Sesame Could Soon Be Listed as an Allergen on Food Labels

The FDA is considering adding the seed to the list of eight “major food allergens” that must be clearly named if they're present in foods.

In 2004, Congress passed a law requiring foods containing one of the eight “major food allergens,” including milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans, to have those ingredients clearly listed on their labels. Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering adding a burgeoning allergen to the list: sesame.

Sesame is currently not recognized as a major allergen and doesn’t need to be marked as one on food labels, but according to the FDA, some studies have shown that sesame allergies have become as common as allergies to soy and fish in the United States, amounting to more than 0.1 percent of the population. The current lack of labeling regulations becomes problematic for those allergic to the seed when it isn’t explicitly named in the ingredients list; people may unwittingly consume sesame under the disguise of “tahini,” “natural flavors” or “spices.” To ensure a food product doesn’t have traces of sesame, the nonprofit Food Allergy Research and Education recommends calling the manufacturer to ask about their ingredients and manufacturing processes.

This obscuring of potentially harmful ingredients also occurred with the original eight major food allergens before the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act was enacted; prior to 2004, the FDA found that 25 percent of sampled foods containing ingredients derived from peanuts or eggs didn’t list them on their labels. Since the regulation began, this labeling has greatly improved. As part of its effort to consider sesame as a major allergen, the FDA is requesting information from nutritionists, consumers, and food industry professionals alike to learn more about the severity of sesame allergies and the widespread extent of sesame-containing foods. If the list is expanded, the FDA may produce an outcome similar to that of the original federal law: “to help Americans with food allergies better navigate the products they find in the marketplace, by arming them with reliable information that allows them to prevent dangerous allergic reactions…”

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