The USA’s 9th declared allergen is out; #sesamegate is at our door.
I am trying to make heads and tails out of the reaction of food manufacturers and nationally-trusted brands. As of January 1, 2023, thanks to the new FASTER Act, sesame has officially become the 9th major allergen in the US. At that time, with just under two years’ notice, sesame became an allergen to call out in manufactured foods.
Is this new?
Is this sudden?
Was this unexpected?
We have known as an industry since April 23, 2021, when the bill became law. The change to add sesame was worked on by over four nonprofit groups.
Maybe I see it as a standard course of doing business. Our team at MenuTrinfo® has been tagging, identifying, and naming allergens for menus, brands, and manufacturers since 2010. We began as a company to handle nutritional menu labeling for the country’s top and most innovative brands. This was on the heels of fifteen different patchwork laws about labeling menus to give the public the information and transparency they crave, especially regarding calories, carbs, salt, and sugar. So we jumped into a new business to provide and maintain that as a service to the industry.
Soon after we began, it was clear that we could identify allergens. I remember the conversation from the end of 2010 like it was last week. We could ID allergens in recipes and let folks know if they contained any top allergens. Thinking this would be an excellent add-on service to the industry was a vast understatement. Many restaurants, food service, and retail brands were trying to figure out if and how they might achieve this, and just like that, our new business had another revenue stream.
Adding another allergen would generally be straightforward. Here is where the rub comes in. COVID, bandwidth, intentions, and the “temporary flexibilities” the FDA introduced back in May of 2020 still exist out there today to confuse people. (FYI: Here is the link to that guidance that has people scratching their heads still today.)
With the date approaching to call out sesame, we have seen an interesting introduction of sesame into foods that never previously contained it. For example, a bun for a chicken sandwich at a restaurant that food-allergic diners knew what and where they could eat. Suddenly, this change took all those restaurant locations off their menu of choices. It hit social media, mom groups, and online conversations in the food allergy community, much like the price of life-saving devices did when that was heard around the country.
#sesamegate, as I have been calling it the last two weeks, is happening in food allergy groups and conversations, yielding valid concerns.
Today should be a time to celebrate for consumers with sesame allergies, but we see the opposite. They are stunned to have fewer options instead of inclusivity. Running away from sharing information and adding allergens to cover liability has angered the public at an alarming rate.
Will this correct itself? I believe the answer is an affirmative YES. In time, things should settle down. Manufacturers will source sesame-free ingredients to make sesame-free solutions in the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) space and commercial food service.
I will not minimize how hard this will be for some. It is hard but not impossible. Finding food that is “Certified Free From by MenuTrinfo®” on store shelves and restaurant menus will be possible for the consumer, but first, we need to see the industry join the passion of inclusion on the menu, in the jar, and through food service.
I know it is hard. Everything worthwhile comes from hard work. That work has begun with the door pushed all the way open for sesame.
Click here to read the update from the FDA as of January 1, 2023.
Want your product to become Certified Free From Sesame? Contact Us Today!
MenuTrinfo® is a company dedicated to ensuring safe food service by providing allergen and nutritional information, as well as programs such as Certified Free From™, AllerTrain® and a wide variety of services for colleges, universities, manufacturers of consumer-packaged goods, and more. We excel in employee food allergy training and certification, as well as food safety guidance and menu consulting. MenuTrinfo® has become a trusted partner for food service partners and manufacturers across the United States, and the company’s mission is to protect lives and make dining experiences as safe as possible for those with allergy restrictions.