Sesame Now Considered a Major Food Allergen in the U.S.

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
Sesame allergen

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act

Overview: Sesame is now considered a major food allergen in the United States and must be labeled as such on packaged foods. 

Location: United States

Population: 336 million 

Food policy category: Food safety, nutrition

Program goals: To make it easier for consumers to identify foods containing sesame, particularly those who are allergic to it.

How it works: Under the FASTER Act, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that, as a major food allergen, sesame must now be listed specifically on packaged food ingredient labels even when it is part of another ingredient, such as tahini or “natural flavor.” Food labels that include a “Contains” statement must include sesame along with any other major allergens in the product. 

Allergen labeling requirements apply only to packaged foods. Foods that are on display at a bakery or prepared in a restaurant, for example, are not required to display allergen information, so consumers who have allergy concerns are advised to ask store personnel or wait staff. 

Consumers are also advised to note that food items packaged prior to January 1, 2023, were not required to list sesame as an allergen and may still be sold without allergen labels for several months, or more, until they are fully transitioned out. 

Progress to date: In 2004, Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) which identified eight major food allergens – milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans – and required that packaged foods or ingredients containing one of these allergens be specifically labeled with the name of the allergen. The FASTER Act was signed into law on April 23, 2021, and the sesame labeling requirements went into effect on January 1, 2023. 

Why it is important: Sesame is a common food allergen in the United States, affecting 0.23 percent of children and adults, and the prevalence of sesame allergies is rising around the world. The severity of allergic reactions to sesame varies from one individual to another and can include hives, itchy eyes, lightheadedness, vomiting, diarrhea, or even anaphylaxis. Sesame is often listed under other names that are not recognizable to the general public, including benne, benniseed, gingelly, gomasio, halvah, sesamol, sesamum indicum, sesemolina, sim sim, and tahini, so it is important to specify that these ingredients and products include sesame in order to avoid allergic reactions among consumers.  

Program/Policy initiated: Sesame was officially designated a major allergen in the United States on January 1, 2023. 

Point of contact: N/A

Similar practices: According to the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, sesame is also considered a major food allergen in Canada, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, Sweden, Ukraine, Turkey, Taiwan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia.

Evaluation: Evaluation has not yet been conducted. 

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