Sesame added to common food allergies

Sesame has joined the list of major food allergens defined by law, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

The change, which took effect Jan. 1, stems from the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research Act, or FASTER Act, which was signed into law in April 2021.

The FDA has been considering for several years whether to include sesame seeds on the list of major food allergens – which also includes milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. . The addition of sesame to the list of major food allergens means that foods containing sesame will be subject to specific food allergen regulatory requirements, including those regarding labeling and manufacturing.

Sesame allergies affect people of all ages and can manifest as coughing, itchy throat, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, shortness of breath, wheezing and drops in blood pressure, Dr. Robert Eitches, an allergist, immunologist and attending physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told CNN in 2020.

The FDA conducts inspections and sampling of food products to verify that major food allergens are properly labeled on products and to determine if food facilities prevent cross-contact with allergens, according to the agency’s website.

“What this means is that for the 1.6 million Americans with a life-threatening sesame allergy, life will get better starting January 1, 2023,” said Jason Linde, vice president. senior government and community affairs officer at Food Allergy Research & Education, a large private funder of food allergy research. The organization helped pass the FASTER law.

Sesame “is in dozens and dozens of ingredients,” Linde said, but it wasn’t always listed by name.

“For years, (people) with a life-threatening sesame allergy had to look on the back of the label, call the manufacturer and try to figure it out,” he said. “If it was included, it was just included as a natural spice or flavor.”

The new law “is a huge win for the food allergy community,” Linde said.

THE ROAD TO INCLUSION

Prior to the FASTER Act, the FDA recommended that food manufacturers voluntarily list sesame as an ingredient on food labels in November 2020. The guidelines were not a requirement and were intended to help people with sesame allergies identify foods that may contain the seed.

Under regulations prior to the 2020 recommendation, sesame had to be declared on a label if whole seeds were used as an ingredient. But labeling was not required when sesame was used as a flavoring or in a spice blend. Nor was it necessary for a product like tahini, which is made from ground sesame paste. Some people don’t know that tahini is made from sesame seeds.

While that advice was appreciated, “voluntary advice is just that — it’s voluntary,” Linde said. “Companies are not obligated to follow it, and many have not.”

“How an allergen is identified by the FDA as requiring labeling is because of how many people are allergic,” Lisa Gable, former chief executive of FARE, told CNN. “Take sesame, for example: what happened is that you had an increase in the number of people suffering from anaphylaxis because of sesame. There are various opinions as to why, but one of the reasons could be the fact that it is now more of an underlying ingredient in many food trends.”

As plant-based and vegan foods have become more popular, the widespread use of nuts and seeds is a problem that comes up more often, Eitches said.

SAFETY TIPS

“We remind consumers that foods already in interstate commerce before 2023, including those on retail shelves, do not need to be removed from the market or relabeled to declare sesame as an allergen,” said the FDA said in a Dec. 15 statement. “Depending on shelf life, some food products may not have allergen labeling for sesame as of the effective date. Consumers should check with the manufacturer if they are unsure whether a product food contains sesame.”

Many companies have already started the process of labeling their products, but it could take three to six months for foods currently on the shelves to be sold or removed, Linde said. Some foods, like soups, have an even longer shelf life.

People with sesame allergies can stay safe by being “very careful” about eating certain foods, especially in restaurants, Eitches said.

Middle Eastern, vegan and Japanese restaurants are more likely to include different forms of sesame seeds in their dishes, he added.

Those who suspect they are sensitive or allergic to sesame should see a specialist who can answer their questions and provide medication or devices for emergencies, Eitches said.

Adrenaline and epinephrine are more effective than diphenhydramine, he added. If an allergic reaction occurs, be prepared with medication or devices and seek medical attention.

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