The inquest into 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse’s death highlights the growing incidence of sesame reactivity, and has given a renewed sense of urgency to the lobby to have sesame added to the list of top allergens in the United States.
The tiny seed is already on the priority allergen lists in Europe, Canada and Australia. Adding that status in the U.S. would mean it could no longer be hidden ingredient in packaged foods or disguised by catchall phrases like “natural flavors”.
Push for Sesame as a U.S. Top Allergen
Allergy nonprofits FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) and AAFA (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America) are urging the passage of the proposed Food Labeling Modernization Act. If passed, it would finally make sesame the ninth regulated U.S. top allergen, so that it must be declared on food packages.
In August 2018, AAFA met with the director of the office of nutrition and food labeling at the FDA to emphasize its support for adding sesame as the ninth top allergen.
Numbers on Sesame Allergy
In a 2018 report about sesame allergen labeling titled Seeds of Change, the food safety group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) cited a survey of more than 50,000 U.S. households.
The survey, conducted by pediatrician Dr. Ruchi Gupta and a team at Northwestern University, ranks sesame as the ninth most prevalent allergen after the eight most commonly diagnosed food allergens. The CSPI report also says more than 300,000 Americans live with a sesame allergy.
Sesame’s inclusion in a food often isn’t obvious. Manufacturers may simply list sesame as a spice, natural flavor, tahini, benne and other names, Jen Jobrack, FARE’s vice president of education, advocacy and strategic alliances, points out.
In the absence of clear labeling, those with a sesame allergy are encouraged to contact food manufacturers when any product ingredients are unclear.
In the bigger picture, “food allergy is a growing public health issue,” notes Jobrack, who says labeling is one of the most frequent topics that FARE hears about from the food allergy community. Often there are parents having to phone a customer service line, looking for allergen clarification from a manufacturer. “The more transparent and communicative a company can be about its ingredients, the better off everyone is,” she says.
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