Sesame: a new priority allergen in the United States

December 11, 2022

Over the past two decades, the number of food allergies and other types of food sensitivities has been growing steadily in the United States, increasing by about 4% per year, affecting approximately 32 million Americans and their families. Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system reacts to certain proteins in food. Therefore, legislation exists in the United States to identify priority allergens to protect people suffering from these immune reactions.

The law that rules allergen labelling is the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) and applies to all packaged foods sold in the United States that are under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Passed in 2004, this law is an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. It requires that the label of a food that contains an ingredient or protein from a priority allergen certify the presence of the priority allergen in the manner prescribed by the law.

The eight priority allergens identified under FALCPA are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp), wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, coconut). These allergens are currently grouped by the industry under the term “The Big 8”.

Wind of change

Of the number of Americans affected by food allergies, 1.6 million are allergic to sesame. Over the years, there has been a lot of pressure from associations to include sesame as a priority allergen in the U.S. However, it is not that simple to modify a government regulation. It was finally on April 23 that President Joe Biden signed the FASTER Act (The Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act) to designate sesame as the ninth priority allergen in the United States. In doing so, sesame becomes the first allergen to be added to the official list of priority allergens suitable for “Contains:” labelling on packaging since 2006.

It was necessary to have sesame recognized as an allergen, given the large number of foods to which it is added today. Note also that the increase in sesame allergies can be attributed to Americans adopting more international foods in their diets, such as tahini in hummus or sesame oil in many Asian-inspired dishes.

« The Big Nine »

In the U.S., priority allergens are required to be declared on labels, whether they are present as ingredients or as components of ingredients. They must be declared in the list of ingredients or in a “Contains:” statement located immediately after this list. As a result, companies will now be required to declare sesame along with other priority allergens on the packaging of food products to which FALCPA applies. As of January 1, 2023, products under FDA’s jurisdiction that are introduced into commerce will be required to declare sesame on par with other priority allergens. Sesame will then join the other eight priority allergens to form what will now be referred to as “The Big Nine”.

For your information, the FALCPA does not apply to foods that are under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), i.e., meat, poultry, processed egg products (dried, frozen or liquid) and catfish. However, it is still strongly encouraged to report allergens in accordance with the FALCPA for these products.

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