Sesame allergies: Lack of clear labeling linked to higher occurrence of reactions

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: GettyImages / Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd
Photo Credit: GettyImages / Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd

Related tags: sesame allergy

Despite being a major food allergen, more than half of products containing sesame fail to identify the allergen on the label, leading to a higher likelihood of allergic reactions, argue the authors of a recent study.

According to the study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology​, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), more than 56% of products that contained sesame did not declare the allergen on the label. 

FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) estimates that 1.5 million people in the US are allergic to sesame.

Last April, President Biden signed in to a law a bill adding sesame to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), joining peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, dairy, eggs, and wheat as major food allergen.

Under the law, all food and beverages containing sesame must be clearly labeled by Jan. 1, 2023.

While food manufacturers have one year to comply, researchers in the recent study found that more than half (56%) of products which contained sesame did not declare sesame on the label and the swifter allergen labeling is needed to avoid adverse events of allergic reactions.

"Sesame is the ninth most common childhood food allergy in the US, yet many people don't recognize it on food labels, or it's missing entirely,"​ said allergist Katie Kennedy, MD, ACAAI member and senior author on the paper.

"What we discovered in our study was that amongst those who reported events related to accidental ingestion of sesame, many reported they didn't know that words such as 'tahini' meant sesame. Because the word 'sesame' is often not used on labels, accidents happen at a greater rate," ​argued Dr. Kennedy.

Lack of labeling and allergic reactions

To draw a link between the absence of labeling or consumer confusion over labeling, the study examined 379 self-reported events related to sesame involving 327 individuals with 360 distinct adverse clinical reactions. Most of the reports (85%) were from parents providing information on events with their children.

"About 48% of the allergic reactions required hospitalizations or an emergency room visit,"​ said allergist Kim Nguyen, MD, ACAAI member and co-author of the paper, adding that most of the events (63%) occurred at home; about 11% of events occurred at a restaurant, 5% at a friend's house and 4% of events occurred at school with the most common reason for reporting an event  was the  accidental ingestion of sesame which researchers linked to unclear labeling of the allergen.

"Some of the reports were due to products declared as containing 'spices' or 'natural flavors' and required consumers to call the company or manufacturer to clarify the ingredients," ​said Dr. Kennedy. 

In one case, one of the reported events occurred in a child with a known sesame allergy, and she had eaten meatloaf made with breadcrumbs. The parents later learned that the "spices" labeled on the breadcrumbs contained sesame, added Dr. Kennedy.

Researchers urged that clear and specific product labeling is crucial for the prevention of adverse allergic reactions including anaphylaxis. 

"Our findings support development of a swifter process for the FDA to update the major allergen list as well as formulation of an improved system for reporting adverse events related to foods,"​ concluded researchers.

Source: Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

Adverse Events and Labeling Issues Related to Suspected Sesame Allergy Reported in an Online Survey.

DOI: 10.1016/j.anai.2021.12.005

Authors: Kim Nguyen, Eva Greenthal, Sarah Sorscher, Peter Lurie, Jonathan M. Spergel, Katie Kennedy

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