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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Milk in Meats. More Than Just Non-Kosher

Recently I received this email.

I have a question. My daughter is lactose intolerant, and it seems like it is getting worse. Any little bit of something with milk products will cause abdominal bloating /diarrhea around an hour or 2 after eating.

The other day she had a hot dog (Zwiegles brand) and she had severe abdominal pain and diarrhea after that we looked at the label and were shocked to see that it contained nonfat milk in it! Have you ever heard of this? Milk in meats? How much is in there? Do you have any insight into this?

I've been writing about this problem for a long time. It gets a page of its own in my book Milk Is Not for Every Body: Living with Lactose Intolerance.

Hot dogs and many cold cuts are not made directly from hunks of beef. Butchers save end products and scraps, grind them up, pack them into cylinders, and then mix in fillers to add extra protein, texture, or taste or just to make sure that the whole mass sticks together properly. You can take these fat cylinders and slice them piece by piece to make cold cuts for sandwiches. You can take the thin cylinders, add a casing of some sort, and package them as hot dogs or wurst.

The question that concerns us is what the fillers consist of. The answer is complicated, because each brand probably uses a slightly different recipe and a slightly different set of fillers.

Milk, especially non-fat dry milk, makes an excellent filler. It's full of protein and nutrients. It's low-fat. The powder becomes sticky when wet and helps to bind the scraps together.

Any commercial cold cut might contain dry milk powder or any of a number of milk products, dry or liquid, to fill specialized needs. Turkey, pork, ham-based cold cuts suffer the same fate. The amount of milk powder needed is probably not high. The flip side is that any dry milk product contain large percentages of lactose. All dry milk consists of is protein and lactose. So even small amounts can create reactions in some extremely sensitive individuals.

This practice was much more common twenty years ago than it is today, with knowledge of lactose intolerance and dairy allergies at an all-time high. Manufacturers have been removing milk from meat for years. Apparently they still haven't gone far enough.

The answer, where practical, is to use kosher meats, hot dogs, wursts, and cold cuts. Meals that contain milk and meat don't follow the Kosher dietary laws. You can be almost completely assured that any kosher equivalent will be as completely milk-free as they can possibly guarantee. (In the real world, mistakes are occasionally made, and cross-contamination occurs because manufacturing plants may not have adequate separation between different lines of food. These happen rarely.) You just need to look for a kosher symbol or the word kosher on the package, not for the word parve. Parve foods are neutral. They can contain neither milk nor meat. Obviously cold cuts and hot dogs can't be parve. Parve's a useful guarantor of non-milk status in other kosher foods though.

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