Sesame is the ninth most common food allergy among 1.6 million Americans. When you're reading an ingredient label and an allergen is simply listed as “natural flavors,” or “natural spices”, if you, or a loved one, has food allergies, that vague description can be a matter of life or death.
Several reports suggest that sesame allergies have increased significantly worldwide over the past two decades. Because of a lack of food labeling laws, those with a sesame allergy live with constant anxiety that sesame may be hidden in food products they purchase.
According to the FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education):
32 million Americans are living with potentially life-threatening food allergies.
377% increase in treatment of diagnosed anaphylactic reactions to food between 2007 and 2016.
Every 3 minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room.
FARE’s Food Allergy Consumer Journey research found that 85 million Americans avoid purchasing foods containing the 8 top allergens, and sesame, because of their, or someone in their households’s food allergy or food intolerance.
Currently, U.S. federal law does not require food manufacturers to declare sesame as an allergen. FARE, as well as The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) supports adding sesame to the list of major food allergens that must be named in plain language on the ingredient labels of processed foods, and is advocating for bipartisan legislation to accomplish this with the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act of 2021 by Congress. This would include sesame as a top allergen in the U.S., along with; eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, shellfish, and fish.
Those allergic to sesame, will need to avoid foods that contain sesame or any of these ingredients:
Benne, benne seed, benniseed
Gingelly, gingelly oil
Gomasio (sesame salt)
Tahini, Tahina, Tehina
Any of these ingredients could pose a serious risk to those with sesame allergies without the word “sesame” clearly labeled. Let’s be clear, “natural flavors”, or “ natural spices”, do not plainly indicate that sesame is in the ingredient list. Spices and flavoring recipes are considered proprietary information. This broad distinction can include secret formulas, processes, and methods used in production. If the manufacturer is unwilling to share the entire ingredient list, then the consumer is left to contact the manufacturer and ask if sesame is specifically used as an ingredient.
There are a variety of foods that may also contain sesame. These include:
Asian cuisine (sesame oil is commonly used in cooking)
Baked goods (such as bagels, bread, breadsticks, hamburger buns and rolls)
Cereals (such as granola and muesli)
Chips (such as bagel chips, pita chips and tortilla chips)
Crackers (such as melba toast and sesame snap bars)
Dipping sauces (such as baba ganoush, hummus and tahini sauce)
Dressings, graviews, marinades and sauces
Flavored rice, noodles, risotto, shish kebabs, stews and stir fry
Goma-dofu (Japanese dessert)
Herbs and herbal drinks
Pasteli (Greek dessert)
Processed meats and sausages
Protein and energy bars
Snack foods (such as pretzels, candy, halvah, Japanese snack mix and rice cakes)
To further illustrate the need for the clear labeling, FARE, in collaboration with the Center for Food Allergy & Asthma Research (CFAAR) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, published a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: The study highlighted that consumers who have food allergies are unaware of current allergen labeling practices in the U.S. and that they purchase food products with certain allergen statements more often than others, despite the fact that none of these statements are regulated. There are no consistent requirements for U.S. manufacturers to use precautionary labels. Precautionary Allergen Labeling (PAL), such as “may contain” or “manufactured on shared equipment” consists of voluntary statements only, making them unreliable at best. Consumers are making decisions based on wording on the label, which may or may not be consistent. In essence, unregulated food labeling is denying the consumer the ability to make an informed, and potentially, life saving decision.
In February 2021, the FASTER Act was reintroduced as H.R.1202 and coming up on March 8 (next week!), FARE, in a major lobbying campaign, is encouraging everyone to contact their Representatives and Senators to ask them to sign on as co-sponsors, a key first step in turning the FASTER Act into law. Visit foodallergy.org/faster or contact me for more information .
I’m a mother of food allergic children so I understand how important this legislation is. And as a Nutritious Life Master Certified Coach and AllerCoach(™), it is my hope to help my clients and those who struggle with allergies, including sesame, to lead healthy, safe lives. It has become paramount that we need clear, concise labeling on our food products to protect us from completely preventable allergic reactions.
As I testified before the Rhode Island State House Health, Education and Welfare Committee over 5 years ago about H-7254, a bill to require restaurants to list caloric content and ingredients:
“We never leave the house without worrying. We never assume a restaurant, shop, school cafeteria is going to be safe. ... I think it’s a necessity that we make accommodations, not just for children but also adults with allergies,”
In the time it takes to read this article, someone may have already had an adverse reaction to a product containing sesame. By making sesame the 9th top allergen, sesame would have to be clearly labeled in bold print and declared on any processed food according to the USA food allergen labeling act (FALCPA).