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A new federal law requiring sesame to be listed as an allergen on food labels has unintended consequences — increasing the number of products containing sesame.
According to food industry experts, the requirements are so stringent that many manufacturers, especially bakers, prefer to label their products with sesame added to keep them away from other foods and utensils that use sesame. I think it’s easier and less expensive than doing it.
As a result, several companies, including national restaurant chains such as Olive Garden, Wendy’s, and Chick-fil-A, and bread makers who stock grocery shelves and serve schools, have previously gone sesame-free. We add sesame seeds to our products. Although the practice is legal, consumers and advocates say it violates the spirit of the law, which is intended to make food safer for people with allergies.
“As a policy advocate and as a mother, it was really exciting to get these labels,” said Naomi Thaler, consultant for the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, whose 9-year-old daughter Zoe is allergic to sesame seeds. I was. “Instead, companies intentionally add allergens to food.”
A new law, effective January 1, requires all food manufactured and sold in the United States to be labeled if it contains sesame, currently the ninth leading allergen in the United States. You can see it in conspicuous places, such as sesame seeds in hamburger buns. But it’s also an ingredient in many foods, from protein bars to ice cream, added to sauces, dips, and salad dressings, and hidden in spices and flavorings.
Advocates for families dealing with allergies have lobbied for years to add sesame seeds to the list of major allergens. Developed labeling requirements for eight commodities: seeds, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.
More than 1.6 million people in the United States are allergic to sesame seeds, some severe enough to require injections of epinephrine, a drug used to treat life-threatening reactions. According to Ruchi Gupta, Ph.D., a pediatrician and director of the Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research at Northwestern University, cases of sesame allergy have increased in recent years, and so has the number of foods containing sesame.
“People don’t really understand that sesame is in so many things,” Gupta said, calling the move to add sesame to products “very disappointing.”
“It’s really difficult for families with sesame allergies,” she said.
Under new laws enforced by the Food and Drug Administration, companies must now either explicitly label sesame as an ingredient or separately state that their products contain sesame. Ingredients are listed on the package in order of quantity. Sesame labeling has been required for years in other places, including Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
If an ingredient does not contain sesame seeds, businesses must take steps to prevent food from coming into contact with sesame seeds. This is known as cross-contamination.
Food industry experts say the new requirements are neither simple nor practical.
“It’s as if you suddenly asked the baker to go to the beach and remove all the sand,” said Nathan Mildamadi, a commercial food safety consultant who advises the industry on food safety.
Some companies include a statement on the label that the food “may contain” certain products or that the food is “produced in a facility that uses certain allergens.” According to the FDA, such statements are voluntary, not required, and do not exempt companies from the requirement to prevent cross-contamination.
Instead, some companies are taking a different approach. Olive Garden officials said starting this week, they are adding “minimal sesame flour” to the company’s famous breadsticks “due to potential cross-contamination in bakeries.”
Chick-fil-A changed its white and multigrain brioche buns to include sesame seeds, and Wendy’s said the company added sesame seeds to its French toast sticks and buns.
United States Bakery, which operates Franz Family bakeries in California and the Northwest, announced in March that it would add a small amount of sesame flour to all hamburger and hot dog buns and rolls to reduce the risk of side effects to sesame products. ‘ he informed the customer. “
While such actions are not against the law, the FDA “does not endorse” them, the FDA said in a statement.
“Customers with sesame allergies will find it more difficult to find foods that are safe to consume,” the statement said.
Some big companies have previously added other allergens to their products and updated their labels.
For parents like Christie Fitzgerald of Crookston, Minnesota, it’s frustrating and scary. Last spring, she announced that Pan-O-Gold Baking Co., which supplies bread to schools, health centers and grocery stores in the Midwest, added a small amount of sesame seeds to its products, including those served at her daughter’s school. I learned that Meanwhile, six-year-old Audrey was cured of her sesame allergy.
Bob Huebner, Pan-O-Gold’s food safety and quality assurance manager, told Fitzgerald in a series of emails that the company was forced to add sesame seeds to its products and labels.
“The unfortunate reality is that our facility and bakery are not equipped for the necessary allergen cleaning to prevent cross-contamination of sesame seeds and were not an option for us,” Huebner said in an email from the AP. It responded, but did not respond to questions about the company’s practices.
Fitzgerald has launched an online petition to protest the move to add sesame seeds.
“At some point, someone will eat sesame seeds from a child with an allergy,” Fitzgerald said. “I think the law needs to be changed to show that this is not an acceptable practice.”