FDA: Sesame To Become 9th Major Food Allergen On January 1, 2023

Food & Drink

With 2023, there should be more open sesame. Once January 1, 2023, rolls around, manufacturers will have to start listing sesame as an allergen on the labels of any food products that may contain this seedy ingredient. As a December 15 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announcement emphasized, come the New Year sesame will be subject to new labeling and manufacturing requirements. The requirements will be similar to those that the eight current official major food allergens are subject to right now. That’s because at the turn of the year sesame will be officially joining milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, or soybeans as the ninth major food allergen.

This sesame sea change has been in the works for a while, seeded when the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act was signed into law on April 23, 2021. The FASTER Act specifically indicated that sesame should be added to the list of major allergens. The FASTER Act isn’t simply about sesame, though. It also has mandated that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services prepare a report for Congress on a variety of food allergy issues. This includes covering how food allergies and allergic reactions are being monitored and prevented, what new food allergy diagnostics and therapeutics are being developed, and how federal food allergy activities should be expanded and improved, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI).

The process of getting the FASTER Act didn’t exactly move super-fast in normal time but it did seem to move faster than usual in Congressional time. When Congress competes with molasses in a race, often you may want to place your bets on the sugary substance prevailing. According to the Congressional Management Foundation, it takes an average of seven years for a bill to go from being first introduced in Congress to becoming a law. That’s if the bill even ends up getting passed. The road to getting the FASTER Act passed took a comparatively shorter amount of time, about two years after Rep. Doris O. Matsui (D-California) first introduced an earlier version of the bill to the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2019.

The culmination of this two-year sesame street should be good news to those in the U.S. population that have sesame allergies. A study published on August 2, 2019, in JAMA Network Open estimated that 0.23% of the population have a “convincing sesame allergy.” Of course, not everyone is allergic to the same degree. Allergic reactions to sesame can range mild discomfort such as hives to anaphylaxis, which can be a oh-my-goodness-can’t breathe, life-threatening emergency. Therefore, it is important to take real sesame allergies seriously.

The trouble is it hasn’t been that easy to spot sesame in food. Sure, you may be able to readily spot sesame seeds on your buns, depending on what buns you are talking about and whether you have a mirror. Sure, it can be relatively easy to spot sesame seeds on a chip whether that chip is in your hand or on your shoulder. But sesame can be present in much harder to detect ways. For example, various cereals like granola and muesli can have sesame in them, making them potential cereal killers if you have a very severe sesame allergy. Sesame can get very saucy too, hiding out in various dressings, marinades, and dips like baba ghanoush, hummus, and tahini. You could inadvertently meet in different processed meats. Sesame hasn’t been barred from energy bars, either. It can be in your soup as well. And while we’re on roll here, we might as well mention sushi rolls, which often have sesame seeds on them.

Then there’s the cooking issue. Restaurants don’t always say thins like Harry Styles-shaped flambé cooked in sesame oil. And chances are your server won’t ask, “And sir or madam, would you prefer your dish be cooked in sesame oil, olive oil, or lard?” In general, just because something doesn’t taste like sesame doesn’t mean that sesame isn’t necessarily present.

Plus, like the entertainer Ye, sesame can go by different names. FARE, which stands for Food Allergy Research & Education and is a non-profit organization focusing on food allergy awareness, research, education, and advocacy, warns that those allergic to sesame should anything containing the following ingredients: benne, benne seed, benniseed, gingelly, gingelly oil, gomasio (sesame salt), halvah, sesame flour, sesame oil, sesame paste, sesame salt, sesame seed, sesamol, sesamum indicum, sesemolina, sim sim, tahini, tahina, tehina, or til. Watching Sesame Street should be fine, as long as you aren’t eating a bowl of tahini at the same time.

The FASTER Act should make it faster for those with sesame allergies to sesame-see what may be in their food. And the value of this new development should be an open sesame and shut case.

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