classified as being either "dairy," "meat" or "neutral" (neither dairy nor meat).
- Foods that meet the Kosher dietary laws are labeled with one of the Kosher symbols, including: K, , and . You can usually find these symbols in small type on the bottom front of the package.
- Kosher foods that contain dairy products usually contain a "D" or the word "Dairy" after the Kosher symbol.
- Kosher foods that are processed on "dairy equipment" (i.e., equipment that is also currently used to process items which contain dairy, or that has been used in the past to process dairy products and has not undergone a ritualized cleaning process since then) may have a "D" or "DE" after the Kosher symbol. From the food allergy perspective, these foods may be cross-contaminated with dairy ingredients.
- Kosher foods that are considered neutral (i.e. not "dairy" or "meat") have the word "Pareve" or "Parve" after the Kosher symbol. Note: under Kosher laws, fish is considered to be "neutral".
- The letter "P" in Kosher labeling never denotes "Pareve". "P" designates "Kosher for Passover" (a Jewish holiday which has its own dietary laws). Note: for a discussion of "Kosher for Passover" foods and how this affects the food allergy community, see our FAQ on What does "Kosher for Passover" mean? which includes a helpful listing of “What foods should I stock up on before Passover?” as recommended by KFA members.
- Not all foods are Kosher, and therefore not all foods contain a Kosher label.
Some Take Away Points:
- Kosher labeling in general cannot be used as a guide to determining whether a product does or does not contain milk.¹ However, many parents find they can save time in the supermarket by simply assuming that foods marked as "Kosher dairy" are not safe for a dairy-allergic child.
- A dairy-allergic person cannot rely on the Kosher Pareve designation or the lack of a Kosher Dairy designation in determining the safety of a particular food. This is because it is possible for a food to contain a trace level of dairy contamination (something which might be a problem for a dairy-allergic child) and still be considered "dairy-free" from the standpoint of the Jewish dietary laws.
- Kosher labeling does not address cross-contamination issues. Therefore it is possible that traces of allergens may be in Kosher foods, just like any other manufactured foods. As always, be sure to read the ingredient statement on every item purchased and contact the manufacturers to determine its safety just like any other food you would buy.
1. Hahn, M and McKnight, M. Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About FALCPA. Retrieved on May 27, 2013, from http://www.foodallergy.org/falcpa-faq?
Approved by KFA Medical Advisory Team, February 2008. Updated May 2013.