Nutritional and ingredient information on food packaging can often be misleading, and experts say it could be putting consumers’ lives in danger.
Researchers from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recently conducted a study that focused on the labeling of sesame in various products. They said direct food labeling is needed to help reduce the incidence of severe allergic reactions.
“Sesame is the ninth most common childhood food allergy in the U.S., yet many people don’t recognize it on food labels, or it’s missing entirely,” said researcher Dr. Katie Kennedy. “What we discovered in our study was that amongst those who reported events related to accidental ingestion of sesame, many reported they didn’t know that words such as ‘tahini’ meant sesame. Because the word ‘sesame’ is often not used on labels, accidents happen at a greater rate.”
Food labels impact health outcomes
For the study, the researchers analyzed nearly 400 self-reported sesame-related allergic reactions. Participants answered questions about their experiences with sesame allergies, including the typical treatments, outcomes, and issues they encounter with food labels.
Overall, nearly 70% of all the allergic reactions resulted in anaphylaxis – a severe and potentially life-threatening type of reaction. More than 36% of participants needed epinephrine, while nearly 50% needed to be hospitalized.
The researchers found that incorrect or misleading food labeling was the source of the reaction in nearly 70% of cases. Participants reported that a word other than “sesame” was on the label 46% of the time.
“Some of the reports were due to products declared as containing ‘spices’ or ‘natural flavors’ and required consumers to call the company or manufacturer to clarify the ingredients,” Dr. Kennedy said.
Based on these findings, the researchers are calling for food labels to be properly identified when they contain sesame. Doing so can help reduce the frequency of consumers experiencing anaphylaxis and ultimately improve overall health outcomes.