Sesame added to major food allergens list by FDA

Sesame seeds on wooden spoons.
Sesame can be found in seed, oil or paste form in a variety of foods — from baked goods and bread crumbs to sushi, soups, dressings and sauces. (Getty Images)

As of Jan. 1, sesame has officially joined the list of major food allergens, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

Sesame, the ninth-most-common allergen in the U.S, will now be subject to the same labeling and manufacturing requirements as other major food allergens identified by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, which includes milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. The change comes over a year and a half after the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act was signed into law in April 2021 and expanded the definition of “major food allergen” to include sesame.

Food already in circulation before 2023 doesn’t need to be removed from retail shelves or relabeled to declare sesame an allergen — “so depending on shelf life, some food products may not have allergen labeling for sesame on the effective date,” the FDA said.

Why does this update matter?

The addition of sesame to the list of major food allergens is “a victory for the allergy community,” the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology said after the FASTER Act was signed into law.

According to a national study in 2019, about 1 in 200 people report having a sesame allergy, and of those reporting convincing allergy symptoms, about 1 in 4 have experienced severe reactions.

Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, one of the authors of the study and director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai, said in an email to Yahoo News that other countries such as Canada and Australia, and the European Union, have included sesame in their labeling laws for years “and, happily, now the US laws also include sesame.”

“For our patients, going forward this means that sesame cannot be hidden in umbrella terms such as ‘natural flavoring’ or ‘spices’ and people will not have to make a mistake because a word like ‘tahini’ (which is sesame paste) is on a label but not the word ‘sesame,’” Sicherer said.

Sesame can be found in seed, oil or paste form in a variety of foods — from baked goods and bread crumbs to sushi, soups, dressings and sauces.

Symptoms of a sesame allergy are comparable to those of a peanut allergy and may include difficulty breathing, low pulse rate, itchiness or swelling inside the mouth, hives and even anaphylaxis — a severe, life-threatening reaction that causes the body to go into shock. While minor food allergy reactions may be treated with prescribed or over-the-counter antihistamines, a severe reaction may require an emergency injection of epinephrine and a trip to the emergency room. Requiring that sesame be identified on labels, experts say, means that consumers will be less vulnerable to accidental exposure.