FDA Encourages Citation of Sesame on Food Labels

Since 2004, the FDA has required that manufacturers cite the Top 8 Food Allergens in an allergen statement on all of their food products in addition to their nutrition facts panel and ingredient statement. This regulation was set into place as a part of the Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act and has been enforced ever since. Now, as of the last few weeks, the FDA is now encouraging food manufacturers to add “sesame” to that list. Why? We can think of about 1.5 million reasons.

That’s right, according to ABC News, approximately 1.5 million Americans are apart of this growing food allergen group.

“Although sesame allergies are not as common as nut, egg or wheat allergies, the new research suggests that the allergic reactions to sesame can be just as dangerous. Many of the people with a sesame allergy reported experiencing a severe allergic reaction, and one-third reported having had to use an epinephrine auto-injector. That’s a sign the person was experiencing anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.” States the article released by the news circuit. And although severe reactions occur as a result of this allergy group consuming sesame unknowingly, manufacturers are not required to list the ingredient.

Sesame seeds are a delicious addition to many Thai and Indian- inspired dishes, but their presence can also be hidden on a manufacturers food label under an unrecognized term. The FDA is now encouraging the citation of sesame in plain language on food labels prior to the official release of the regulation.

The Importance of Citing Sesame

This becomes a life and death matter even for those who have educated themselves on the various terminology used to describe different forms of sesame or sesame-derived products. Tahini, as a quick example, is a paste often used in Thai cuisine that is made almost entirely from sesame seeds. However, the emergency status of the matter increases when food manufacturers hide the ingredient due to the fear of releasing proprietary information. As a result, since sesame was not previously flagged as an allergen, it was permittable to list the ingredient as “other spices” or “other flavorings”. The issue the arises is that when a consumer calls about the presence of sesame in the generalized “other spices” listing on the label, they are sometimes met with resistance from the food manufacturer.

“It’s extremely difficult to avoid an allergen that isn’t required to be labeled in plain language,” said Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the nonprofit Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America.

To solve this issue and more around the growing concern regarding sesame allergies, the FDA now recommends that all food manufacturers cite the presence of sesame seeds or sesame-derivatives within their food products for the safety of those concerned about a sesame allergy.

An Arduous Adoption

The presence of sesame in food products is far from a new concern. Food allergy and asthma groups have been pushing for years for the FDA to recognize sesame as an ingredient on their list of allergens that are required to be cited on a food label. After years of pressure, the FDA began to take the first steps to adding sesame to this list in the fall of 2019. Although the new addition to the allergen list has a ways to go before it will take it’s place among the other Top 8 Allergens (milk, wheat, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, and peanuts), the FDA is strongly encouraging manufacturers to adopt this practice now with the knowledge of the upcoming changes, thus giving plenty of time to be within compliance of a future regulation.

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