With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life allergen-free.


06 November 2008

Is FDA's List of Top Food Allergens Complete?

A fellow member of Food Allergy Support suggested that I write a post about including sesame in the list of the Food and Drug Administration's top food allergens.  FDA's current list of 8 includes "milk, eggs, fish (e.g. bass, flounder, cod), crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp), tree nuts (e.g. walnuts, almonds, pecans), peanuts, wheat and soybeans."

Sesame allergy is growing in the U.S.--Allergic Child mentions that it is considered by some to be the 9th most common allergen in the U.S. A 2005 article on CTV.com entitled Sesame allergy becoming more common: study noted that "sesame seed allergy seems to be following in the footsteps of peanut allergy." Some speculate sesame allergy is on the rise in the U.S. due to the increased "internationalization" of the American diet. I do not have to look too far to see evidence of the popularity of sesame--my school age son takes pita and hummus--which contains tahini (sesame paste)--to school for lunch about once a week.  I had never even heard of hummus thirty years ago, and the only place I was aware of sesame seeds was on hamburger buns. That is certainly not the case today. It often is a "hidden ingredient" used in many processed and packaged foods. It is present in many Asian foods and is also in a number of non-food items such as cosmetics. Sesame is in so many foods, is not clearly labeled, and is not recognized by many food manufacturers. What to do?

A quick look at other similar countries' allergen labeling standards reveals that sesame is included in their lists of common allergens.
  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency lists 9 top allergens including "peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, seafood (fish, crustaceans and shellfish), soy, wheat, and sulphites (a food additive)." (emphasis added)  
  • The Foods Standards Agency in the United Kingdom lists "gluten, crustaceans, molluscs, eggs, fish, peanuts, nuts, soybeans, milk, celery, mustard, sesame, lupin and sulphur dioxide at levels above 10mg/kg, or 10 mg/litre, expressed as SO2." (emphasis added) 
  • Food Standards Australia New Zealand's list includes peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, finned fish, milk, eggs, sesame, soybean, and wheat. (emphasis added)
  • The European Commission guidelines require that the following allergens be labeled: "Cereals containing gluten and products thereof, Crustaceans and products thereof, Eggs and products thereof, Fish and products thereof, Peanuts and products thereof, Soybeans and products thereof, Milk and dairy products (including lactose), Nuts and nut products, Celery and products thereof, Mustard and products thereof, Sesame seeds and products thereof, and Sulphur dioxide and sulphites at concentrations of more than 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/l expressed as SO2." (emphasis added)
If you are unfamiliar with sesame allergy, some basic facts and frequently asked questions are available on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's page on Sesame Allergy. There is also an excellent brochure from the Government of Canada about sesame allergy, possible sources of sesame seeds, non-food sources of sesame seeds, and other names for sesame seeds.

The FDA will continue to accept comments on advisory labeling statements until January 15, 2009. This is an opportunity to voice your opinion about requiring clear labeling for sesame and expanding the list of common allergens to include sesame. If you haven't already done so, please consider sending in your comments to the FDA. Submit comments electronically at 
http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=DocumentDetail&o=09000064806b7555. Just click on the little yellow bubble that says "add a comment".  It may be helpful if you refer to Docket No. FDA-2008-N-0429.

One individual in particular motivated me to write this post. She's a member of two wonderful discussion groups/forums I frequent: Food Allergy Support and Kids with Food Allergies. She also provided a number of links to articles and websites about sesame allergy, most of which I've now read, and some of which I link to in this post. Without all of her efforts, it would have taken me far longer to get up to speed on sesame allergy. I've barely scratched the surface in this post, but hopefully I've persuaded a few of you to support requiring labeling for sesame along with the other common food allergens as defined by FDA. Whether or not you agree that sesame should be included in FDA's list of common allergens, one thing is certain: this opportunity to submit comments to the FDA regarding labeling is not to be missed by those of us in the food allergy community! This is your chance--make yourself heard!  

Feel free to comment here too! Do you agree sesame labeling should be required along with the other 8 common allergens? Do you think there are others that should be? What do you think?
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