The Big 9 Food Allergens

The U.S. has made progress in food safety issues by adding sesame to its former “Big 8” list of food allergens and, most notably, by broadening and supporting allergen prevention, treatment, and cures, food industry experts said.

The 2021 Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act required the FDA to add sesame as the ninth on its list of food allergens. Sesame will be subject to the same labeling regulations as the other eight major food allergens.

Updated sesame labeling must be in place by Jan. 1, 2023.

Even more significant, however, are other measures heralded by the FASTER Act. The FASTER Act makes only a minor change in adding sesame as a major food allergen, but it signals the government’s intention to closely examine allergen restrictions and widen their scope, Food Safety Magazine reported.

The FASTER Act increases awareness of and transparency about food allergens and has the potential to decrease accidental exposure to sesame for those who are allergic. It supports food allergy research in the U.S. to deeply scrutinize prevention, treatment and cures for all food allergens, Forbes reported.

How The FASTER Act Changes Sesame Allergen Labeling

“Importantly, the FASTER Act … requires an increase in the surveillance and collection of data on food allergies and severity of allergic reactions for specific food ingredients. More attention to food allergy-diagnostics development, food allergy-prevention efforts, and development of new interventions to treat and cure food allergies are also part of the FASTER Act,” said Heather Moday, M.D., an integrative and functional medicine physician with Moday Center, South Portland, Maine.

Impact on Manufacturers

The addition of sesame or any other ingredient to the major food allergen list will not present much of a logistical challenge for most manufacturers; it mainly would involve modifying labels to include sesame, Food Safety Magazine reported. Currently, sesame can appear in undeclared ingredients such as flavors or spice blends. Food manufacturers can meet the legislation’s new requirements by, for example, specifying on its labels: “contains sesame,” printed immediately after or next to the list of ingredients.

Manufacturers should, however, closely track governmental reports that are likely to suggest additional changes to food allergen laws in order to stay aware of developments in this rapidly changing area of the law, FSM noted.

Restaurants’ Challenges

Restaurant brands must now update allergen charts on their menus to include sesame. They should have allergen policies checked by experts in the field and ask for help in clearing up questions about the policies; should heighten the brands’ expectations of disclosure from providers and distributors; should use the services of a consulting company to complete the project; and should plan for accredited allergy training, said

The FDA recommends voluntarily listing sesame in advance of its Jan. 1, 2023 mandatory disclosure date. The FDA suggests manufacturers declare “sesame” in the ingredient list when it is used in foods as a “flavor” or “spice” in a parenthetical following the spice or flavor, such as, “spice (sesame),” “spices (including sesame),” “flavor (sesame)” or “flavors (including sesame).” If a term is used for a food that is or contains sesame, such as tahini, the FDA recommends that sesame be divulged parenthetically in the list of ingredients, for example, “tahini (sesame),” reported the Michigan State University Institute for Food Laws and Regulations.

Approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. are allergic to sesame—even one or two sesame seeds can cause a reaction. Symptoms include itching, hives, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, wheezing and abdominal pain, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis, reported

The other allergens listed on the former Big 8 food allergens are noted below:

  • Milk: Milk accounts for the highest occurrence of food allergy in infancy but is outgrown in up to 90 percent of cases by age 6, according to FARRP.
  • Eggs: Respiratory, digestive system, and anaphylactic reactions after eating egg proteins have been reported, but mostly in children under age 6.  Most of the problematic proteins are in the egg white.
  • Fish: Common symptoms of fish allergy include skin and gastrointestinal reactions. The major fish allergen, parvalbumin, cannot be neutralized by heating.
  • Crustacean Shellfish: Allergy to crustacean shellfish (like shrimp, and lobster) and to molluscan shellfish seems mostly to affect older children and adults. Gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms are typical.
  • Tree Nuts: People allergic to tree nuts must strictly avoid nuts because even a very small amount can trigger severe allergic reactions. Many different types of tree nut allergens trigger allergies.
  • Peanuts: Peanut allergies are the most common food allergies in children (up to 2.5% of children have them). Peanuts are particularly dangerous for allergic individuals due to the low amount needed to provoke a reaction and the high frequency of fatal reactions.
  • Wheat: Wheat and other cereals can cause allergic reactions, mostly in infants, but usually resolve within their first few years. Individuals who have celiac disease are gut-sensitive to gluten.
  • Soybean: Allergic consumers find soybean difficult to avoid because, like glutenous flours, it is used extensively in processed foods.