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Hidden allergy risks in non-dairy milks

These days when we say “milk”, we don’t necessarily mean cows’ milk.

The non-dairy milk market has literally exploded in recent years. What started with soy milk many years ago has grown to include almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk and oat milk. Many of these plant-based milks offer great choices to those who wish to avoid dairy products for ethical, health, environmental or other reasons. Then there are other choices like goats’ milk and other animal milks. Even in cow’s milk there are choices of lactose-free or different milk proteins like A2.

All this means greater variety for everyone to choose exactly the type of milk they want for their individual needs.

Commercially produced plant-based or other animal milks must comply with relevant packaging laws that dictate all ingredients in the milk have to be listed on the pack. This includes listing any potential allergen risks from cross-contamination from other products made in the same production facility or from actual ingredients.

So, if you have a nut allergy for example, you can be pretty safe buying commercially-produced rice milks, coconut milks and oat milks for example, (so long as you check the pack carefully).

The risk comes from a growing trend in some cafes to produce their own plant-based milks on the premises. Now while this can be a great push back against commercially produced milks, the problem is that some cafes may not disclose exactly what is in their plant-based milks.

We know of a case where someone with a nut allergy to cashews, ordered a coffee with oat milk from a local café. They had a strong anaphylactic reaction, had to use their EpiPen, and ended up going to hospital in an ambulance.

When he asked the café later about the incident, they said they make their own oat milk and to make it extra creamy they add cashews. As the person had not disclosed their allergy prior, the issue had not been raised.

So, it’s important always to advise anyone of your allergy and don’t assume something called Oat Milk doesn’t have nuts in it. And please be aware of course of the risk of cross-contamination from jugs and milk-frothers at cafes.

And if you run a café, please disclose any potentially risky ingredients in your milks, for everyone’s sake.

Of course, having more people First Aid trained everywhere will mean risks like these can be better handled in this increasingly complex and diverse world.

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