Since the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act was passed in 2004, food manufacturers have been increasingly transparent about the ingredients used in their products. The law requires manufacturers to include special warnings on labels and packaging for food items that contain any of a host of common allergens, such as milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, tree nuts and soybeans. This initiative has helped consumers avoid possible adverse effects caused by food allergies, but there are many ingredients that are not part of the law.
According to a 2018 survey from The Journal of the American Medical Association, around 10.8 percent of U.S. adults were reported as having “convincing food allergies” that pose a serious risk to their overall health. The study found that the four most common allergies included shellfish (2.9 percent), milk (1.9 percent), peanuts (1.8 percent) and tree nuts (1.2 percent). While most of these ingredients are covered under the 2004 labeling law, sesame seeds are surprisingly absent from the list of known food allergens.
The FDA Takes Action
Although sesame is the ninth most prevalent food allergy among U.S. adults, manufacturers are not required to warn consumers about its use in prepackaged products. Instead, sesame is often listed using the umbrella term “natural flavors” on the ingredients label, which limits consumer access to important product information.
In response to growing public concerns, The Food and Drug Administration announced it would begin a review process to consider sesame labeling requirements in late October 2018. The agency issued a formal request for information and encouraged epidemiologists, nutritionists and allergy researchers to submit statements concerning the proposed amendment to the 2004 law.
This proposed rule change would force food manufacturers to quickly adjust their labeling practices to include explicit warnings of sesame-based ingredients. While these regulatory updates are relatively common, companies will need to respond quickly to avoid possible litigation. The trend toward transparent labeling is continually rising in popularity, so expect similar updates in the years to come.