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“D” and “DE”

By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. What’s the difference between foods marked “D” (dairy) and those marked “DE” (dairy equipment)?  Related to that, why are some foods marked “D” (rather than “DE”) when they have no dairy ingredients?

A. The first thing to know is that sometimes it seems like all the ingredients are pareve, but, in fact, some of them are dairy.  For example, not everyone realizes that whey, casein, and lactose, are all dairy.  Even the biggest ingredient expert will be “stumped” when there is “flavor” listed as an ingredient, since he has no way of knowing if contains dairy components.  All this is true even if it has no allergen statement about containing dairy, and even if it says it is “dairy-free”, because the legal and allergen definition of “dairy” is not the same as the halachic one.  [Briefly: people are typically allergic to protein, but the sugar and fat portions of milk are still halachically milchig.  Also, American law recognizes some items which are derived from milk as “non-dairy”, due to political/financial considerations which have no bearing on the halacha.]  Thus, to really know that something has no dairy in it, you often must speak to the certifying agency.

Assuming there are really no dairy ingredients, some hashgachos will label the product as “DE”, because it was made on equipment used for dairy, and there was no kashering – and sometimes not even a good cleaning – before the “DE” product was made.  That means that you cannot eat the food together with meat, but you can eat it immediately after meat (and don’t have to wait 6 hours).  What about for people who only eat chalav Yisroel?  Shulchan Aruch says that equipment used for chalav akum should be treated as if it is treif and it must be kashered.  Some – particularly Chassidim – say that the same applies to equipment used for chalav stam (i.e., dairy products made in the United States without a Jew present, which Iggeros Moshe says is permitted and is not chalav akum).  But others – typically non-Chassidic Poskim – assume that it is only a chumrah to avoid chalav stam and, therefore, rule that people who only eat chalav Yisroel can eat foods which are “DE”.

Sometimes, a food truly qualifies as “DE” but will, nonetheless, be labeled “D”.  This could be because the company wants it, (a) so their labels are simpler or more consistent, (b) to give them the flexibility to change formulas or suppliers in the future without changing the label, or (c) some other reason.  Additionally, some hashgachos think that “DE” is confusing to consumers, so they don’t allow it for anything.

Be aware that anytime a food is labeled “D”, but you checked and found that it is “DE”, you should check on it again every so often, so that you can be sure it didn’t change to being actually dairy.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, August 18, 2023.