Why Animal-Free Dairy Still Contains a Milk Allergen
By Kathleen Nay
Did you know that protein is the key ingredient in milk responsible for the texture and functionality of dairy foods? Well, it’s true — and before Perfect Day, only mammals could produce milk protein.
Perfect Day makes animal-free dairy protein that comes with all the benefits of traditional dairy. Besides providing essential amino acids in a form that humans can absorb more easily than other protein sources, it offers a lot of versatility in making dairy foods. But because it’s animal-free, there's no need to worry about harm done to animals. Plus, it’s hormone-free and it’s lactose-free, so people with lactose intolerance can enjoy it.
But for individuals with a milk allergy, we need to be clear: Perfect Day makes milk protein. Though not derived from a cow, our protein is not dairy-free and any product that contains it contains a milk allergen. These products are not suitable for anyone with a milk protein allergy.
Keep reading to learn about what food allergy is and how Perfect Day works with its partners to inform consumers about the allergen risk.
What Is a Food Allergy?
Our immune system is responsible for identifying and destroying harmful substances that make us sick, usually bacteria or viruses. A food allergy occurs when a person's immune system mistakenly identifies otherwise harmless food proteins as threats, causing an immune response.1
Food allergies are serious and potentially life threatening. The severity of an immune reaction to an allergen varies from person to person and can range from minor irritation to anaphylactic shock. Treatment for anaphylaxis requires an injection of epinephrine and a trip to the emergency room; it can be fatal if not treated promptly.2
Food allergy is a medical condition that should be diagnosed by an allergist. It is not the same as food intolerance. For example, many people avoid dairy products due to lactose intolerance, the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. Lactose intolerance causes gastrointestinal discomfort but it does not cause a dangerous immune reaction. (Lactose is a component of whole cow’s milk but it is not present in animal-free dairy.)
In the United States, the eight most common food allergens are milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. (Sesame is also emerging as an allergen of concern.) Milk allergy is an allergic reaction to one or more of the proteins found in milk. It affects roughly 6% of American children, and while most outgrow it by adolescence, an estimated 1–2% of adults are allergic to milk.3
What Is Milk Protein?
Milk is defined by the U.S. federal government as “the lacteal secretion obtained by milking one or more healthy cows.”4 Protein is a relatively small component of whole milk; on average, fluid milk from cows is about 88% water, 5% lactose, 3% milkfat, 3% protein, and less than 1% minerals (although exact composition depends on the cow’s breed, nutrition, and stage of lactation).5 However, only a miniscule amount of allergen is needed to trigger an immune response in people with allergies.
There are six major proteins found in cow's milk: four caseins (alpha-s1-, alpha-s2-, beta-, and kappa-casein) and two whey proteins (alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin). Both casein and whey protein groups are characterized as allergenic.6
Perfect Day is developing animal-free versions of all six major milk proteins, but the first protein we have commercialized for use by food makers is non-animal beta-lactoglobulin, a whey protein. One of our long-term research goals is to identify ways of reducing the allergenicity of dairy proteins, however, this research will take some time. For now, Perfect Day proteins cannot be considered allergen-free.
How We Work with Partners to Identify Allergen Ingredients
If you have a food allergy, the only way to avoid a negative immune response is to avoid consuming the problem food. Federal regulations like the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) make it easier for allergy sufferers to identify allergens in food products. FALCPA-regulated allergens must be called out in the ingredient list and/or using the word “Contains” followed by the name of the allergen.7
Perfect Day is committed to transparency and consumer safety, and we require the same from our partners. We require our partners to take all three of these steps:
- Clearly indicate “Contains Milk Allergen” or “Contains: Milk Protein” on the front of product packaging.
- Include “non-animal whey protein” in the ingredients list on the product packaging, in compliance with FALCPA.
- Include “Contains: Milk Allergen” or “Contains: Milk Protein” in bold type following the ingredients list on the back of product packaging, in compliance with FALCPA.
We are taking additional steps to work with leading food allergy organizations and individuals to help shape allergen education in order to protect consumers.
For the first time in the history of milk consumption, cow's milk proteins are being produced in an organism other than a cow. Fermentation enables us to make highly nutritious, tasty, lactose-free dairy products without relying on animals. Our mission is to create a kinder, greener tomorrow for animals and our planet, but our number one commitment is to our community today. That means we need to be very clear about who can and cannot consume products made with Perfect Day ingredients.
2.Castle, Jill. (2020, July 16). A guide to the most common food allergies. Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-most-common-food-allergies-1324134#milk-allergy
3.U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020). CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Section 131.110
5. Mills, Clare et al. (2004). Processing approaches to reducing allergenicity in proteins. In R.Y. Yada (Ed.), Proteins in food processing (pp. 396–418). Woodhead Publishing. doi.org/10.1533/9781855738379.2.396
6.Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). (n.d.). How to read a food label. https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/how-read-food-label