Sesame seeds

Sesame has been top of mind lately as we wait for the FDA to formally declare it as a top allergen. Last week, the FDA made its first move by issuing a first draft recommendation to food manufacturers. The recommendation is that they voluntarily disclose the use of sesame. These tiny seeds are top allergens in several countries including Australia, Canada, Israel and Europe. But in the U.S., sesame has been living on the very edge of allergy sanctions. We predict the sesame allergen will be among the top allergens in the US very soon.

Sesame has been declared as the ninth most common food allergy among U.S. children and adults, according to multiple sources. The United States, however, only requires that the top eight allergens be declared and labeled on any packaged food item. There have been thousands of allergic reactions as consumers are unaware that sesame was in a dish or snack. This is all backed up by data from Premier Allergy & Asthma.

Another recent study was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). The study covered 50,000 U.S. households in 2019 and found that 0.2% of children and adults have a sesame allergy. That’s between 60,000-70,000 people nationwide.

New legislation from the FDA always means many questions from the industry, but sometimes voluntary guidance can be even more confusing! Should I actually be making a change right now? How will this impact my business? What will our customers think? Here are our top tips for handling this new recommendation:

For food establishments

If you post allergen information for your menu items, we’d recommend thinking about adding sesame to your reports within the next year. You will be giving crucial information to allergic diners, and you’ll be in great shape when the FDA does start mandating sesame labeling. We recommend looking into expanding allergy training to include sesame, so servers and kitchen staff are well-prepared for any questions.

For food manufacturers

We advise food manufacturers to prepare as if this was a mandatory regulation. Sesame will eventually be required, so we recommend reviewing formulations to determine if sesame is present and needs disclosure. Localized mandated labeling for food manufacturers has already started. Illinois was the first state requiring sesame to be identified on all food products sold in the state. It’s just a matter of time until this becomes nationwide.

For consumers

Whether you’re a manufacturer, a food service establishment, or a consumer, be on the lookout for sneaky sources of sesame. The most obvious places you may find sesame is in items such as crackers, biscuits, bagels and hamburger buns. But some of the less obvious places that sesame may appear are in pizza crust, candy, noodles, energy bars, and margarine. Some products do not disclose sesame as an ingredient at all. In some instances, if sesame is a flavoring agent and not a primary ingredient, you can see it as a “spice” on labels. Until sesame labeling is a requirement, the only way to know if something contains sesame is to contact the manufacturer.

This recommendation from the FDA is a big step forward for the allergy community. It could potentially save thousands of people from going to the hospital each year. As the recommendation turns into a requirement, many families can eat a little easier knowing exactly what’s in their food. Brands who take this seriously from the start will find a loyal following of consumers who want fully transparent information.

MenuTrinfo exists to inform the public what they can eat safely and with confidence. We specialize in assisting manufacturers, restaurants and universities with safe service to food-allergic guests. We have over a decade of experience and knowledge with food and allergy labeling. Along with resources from the FDA, USDA and organizations like FAACT, MenuTrinfo can help with seamless transition to full sesame disclosure. We will guide you each step of this process; just give us a call today for more information. When the sesame allergen is one of the top allergens by the FDA, our team is here to help update your food allergy chart.