The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has added sesame to its list of major allergens, making it easier for people with sesame allergies to safely consume packaged food without fear of an allergic reaction. Beginning this year, all food and dietary supplement manufacturers must clearly list sesame as an ingredient on product labels.
The FDA’s initial list of eight food allergens that cause the majority of serious food-related allergic reactions — which include milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans — was established in 2004. Now, sesame will become the ninth food to be added to the list, making this the first update in almost 20 years.
The requirement for sesame to be listed on food labels was first signed into law in April 2021 thanks to the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act. The new labeling requirements dictate that the name of the food source of a major allergen must appear either in parentheses following the name of the ingredient, such as “natural flavor (sesame),” or immediately next to the list of ingredients, such as “contains sesame.”
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“We’re about to see a whole new book of regulations come into effect, with FDA labeling being one of the biggest ones,” said Bradley Saxe, President of Mainline Foods, in an interview with Xtalks last year. “So probably the biggest change for us on our packaging labels is we have to redo all that and add sesame.”
“Even though the requirement that sesame be listed on the label as an allergen is in effect — you still may find food products for sale that don’t list sesame as an allergen on the label,” the FDA stated. “The law establishing this sesame labeling does not require food products that were already on their way to the store or in stock before 2023 to list sesame as an allergen on the label.”
During this transition period, consumers should note that food products on store shelves that were produced prior to January 1st, 2023 will not be removed or relabeled. The agency reminded shoppers to always check labels on food products each time, since labels and ingredients can change, even if it’s a staple they’ve eaten before without an allergic reaction.
Identifying which foods contain sesame is an important step in food safety and health care as an estimated 0.2 percent of children and adults in the US are allergic to sesame. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), sesame allergies are increasing, in part, because foods like sushi, hummus and tahini sauce are more common in the western diet compared to decades ago.
An allergic reaction to sesame can look different depending on the person and include varying symptoms such as hives, welts, itching, coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting or diarrhea. About 80 percent of people with a sesame allergy also have another food allergy, and close to one-third have had a severe allergic reaction and used the emergency medication epinephrine (EpiPen).
The new sesame labeling requirements apply to packaged foods, but allergen labeling for foods that aren’t packaged, like fresh bagels in a grocery bin, may vary. For consumers with sesame allergies, the FDA suggests asking store employees for food allergen information. Since sesame can be hidden in everyday snacks and meals, it is recommended to ask plenty of questions about ingredients and food preparation to stay safe.