The Sesame Seeds Quandary

People with sesame allergies rejoiced when the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (Faster) Act included sesame among major food allergies. As of January 1 of 2023, sesame seeds, sesame oil, tahini, and other sesame products must be listed on food labels. Prior to this ruling, sesame was sometimes included in “spices” or “natural flavorings,” and people who were allergic couldn’t always identify foods they should avoid.

Now some food brands are facing a quandary.

They can’t get their factories clean enough to be sure that there are no traces of sesame will get into their foods. That means that they can’t leave “sesame” off their labels. Not listing sesame among the ingredients would mean that there is no sesame in their foods, and they’re not sure that’s true. 

However, they can’t list “sesame” just in case. Some companies have solved the problem by adding enough sesame to their products that they can include sesame among the ingredients. 

New allergens in old products

This means that people with sesame allergies might have been confidently buying a product for years…but now it will cause them an allergic reaction. Breads 

1.5 million people in the United States are allergic to sesame. While the FASTER Act was intended to help them, many now feel that it has limited their options, especially when it comes to fast food. Wendy’s burgers are off the menu now. McDonald’s is using a “may contain sesame” label. Olive Garden and Chik-fil-A are also listing sesame now.

FARE, an allergy advocacy organization, claims that manufacturers are making this choice in order to avoid the cost of cleaning their machinery. They are asking their supporters to reach out to Congress to demand action.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest points out that people who have bought products safely in the past may not think about checking labels. 

But the brands don’t agree. Wendy’s released a statement which said, “We were informed of the need for this recipe change by our bread suppliers, who are unable to guarantee with certainty that their production lines for our white bun and multi-grain brioche bun are sesame-free.”

Sesame seeds are very small and they are used in many baked goods. Making absolutely sure that there are no sesame seeds or traces of sesame in any bakery products, according to the manufacturers, is impractically difficult. They claim that the requirements are too strict, and that their factories are not set up to handle these requirements.

What to do

It is possible that the FDA or Congress may require some additional action from bakers. In the meantime, there are solutions for people with sesame allergies:

  • Check labels, even for products you’ve used safely in the past.
  • Be aware that the new labeling requirements went into effect on January 1, so some products from before that requirement may still be on store shelves.
  • Make bread at home, where you have greater control over ingredients. 

You might also ask your primary doctor about the possibility of carrying epinephrine if you are severely allergic.

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