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I know about some vegetarian labeled products that do not contain any non-vegan substances per se, they are just being produced in factories that produce other products which, in turn, contain dairy etc. While, presumably, not vegan enough to get the label, what is the actual chance of the product not being vegan?

I am asking because a chance of 0.1% of milk in 1 of 100 vegan bars is vegan enough for me, but if this is in 1 of 2 vegan bars, or if the amount is significantly higher, I would consider looking for another brand. I can see that the answers would differ from factory to factory, I am looking for the likeliest/most prevalent one.

  • well, this is capitalism, and cost is always a major factor. And I guess it would definitely be a big cost (time, money and people) to properly clean all equipments each time you produce a different product. I don't think you'll get to see the actual numbers you want (don't really think a company would bother estimating it), though I would guess it's a lot smaller than even the 1/100 that you put. – GabrielF Feb 17 '17 at 5:14
  • I've been trying to find FDA regulations for when you have to indicate "produced in a facility" on the label, but with little success. Without knowing what a regulation might say about limits, it may be nearly impossible to even estimate the percentages. – Erica Feb 18 '17 at 14:25
  • When you read "May contain milk" you should read that instead as "Contains milk particles by contamination and in amounts so tiny that it is not considered an ingredient; the amount might trigger an allergic reaction, even though it likely won't". It's not like there are chunks of milk and some bars have it while others don't. The overall distribution of rouge milk particles will be more or less uniformly distributed. – ecc Mar 13 '17 at 11:35
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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't have much (that I can find) guidance for a threshold of dairy content above which it has to be listed on the label. There is, however, an article: What FDA Learned About Dark Chocolate and Milk Allergies (found in this Seasoned Advice question) which provides a summary of information from a larger FDA study: A Survey of Milk in Dark Chocolate Products.

Out of dark chocolate products that the tested, some had detectable traces of milk (> 2.5ppm). This includes vegan, lactose-free/vegan, and "dairy free" products, in addition to some which simply didn't list milk as an ingredient, but indicated they "may contain" traces of dairy.

One caveat of this study is that milk chocolate and dark chocolate are likely to be processed on the same equipment. If foods with dairy and vegan foodstuffs are processed on different machines, there is less possibility of cross-contamination. Therefore, I hesitate to extrapolate results for chocolate to all vegan products -- but based on the research, it seems clear that there is a strong chance of traces of dairy, eggs, or other animal-sourced ingredients appearing in processed foods intended to be vegan.

At that point, you get into ethical arguments and personal preference about whether these products are vegan (or "vegan enough"), which are covered fairly well in other answers :)

  • While other answers were also nice, I appreciate the inclusion of research pointers and some numbers related to the question. That is also why I accepted your answer, thank you for answering me. – Alexander Rossa Mar 8 '17 at 22:28
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    It's important to understand that many food manufacturers don't own the whole supply chain and often rent factories to third parties for a period of time. That means that some factories will process food from different manufacturers. – ecc Mar 13 '17 at 11:38
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To me, veganism is primarily an ethical position that aims to create a world where animals are used as little as possible. Based on this, if a company doesn't intend to use animal products in their product, aren't paying the animal agriculture industries, and aren't sending the message that animal products are required to make something tasty, I consider that ethically good and in line with my veganism.

  • While I agree with your answer, I can see the concept of intent as being sort of a excuse for slopiness in production that quite a lot of companies could use and so I would like to see an answer with some actual numbers/data. – Alexander Rossa Feb 15 '17 at 20:36
  • Although you're supporting a company that sells other dairy products, and they're of course using the revenue on their vegan products to support their dairy production... – Turion Feb 20 '17 at 17:44
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Assuming that veganism, roughly speaking, is a lifestyle that aims to not support animal exploitation, I would say that these products are vegan. The particles of milk that may end up on the products are not giving any funding to the dairy industry that produced them, unlike products whose ingredients directly contain dairy.

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A chance of 0.1% of milk in 1 of 100 vegan bars would be considered vegan by me if the maker didnt intend to use milk in the making of the product. If the maker bought or acquired any milk to purposefully use on the production even though it would result in a chance of 0.1% of milk in 1 of 100 vegan bars I would not consider the product vegan.

Although I have to say that I condemn its misdeeds of wantonly giving euthanasia to animals, you can also read the opinion of PETA in A Note About Small Amounts of Animal Products in Foods where they wonder and answer

if they need to read every ingredient to check for tiny amounts of obscure animal products. Our general advice is not to worry too much about doing this.

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