Ninth Major Allergen: Sesame

Sesame allergies affect approximately 0.23% of the US population1. With food allergies on the rise, we can expect this number to increase in the coming years. As of January 1st, 2023, sesame is officially the ninth major allergen under the FASTER Act. Continue reading to learn more about sesame allergies and what this new policy entails.

What is a Sesame Allergy?

If a person who is allergic to sesame is exposed to the allergen, the proteins of the sesame will bind to IgE antibodies in the individual’s immune system, which triggers immune defenses and symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to sesame may include:

  • Vomiting and/or stomach cramps
  • Hives
  • Shortness of breath/ Wheezing
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Repetitive cough
  • Shock or circulatory collapse
  • Tight, hoarse throat; trouble swallowing
  • Swelling of the tongue, affecting the ability to talk or breathe
  • Weak pulse
  • Pale or blue coloring of the skin

FASTER Act

Signed into law in 2021, the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research Act (FASTER) Act designates sesame as a major allergen and requires all foods containing the allergen to be labeled in plain language. 

Up until now, food manufacturers were not required to list sesame as an allergen. Sesame was commonly hidden among food labels as “spices” or “tahini.” With the ninth addition to the major allergens, those with sesame allergies will not have to worry about mislabeled food packaging.

Although the enactment of the FASTER Act is a huge stride for the food allergy community, the new law has had unfortunate, and unintended consequences. Several companies that have consistently been trusted within the food allergy community as sesame-free have now added sesame flour to their products to meet the conditions of the FASTER Act.

Why Add Sesame?

Under the FASTER Act, if a food item does not contain sesame, then food manufacturers must ensure that their facility is thoroughly cleaned and clear of cross-contamination for sesame. This condition has proved to be impractical for many manufacturers whose facilities also manufacture sesame-containing items. Unfortunately, as a result, many manufacturers have opted to add sesame to products instead of taking the proper cleaning measures to clear cross-contamination. 

This means it is more important than ever to check food labels, even when it is a brand that you have trusted in the past. Additionally, some products on the shelves at grocery stores may have been manufactured prior to the implementation of the FASTER Act, so you must still be cautious about unlabeled sesame in products. 

Some restaurants and products that now use sesame in their products include Olive Garden, Chick-Fil-A, Wendy’s, Franz Bakery, and Pan-O-Gold.

Major Allergen Labeling

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  has outlined strict guidelines for the labeling of major allergens. Below is an excerpt from their website2.

 “The name of the food source of a major food allergen must appear:

In parentheses following the name of the ingredient.

Examples: “lecithin (soy),” “flour (wheat),” and “whey (milk)”

— OR —

Immediately after or next to the list of ingredients in a “contains” statement.

Example: ‘Contains wheat, milk, and soy.’”

For more information about the FASTER Act, check out this video released by the FDA.

Non-Food Items That May Contain Sesame

Look out for the scientific name for sesame, Sesamum indicum, on the packaging

  • Soaps/ Lotions
  • Beauty Products
  • Hair Care
  • Medications and Pharmaceuticals
  • Pet food
  • Perfume

Sesame On Food Labels

Sesame will typically be listed in the allergen section or the “may contain” section on a food label simply as sesame, but be sure to watch out for any of these ingredients in order to ensure your safety with a sesame allergy:

  • Benne, benne seed, benniseed
  • Gingelly, gingelly oil
  • Gomasio (sesame salt)
  • Halvah
  • Til
  • Sesamol
  • Sesamum indicum
  • Sim sim
  • Tahini, Tahina, Tehina

Conclusion

Sesame allergies impact more than 1 million people in the US alone. The enactment of the FASTER Act signals a greater acceptance and awareness of food allergies on a national scale. Through this new law, sesame will now be easily identifiable on food labels. However, it has also resulted in sesame being added to more products. As with any allergy, it is important to always read food labels and check ingredient lists before consuming or using any product. 

As more companies continue to update their products, be sure to subscribe to our monthly newsletter and follow us on social media to get the latest updates.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a sesame allergy, click here to learn how our Tolerance Induction Program can help you overcome your food allergies

Sources

1 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2740786

2 https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/food-allergies#:~:text=On%20April%2023%2C%202021%2C%20the,effective%20on%20January%201%2C%202023.