Undeclared allergens in chocolate products have been responsible for numerous allergen-related recalls in the United States. A survey was conducted to determine the prevalence of undeclared milk and peanut in 88 and 78 dark chocolate bars, respectively. Concentrations of milk (as nonfat dry milk) or peanut in three samples of each chocolate product were determined with two milk- or peanut-specific enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay kits. In 75% of the chocolate bar products with a milk advisory statement, milk concentrations were above the limit of quantitation (2.5 μg/g [ppm]), with the majority having concentrations >1,000 ppm. An additional 67% of chocolate bars with a "traces of milk" statement contained 3 to 6,700 ppm of milk. Fifteen percent of chocolates labeled dairy free or lactose free and 25% labeled vegan were positive for milk, all with concentrations >1,000 ppm. Even for chocolates with no reference to milk on the label, 33% of these products contained 60 to 3,400 ppm of milk. The survey of chocolate products for peanuts revealed that 8% of products with an advisory statement contained peanut, with the highest concentration of 550 ppm. All nine chocolates bearing the peanut-free or allergen-free statement were negative for peanut, but 17% of chocolates with no label statement for peanut were positive for peanut at concentrations of 9 to 170 ppm. Evaluation of multiple lots of four chocolate products revealed that milk was consistently present or absent for the products investigated, but mixed results were obtained when multiple lots were tested for peanut. This study indicates that a large proportion of dark chocolate bars contain undeclared milk. The type of advisory statement or the absence of a milk advisory statement on products did not predict the amount or absence of milk protein. In contrast, a lower proportion of chocolates containing undeclared peanut was found. Consumers with food allergies should be cautious when purchasing dark chocolate products, particularly those that have an advisory label statement.
Keywords: Chocolate; Cross-contact; Labeling; Undeclared allergens.