Food Allergy

Learn All About Sesame: How to Navigate The New Major Food Allergen

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Trust20 Contributors • 4 minute read

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has added sesame to the list of major food allergens that require labeling on food packages. The addition comes as a result of the FASTER (Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research) Act, passed in 2021, and went into effect as of January 1, 2023. The action came about as a result of an exponential increase in sesame allergies over the past two decades.1 In fact, the Food Allergy Research and Education Organization has found that approximately 1.6 million Americans suffer from a sesame allergy today.2

This is a critical update that impacts all corners of the foodservice industry. Alongside restaurant operators and staff, people who work in healthcare, education, and childcare must be aware of the risks of food allergies and how to protect their customers and/or clients from a dangerous reaction. There can be life-altering consequences for a customer and a business if an allergic reaction occurs because of even a small misstep, so it is vital that everyone understands the value of protecting people with food allergies.

Like other food allergies, symptoms of an allergic reaction to sesame can range from mild to severe. Even though sesame has only recently been named a major food allergen, its effects can be life-threatening causing anaphylaxis, and should be treated with the same respect as any other food allergy. 

Let’s talk a little bit more about this update and dive into what to be on the lookout for and how to protect people from the risks of an allergic reaction to sesame.

What is sesame found in?

Sesame may be a far more common ingredient than you think. It can be found in Japanese, Indian, Greek, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Polish cuisines. Sesame is commonly found in the following food items:

  • Sushi

  • Baked goods

  • Salad dressings, gravies, marinades and sauces

  • Rice cakes, chips, crackers

  • Hummus

  • Bread crumbs

  • Tahini, tahina, tehina

  • Cereals

  • Soups

  • Tempeh

  • Protein and energy bars

  • Benne, benne seed, benniseed

  • Gomasio (sesame salt)

  • Sesame paste

  • Granola mixes

  • Spice blends

  • Processed meats and sausages

  • Veggie burgers

Sesame is not ALWAYS used as an ingredient in these foods, but it can pop up in surprising places. Keep a sharp eye on food labels–and watch out for sesame oil in particular, as it can appear far more often than whole sesame seeds.

Read the labels of any foods packaged prior to 2023 very carefully. Foods produced before the new law went into effect may not call out sesame as an allergen and those foods are not required to be removed from shelves.

Preventing an Allergic Reaction to Sesame

Preventing an allergic reaction to sesame is just as critical as preventing a reaction to more commonly discussed culprits like shellfish, tree nuts, and peanuts. The strategies you use to protect your customers, coworkers, and yourself can save you from the risks associated with food allergies.

One of the most important steps will be ensuring you know how to talk about food allergies with your customers. Ensure you and your team show respect for your customers when they tell you someone in their party has a food allergy. It is impossible to know how severe a customer's allergy or intolerance may be, so every customer should be treated with the same level of care and attentiveness.

In addition to communicating early and often throughout the foodservice experience, preventing cross contact through the proper storage and preparation of allergy-safe foods is essential to serving customers with food allergies. It is important that everyone on staff knows to prepare allergy-safe foods first and how to properly clean and sanitize equipment that will be used to prepare those dishes. Paying attention to the simple best practices of food safety will go a long way in preventing allergic reactions in your establishment.

Sesame being acknowledged as a major food allergen is a major win for people who have a sesame allergy. Requiring the major allergens be labeled creates a safer world for everyone with food allergies and calls the foodservice industry to improve its ability to serve people who need modifications to their food.

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1: Family Allergy & Asthma
2: Food & Wine