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August Cartoon: Sesame, the New Major Food Allergen
Sesame new major food allergen cartoon

Many are familiar with eight major food allergens already identified by the FDA: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. In April 2021, the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act was signed into law. This new law declares a ninth major allergen: sesame. It will become effective on January 1, 2023. After that date, sesame will need to be declared on labels and recognized as a major food allergen. While this law is new to the United States, sesame has already been declared a major food allergen by many other countries, like ones in Europe.

Why is sesame now considered an allergen?

In the United States, 0.23% of the population has an allergy to sesame. This means that 1 in every 435 individuals are allergic to this food alone. Also, about 1.1 million adults and children have reactions to sesame. The other eight major food allergens identified by the FDA make up about 90% of allergic reactions.

Allergic reactions can range from very mild to severe and life threatening. Some mild symptoms can include upset or nauseous stomach, few hives or itchy skin rash, or runny nose and sneezing. Most of these symptoms can be relieved by taking antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine, which should be administered according to a physician’s directions.

In more severe reactions, symptoms can include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, severe vomiting or diarrhea, swelling of lips or tongue, or wide-spread hives or rash. In these cases, an epinephrine injection is likely needed. If you see a customer having this kind of reaction, alert your manager immediately and call 911.

Sometimes it can be more difficult to know if children are experiencing an allergic reaction because they don’t know how to communicate that something is wrong. They may say things like:

  • My tongue is hot, itchy, or heavy
  • There’s bumps or hair on my tongue
  • My throat feels thick
  • There’s something stuck in my throat
  • My mouth feels funny

Pay attention and take the right steps to ensure the reaction does not worsen. Typically, a parent or guardian may have the proper medication to give the child and can administer it as directed by their doctor. If the reaction worsens or the child goes into anaphylactic shock, notify your manager and contact emergency services immediately.

What foods contain sesame?

While it seems easy to identify, sesame can hide in many foods and ingredients. Because allergic reactions usually occur because of a protein in the food, refined oils are not required to be labeled as an allergen. Sesame oil, for example, is a refined oil and is often used in Asian cuisine and products. It should still, however, be included in the ingredient list.

When you are checking food labels, always check the ingredient list and any allergen statements, like “Contains..." or “Made on the same equipment as..." Let your customer know about these statements so they can make an informed decision about if the food is safe for them to eat.

In addition, ingredients and spices that are made from sesame such as tahini, sesamol, and gomasio (also known as Japanese sesame salt) must be listed as having their common allergen. They can be labeled in a few different ways. They can have the ingredient name with “sesame" in parentheses, like “tahini (sesame)" or have a “contains sesame" allergen statement. While it is not required for manufacturers to list any allergens in the facility, many do so to ensure the risk of cross-contact is known.

How can I prevent cross-contact?

Cross-contact occurs when an allergen or allergen-containing food contaminates a non-allergen food. Because allergens are different than bacteria or other hazards, they cannot be cooked out or removed from food. When preparing an allergen-free meal, use clean and sanitized utensils, equipment, and workstation. In addition, ensure that the food you are using has not touched the allergen you are avoiding. The server or food worker should also wash their hands and serve the allergen-free dish first to ensure that cross-contact does not occur. Help your customers find options that they can eat with the equipment you can use.

If you cannot accommodate their allergy, be kind and honest with your customer.

Keeping these things in mind can help keep your customers safe. For more in-depth training on allergens or other food safety topics, visit StateFoodSafety.com.

— Janilyn Hutchings

Download/print cartoon: Sesame, the New Major Food Allergen

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