Why the FDA is worried about sesame allergies

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently requires that companies include on their food labels the inclusion of eight common food allergens, including: peanuts, wheat, eggs, milk, shellfish, tree nuts and soybeans. Sesame may soon be added to this list

In 2014, a group that included the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPI) petitioned the FDA to begin including sesame on the list of major allergens as evidence began to mount suggesting that more than 300,000 Americans suffer from sesame allergies and that only 100 milligrams of sesame can cause allergic reactions that can range from mild to the most severe forms that involve life-threatening anaphylaxis.

This move by CPI and others was consistent with others’ views on sesame allergies, as the European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all already require companies to disclose when sesame is contained within its products.

A recent study published in Pediatrics suggests that 150,000 children in the United States are affected by sesame allergies, making it the ninth most common food allergen. More than half of those allergic to sesame carry EpiPens to protect themselves from severe allergic reactions.

Now, as the FDA considers adding sesame to the list of allergens that must be disclosed on food labels, it is also requesting information on the allergy through the end of the year, particularly from epidemiologists, allergy researchers, physicians, and nutritionists. The hope is that insights from these experts will help the FDA to deepen its understanding of sesame allergies and the threats they pose

A major goal for including sesame on the FDA’s list of major allergens would be to make it easier for consumers to identify sesame and avoid it when necessary. In addition to including major allergens on labels, companies are also required to use common names that are easily recognizable to consumers.

Currently, sesame may go unidentified because consumers are not familiar with the names that manufacturers use to describe the substance. Some other terms for sesame are: sim sim, sesamol, til, gingelly, and benne. Those with sesame allergies – and the rest of the allergy community – are anxiously awaiting the FDA’s decision on how to best handle the risks associated with sesame allergies.

Author
Dr. Summit Shah

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