The Food and Drug Administration is exploring requiring warnings for sesame seed allergies in food the way it does for peanuts or eggs.
The agency said on Monday it is for now seeking comments on a possible change, and it is pursuing the issue because of a rise in allergic reactions.
“Unfortunately, we’re beginning to see evidence that sesame allergies may be a growing concern in the U.S.,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement on Monday.
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Federal law requires manufacturers to note on the label if any food contains one of eight major allergens: Milk, eggs, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. The reason is that these eight groups accounted for 90 percent of the serious food allergic reactions in 2004 when the law was passed.
But since the law’s enactment, “a handful of studies have shown that the prevalence of sesame seed allergies in the U.S. is more than 0.1 percent, on par with the allergies to soy and fish,” the agency said Monday.
“Because sesame is not recognized as a major allergen, right now it’s not required to be declared as an allergen on food labels,” Gottlieb said. “In fact, it may not always be specifically listed in the ingredient statement.”
There are about 300,000 people in the U.S. with a sesame seed allergies, just slightly below the number who have allergies to soybean or fish, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group that petitioned the FDA to add sesame seeds to warning labels in 2014.
The European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada already list sesame as a major allergen that requires food labeling, according to a 2017 NIH study.
Gottlieb said that some spices could contain small amounts of sesame seed and the consumer may not know it. Gottlieb also gave the example of tahini sauce, which is made up of crushed sesame seeds.
“Fear of not knowing whether a food contains sesame may lead some people to unnecessarily limit their diets to avoid possible exposure,” Gottlieb added.
So the agency has opened up a request for information seeking comments from experts, industry and advocates. Gottlieb didn’t say what the next step would be.