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FDA Moves Toward Requiring Allergen Labels for Foods Containing Sesame

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On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration took the first steps to require food labels to warn people if a product contains sesame — an effort the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) have been lobbying for.

The FDA’s move follows the recently publicized death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who had a sesame allergy and died after eating a Pret a Manger baguette in 2016. There was no information on the packaging that sesame was baked into the baguette, despite Pret a Manger having nine allergic incidents related to sesame in the year leading up to Ednan-Laperouse’s death.

Because sesame is not recognized as a major allergen, there’s no requirement for its listing as an allergen on food labels, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. It may not be listed as an ingredient either. Despite the current lack of labeling, “a handful of studies, for example, suggest that the prevalence of sesame allergies in the U.S. is more than 0.1 percent, on par with allergies to soy and fish,” Gottlieb said.

The first step in the process is a “request for information,” an effort to collect more data about the severity and prevalence of sesame allergy. The FDA will gather information from epidemiologists, nutritionists, allergy researchers and physicians concerning their clinical experiences and relevant findings. The FDA is also calling on the food industry and consumers to join in their efforts.

Should the FDA decide there is a need for improved labeling, it will take the agency at least one year to finalize the rule. Once approved, sesame would join the eight most common food allergens — milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans — required by law to be disclosed on food packaging. If sesame does become the ninth allergen, food manufacturers will be given a grace period to update labeling. Sesame is already on the allergen lists in Canada, Europe and Australia.

In an interview with Allergic Living, Gottlieb said he has had discussions with senators on Capitol Hill and has reviewed a number of citizens’ petitions as well as studies submitted to the agency regarding undeclared sesame in food labels and the health problems it presents. “All of that input we’ve received from the public is in part what prompted us to start this process,” Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb added that the undeclared presence of allergens in foods is the leading reason for food recalls and a significant public health issue, making it a considerable policy focus for the agency.

While it may take a while for changes to be made, the food allergy community has welcomed the news.


If you have a sesame allergy and would like to make your voice heard, you can help by filing out this questionnaire created by FARE and AAFA.

Getty image by bdspn

Originally published: October 30, 2018
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