Most everyone is aware of milk, wheat and peanut allergies, but sesame? About 1.5 million Americans may be allergic to sesame, some of the 32 million Americans who suffer from potentially deadly food allergies overall.
Sesame seeds are used in everything from hamburger buns and bagels to oils and sauces. They contain healthy fats, protein, calcium, antioxidants and dietary fiber, and often are hidden on food labels as “natural flavors” or “natural spices.”
But they also can be deadly.
Court documents claim an Australian man died in October 2017 after consuming hummus at a Wollongong restaurant after telling the staff he was allergic to a variety of foods, including sesame, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. (March 17) reported. Nathan Anderson was served hummus, which is made with sesame paste. The restaurant pleaded guilty to serving food it had not ensured was safe.
Food allergies develop when the body’s immune system mistakenly treats food proteins as a threat. The most common allergies are to milk, soy, wheat, shellfish and peanuts, but other foods can trigger allergic reactions as well.
Denise Woodard, CEO of Partake Foods, went into the allergen-free-food business after her 1-year-old daughter had a severe reaction to a snack that contained corn and peanuts. She told The Food Institute podcast (Feb. 8) she really hadn’t thought that much about food allergies until then but soon came to realize the allergen-free snack foods out there “just weren’t very good.”
She started Partake Foods by selling cookies out of the trunk of her car and now her products are carried by 6,000 stores.
A KEY STEP
President Biden on Friday signed into law the FASTER Act, a new measure that designates sesame as the ninth major food allergy and ramps up allergy research, as noted by The Washington Post (April 23). The acronym stands for Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research. The act requires sesame to be listed on food labels; manufacturers have until 2023 to comply.
“No longer will I have to live in fear that my children could accidentally eat something that would kill them simply because it was not included on a food label,” food allergy advocate Talia Day, who has two children allergic to sesame, said in a statement issued ahead of the FASTER Act’s expected passage.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest began asking the Food and Drug Administration to require sesame labeling in 2014.
“Our advocacy has been grounded in emerging science demonstrating that the prevalence and severity of sesame allergy warranted labeling protections,” CSPI President Peter G. Lurie said in a statement (April 15). “Eight years is too long to have waited for basic disclosures for an allergen that affects more than a million Americans, frequently causing severe and even life-threatening reactions,” Lurie continued.
A spokeswoman for CSPI told The Food Institute in an email the group has yet to come up with a reliable method of estimating how many lives the new labeling will save.
“This life-changing legislation expands public health knowledge of all food allergies and makes food labels safer for people with sesame allergy,” Jenna Riemenschneider, director of advocacy for Allergy Foundation of America, said in a statement (April 14).