The FDA is looking into treating sesame as an allergen whose presence must be declared on food labels, the agency announced Oct. 29.
The move would put sesame alongside the eight allergens (peanuts, fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, wheat, soy and tree nuts) named by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. It would require all foods marketed in the U.S. to inform consumers of the presence of sesame on product packaging. This would require many processors to institute separate processing areas or other procedures if they handle both sesame-containing and sesame-free products.
An estimated 300,000-plus American consumers are sensitive to sesame seeds, which would make it the ninth most prevalent allergy, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Allergic reactions to sesame range from hives to anaphylactic shock. Consumer groups are concerned that allergic individuals might, for example, consume tahini, a spread used as a sauce and an ingredient in hummus, without realize that it is made from ground sesame seeds.
The FDA’s action comes in response to a petition from consumer groups, medical professionals and others. It is seeking input from epidemiologists and other experts, the food industry and consumers about the extent of sesame allergy and of foods containing sesame.