New law puts sesame on fast track for allergen labeling requirements
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Coming in at No. 9 and trailing the first eight contenders by 17 years may not sound like a victory, but sesame’s ninth place finish on the official list of “major allergens” is a big win for supporters of the FASTER Act.

Consumers, advocacy groups and dozens of legislators have been working for years to have sesame added to the list, which since 2004 has consisted of milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. With President Biden’s signature in recent days, the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act became law and among other things put sesame on the list.

By becoming the ninth food to be listed as a major food allergen, sesame comes under the labeling regulations already imposed on the eight other major allergens. The new labeling must be in place by Jan. 1, 2023.

Some companies such as Hershey’s and General Mills already include sesame among the allergens they specifically identify on their labels. Identification requirements for sesame will now be subject to allergen labeling requirements from the Food and Drug Administration.

More than 1.1 million people in America are allergic to sesame, according to a 2019 study published in the journal JAMA (the Journal of American Medical Association) Network Open. The published study reports that children who have food allergies usually do not out grow them and adults can develop allergies as they age. Reactions can vary and in some cases be life threatening.

A challenge faced by people with food allergies is trying to figure out what is actually in the packaged food they are considering buying, according to Lisa Gable, CEO of FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), a non-governmental organization engaged in food allergy advocacy and the largest private funder of food allergy research. FARE has been advocating for the passage of the FASTER Act alongside Rep. Doris Matsui, D-CA, Rep. Anna Eshoo, CA, and more than 90 other legislative supporters for more than two years.

No longer will food companies be able to use such terms as spices and flavors that include sesame without specifying it as an ingredient. People allergic to sesame must also watch for the ingredients tahini, sesamol and gomasio. 

Between now and 2023 consumers should also be on the lookout for foods that often include sesame. Such foods include falafel, hummus and certain rices. Sesame oil is commonly used as an ingredient in Asian cuisine. The allergen can also be found in chips, cereals, snack bars and a variety of other foods.

In addition to labeling regulations for sesame, the FASTER ACT requires the Department of Health and Human Services to report on a variety of issues related to food allergies in 18 months. 

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