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FDA considers label requirements listing sesame as ‘major allergen’

The agency says it’s seen a rise in sesame allergies in the past two decades

Photo (c) coramueller - Getty Images
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering requiring allergen labeling on packages for food products that contain sesame, the agency announced on Monday.

Currently, the presence of eight “major” allergens must be clearly declared on packaged food labels -- peanuts, milk, tree nuts, egg, wheat, soy, shellfish, and fish -- under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.

But FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the FDA has noticed a rising prevalence in sesame allergy over the past two decades.

“Unfortunately, we’re beginning to see evidence that sesame allergies may be a growing concern in the U.S. A handful of studies, for example, suggest that the prevalence of sesame allergies in the U.S. is more than 0.1 percent, on par with allergies to soy and fish,” Gottlieb said in a statement.

Disclosing the allergen on labels

Research suggests that hundreds of thousands of consumers in the U.S. are affected by sesame allergies. Reactions among those with sesame sensitivity vary, but can range from mild reactions like hives to severe reactions such as anaphylaxis.

However, sesame isn’t required to be declared as an allergen on food labels because it’s not recognized as a major allergen. Now, the FDA has launched a process that may change that.

In an effort to protect people with sesame allergy, the agency has issued a request for information "so we can learn more about the prevalence and severity of sesame allergies in the US, as well as the prevalence of sesame-containing foods sold in this country.”

“We’d like to hear from epidemiologists, nutritionists, allergy researchers and physicians concerning their clinical experiences and relevant findings,” in addition to consumers and those in the food industry, the agency said.

The FDA noted that people with sesame allergy may not be aware that sesame seeds are an ingredient in certain foods, such as tahini and cereal.

“Products with ‘natural flavors’ or ‘spices’ listed on their label may contain small amounts of sesame. And people allergic to sesame might eat food labeled as containing ‘tahini’ without knowing that tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds. Fear of not knowing whether a food contains sesame may lead some people to unnecessarily limit their diets to avoid possible exposure,” Gottlieb said.

If sesame’s status as the ninth major allergen in the U.S. is approved, the presence of sesame would have to be disclosed on food packages. Sesame is already on the priority allergen lists in Canada, Europe, and Australia.

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