Sesame as an Allergen in Foods 12/31/18

The FDA is considering regulatory action on sesame as an allergen and is taking public comments on the subject until December 31st of this year. Here I’ll give you related information in a digestible format so you can write an appropriate comment. For general background, read my post on allergens.

The FDA was petitioned to issue a rule on sesame in 2014 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), several medical professionals, and two consumer advocacy groups. The old petition, as well as the new comments, will be used to make a decision.

The EU, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand currently require labeling of sesame and did at the time of the original petition. The United States currently requires labeling of 8 major allergens: milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy. A requirement for sesame labeling would bring the number up to 9.

During this comment period, the FDA is looking for information on the following:

  • Prevalence of sesame allergies
  • Amount of undeclared sesame in food
  • Possible cost of regulatory action

It’s estimated that sesame allergies affect 0.1% of the population. For comparison, soy affects about 1.2% of the population, shellfish 2%, and fish 0.4%. If you are looking for a sesame-free diet, this document, from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), outlines ingredients and foods to avoid, including those that do not contain the word sesame. A common example of this is tahini, or sesame seed paste.

In addition, sesame is currently on the GRAS list of spices and other natural seasonings and flavorings, which means it may be included on an ingredient label under an umbrella term such as “spices” or “natural flavors.” Some companies voluntarily label sesame as an allergen, but they are few and far between.

I contacted the FDA to request some additional information on the subject, and this is the abbreviated response:

“…Because FDA does not give premarket approval for food before it is sold, our information center does not know of instances where sesame is used in a label under the umbrella term of “spices.” Nor do we know whether sesame is used in a spice blend.

Extremely small amounts of things such as spice blends are permitted because they generally do not serve a technical function in the food…”

Hope this helps you understand the issue and makes it easy to get involved. It only takes a few minutes. Submit a comment here.

Image by: Malgorzata Haggu

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