The short answer is, no. Packaged vegan food is not always dairy and egg free and safe for people with these food allergies.
People who follow a vegan diet don’t eat any animal products, which includes egg and milk. So logic says that vegan foods should be safe for people with egg and milk allergies. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
If you are allergic to milk and/or egg, you should never rely on the fact that a food is labelled as “vegan” in deciding if it is safe for you.
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Why vegan foods appeal to people with milk and egg allergies
“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”The Vegan Society
People who follow a vegan diet avoid all types of foods that come from animals, including meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey.
If you have allergies to milk and eggs, vegan products can be instantly appealing as a potentially safe alternative. This is especially true when it comes to:
- products traditionally made with dairy, like icecream, cheese and yoghurt; and
- cakes, biscuits, crackers and other baked goods that often contain both milk and egg.
For people managing food allergies other than egg and milk, packaged vegan foods can be problematic. Vegan foods are often made with soy, nuts and seeds. Dairy free or vegan cheese may be made with cashew or other nuts, soy or even sesame.
Always read the label – vegan doesn’t always mean dairy and egg free
Australia’s Food Standards Code treats labelling for consumer values issues – including issues relating to religion, animal welfare or the environment – as voluntary. There are no specific labelling requirements for vegan foods. Consumer laws still require that labels can’t be false, or misleading and deceptive.1
A product labelled as “vegan” may not be entirely free from dairy and eggs. Vegan foods sometimes have voluntary “may contain” statements for egg and milk. Precautionary allergen statements include wording such as “may contain traces of”, or “made on the same production line as products containing” milk and egg. Some vegan foods go as far as to carry an express warning that they are not suitable for people with egg or milk allergies.
Similarly, a product labelled as “dairy free” might not be vegan. For example, soy based non dairy cheese may still contain casein, a milk protein, and would definitely not be suitable for someone with a milk allergy.
Never assume based on a descriptive label of “vegan” or “dairy free” that the product will be suitable for someone with allergies. Always read the ingredient label carefully, including any “may contain” statement, as you would for any other product.
If you have a food allergy, always read the label of any product you buy. Practice the triple checking system: read it when you purchase, when you put away in the cupboard or fridge and again when you use it.
That said, there are some great brands that are both vegan and dairy free and egg free. Our favourites include Leda (biscuits and cookies), Orgran (cookies, crackers, baking products, pastas and more) and Sweet William, Plamil and Moo Free chocolates.
A new allergy issue – vegan foods with non-animal food proteins
With the increase in popularity of plant based eating, there has been an explosion in the availability of plant based products at the supermarket. You have probably seen plant based meats including burgers, sausages, and schnitzels.
Amazingly, food manufacturers are now producing vegan foods from non-animal food proteins. These non-animal proteins have the same structure as proteins found in animal products, and apparently the same taste.
Companies like Perfect Day Foods and Real Vegan Cheese have created dairy-identical, animal-free dairy proteins that are equivalent to whey and casein found in dairy milk. These proteins are manufactured using microflora (fungi or yeast). They contain proteins that are chemically the same as whey and casein. As a result, these non-animal dairy identical products are not suitable for people with milk allergies. This is clearly explained on Perfect Day’s website – see Why Animal Free Dairy Still Contains a Milk Allergen.
Fortunately under allergen labelling laws these products must still state on ingredient labels that they contain milk proteins. This is why it is so important to carefully read ingredient labels and not rely on descriptions such as “animal free” or “vegan” on the front packaging.
Manufactured non-animal proteins are likely to become increasingly common due to the increasing popularity of veganism and plant based eating. This will be important for people with food allergies to keep in mind when considering vegan food products in the future.
Vegan recipes are brilliant
While you may not always be able to rely on processed “vegan” products from the supermarket, vegan recipes can be an amazing source of fantastic recipe ideas for someone with milk and egg allergies.
Of course, many vegan recipes will include soy, nuts or seeds, which will obviously not be suitable if you have these allergies as well. However many vegan recipes have perfected the art of cooking – especially baking – without milk and egg. Either completely avoiding or substituting a standard recipe with:
- plant based milk like soy (if not allergic), oat or rice milk;
- egg substitutes such as flax eggs, aquafaba, apple sauce or vegan egg replacer products;
can open up a whole world of delicious recipes for people with milk and egg allergies.
Many of the allergy friendly recipes on our recipe page are also suitable for vegans.
References and more information about food labelling
Another food label that can be problematic for people with food allergies is “gluten free”. In some countries, gluten free doesn’t always mean wheat free.
For more information about vegan food and labelling, see the following resources we’ve referred to in this post:
- 1 Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Labelling for religious, environmental, animal welfare and other consumer value issues
- Read more about vegan living at The Vegan Society