“I spotted this confused creamer at breakfast,” Jake wrote in an e-mail to Consumerist. “Glad I’m not lactose intolerant.” While it’s labeled “non-dairy,” it also has a milk allergy warning. How does that work?
If Jake were lactose intolerant, he wouldn’t have much to worry about. Lactose, the component of milk that many humans have trouble digesting, is milk sugar; casein is milk protein. This non-dairy creamer has casein extracted from milk in it, but not as much lactose as if it were a container of milk or cream. Yay. A lactose-intolerant person might want to stay away from it if they’re sensitive to traces of lactose.
In what world does this label make sense, though? The Food and Drug Administration explains that they’re cool with something being both non-dairy and containing dairy products, as long as they’re clearly labeled.
The simple reason is that while nondairy creamer is made of other, cheaper substances (usually soy) that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily dairy-free. If it’s a creamer marketed to vegans, then yes, they’ll take precautions not to have animal products in there. That doesn’t mean that everyone who uses non-dairy creamer is vegan; some people prefer the taste or lower cost.
When foods characterized on the label as “nondairy” contain a caseinate ingredient, the caseinate ingredient shall be followed by a parenthetical statement identifying its source. For example, if the manufacturer uses the term “nondairy” on a creamer that contains sodium caseinate, it shall include a parenthetical term such as “a milk derivative” after the listing of sodium caseinate in the ingredient list.
CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 [FDA]
Dairy-Free and Non-Dairy: Milk-Allergic Consumers? [University of Nebraska]