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.

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?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the article and link. I have 1 child w/ a peanut allergy- and my youngest- only 3 has a sesame allergy.

Many people think it is 'easier' to watch for peanut- not at all! Crackers, bagels, breads, pizza crusts, spices in foods, asian foods, we even found Sesame oil in Candy corn last week!

My husband has brought home MANY a marinade, or frozen spiced vegetables or other such item that he has 'scanned the label' and found safe- only for me to further scrutinize and realize has sesame.

If studies show the allergy is on the rise and mimicking the peanut allergy- we should be proactive- it could save someones life!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely! My son has a sesame allergy, and I believe that because of limited awareness, it is currently far more difficult to prevent exposure to a sesame allergy than a peanut allergy. Not only is it in most breads and chips (or breads and chips are processed in plants that use sesame), but it is often a nearly hidden ingredient in foods, used as a spice. Please help parents and children with this allergy avoid exposure.

Anonymous said...

Sesame Seed allergies are so scary! My 16 year old son was given sesame seeds on a burger that we were told was sesame free. We were on vacation in Universal Studios at the time. His throat swelled and he was critically ill for 3 days. The events have left him diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. It has been 5 months and we are still trying to recover. He has had to be put on 2 medications to help control the panic attacks - yet they still get through. My son was the most outgoing (bungee jumping, professional acting, class secretary etc.) and now is is the most cautious person. He will not eat anywhere but home and even that is difficult because labels to not need to list for sesame seed. We have found out from companie that sometimes "spices" or "flavorings" have had ground up sesame and sesame oil in them. This makes him so scared. Initially after the anaphylactic accident, it was hard to get him to eat at all. Now knowing that even reading labels doesn't make him safe, he is afraid all the time. He's afraid about how he will do at a college, and he can't even go on his senior class trip because there is no way to have complete control over what he is eating when he is on a school trip in a hotel. Please, please help us get the FDA to include sesame seeds as one of the MUST label for!

Unknown said...

A reader anonymously submitted a lengthy comment to this post--too long to fit--so I am cutting and pasting a portion of it here.

"Theory: Vaccinations are the primary cause of food allergies. Infant formula, infant vitamins, and antibiotics that contain peanut products directly or indirectly may be secondary causes.

BACKGROUND: This study began as a "wild idea" that vaccinations or medicine could be causing peanut allergy. It soon turned into a horrible realization. A very small amount of food proteins from many sources are considered inert ingredients that fall under trade secret protection and are not on the vaccine inserts. Various studies have shown that injecting an animal with protein is one method of inducing an allergy. Every study done of food allergy that could be located does not disprove this theory. There was a study done on Indonesian and Thai children that has been frequently quoted as saying that there are no peanut allergies in Thailand or Singapore in spite of the high consumption of peanuts. Evidence was presented that Singapore has a major problem with peanut allergy. The study itself says that many children reacted to peanuts in a skin prick test and that it eliminated a number of children from the study. The "hygiene theory" was examined and found to have no merit. Evidence of a long list of food protein that can be used in vaccine production has been found in various patents on-line. The increased childhood vaccination schedule coincides with the increase in food allergies in industrialized nations. The lower incidence of food allergies in less industrialized nations also coincides with a lower vaccination rate. The lower incidence of food allergies in the Hispanic population of the United States also coincides with a lower vaccination rate. The evidence of food allergy in animals has only been found in vaccinated animals. Evidence of ingredients that can be one of the patented adjuvants with various food oils has been presented. Evidence that "pharmacy grade" peanut oil still contains peanut protein has been presented. Package inserts have been examined and found to have ingredients that do not disclose its actual composition. EVERY SINGLE FOOD ALLERGY THAT I HAVE FOUND, I HAVE ALSO FOUND THAT FOOD LISTED AS AN INGREDIENT IN A VACCINE OR MEDICAL PRODUCT."

To read the entire comment, please visit http://barbfeick.com/vaccinations/Side%20effects/allergy/vaccine_allergy.htm

Anonymous said...

I think the main problems with manufacturer food labels are …
1) the food manufacturers do not disclose the full ingredient list (how many of you out there get tired of reading “spices” in an ingredient list???). And they are not required by law in the U.S. to do so unless the ingredient is more than a certain percentage of the content of the food. This supposedly protects their trademark. Whatever.
2) the disintegration of interest in quality food ingredients in packaged foods. I often wonder if all the additives from all the different suppliers leaves food formulaters scratching their heads -- they don't know what is in their food either! How many of us have read on a label, “contains soybean oil and/or canola oil and/or sunflower oil” simply because the company is not sure which oil they will have the cheapest access to at the time of production? Makes someone with a soybean allergy play Russian roulette, or not play at all.
3) Cross-contamination. Too many big companies producing too high of a volume of food with the littlest cost possible = all types of contamination, not only of allergens but also dangerous bacterias.
I have multiple food allergies and pretty much stick to one-ingredient whole foods without a problem. If I eat any packaged foods or condiments too often, I will have a reaction despite what the labels say and how extremely careful I am. Until food manufacturers totally clean up their act (which probably won’t happen), I’m not buying it.

Camom said...

I am new to this blog and I hope that my comment will be posted. I too agree that the list of Major Allergens for the USA should be expanded to reflect the true serious allergens. (Mustard being the one that caused anaphalaxis for my 5 yr old two yrs ago) It is a severe allergen because like peanut and other nuts it does not alter with heat or processing, and it is used as a "spice" and therefore has some kind of special priority as a secret ingredient if you will. It is high time that this rule is brought up to date . If 26+ other civil countries can list it U.K. Ire Eng France Germany all of Europe and Now Canada Isn't time for United States to be allowed to list it as it is such a serious problem for those afflicted? (Due to the nature of the swiftness of the reaction( in our case way faster and more detrimental than the contact with peanut . Our daughter was saved by my using the epi jr ( for the first time in my life) The epi jr (made for younger children was a lifesaver. We thought it was a peanut reaction though there was no peanut products in my home and hadn't been any for 2 yrs. Like many i had never heard of a mustard allergy and the amount was so tiny that caused (it was not even eaten just touched the tongue accidently0 My daughter had to be rushed to the ER after I used the epi and she was on medicine for a week . It was very frightening for all. I can feel for the other parents on this blog. Sesame and mustard should be included. We should be on the same page as the rest of the civilized world(all tests were done in order for those countries to list) we don't need more tests to prove anything. Prevention is key to avoid the for eg mustard in our case How can it be properly avoided if the word is not labeled or acknowledged in our surrounding communities and our country. All the packages have to be labeled anyway to be exported to the 27 countries or so that require this new law so why not do it right for us?

Thanks and best of luck for health for all

Unknown said...

It's not allergy-related, but I'd love it if they would label food that isn't vegetarian.

Anonymous said...

The latest reports Oct. 1 2009 show that Canada is going to label mustard as a Major Allergen . Health Canada has a 14 page document on the site giving the reasons why they are joining the rest of the civilized countries (ENg Ire 26+ EU countries) in labeling the mustard. Just a couple of reasons basically were that the mustard is not altered with processing (either by heat or by the digestive enzymes in the human body) another words it is heat stable as is peanut. It is a severe allergen that 350 publications were reviewed on this and 42 approx were chosen to decide the outcome of whether or not they would include it. It is pretty amazing that this country has yet to take a similar stand considering the facts presented by these neighboring countries and their excellent research. It isn't rocket science . I hope that the sesame and the mustard are labeled for the USA population sooner rather than later.. as it may save a lot of parents and people in general anguish. Our daughter had a severe brush with a minute amount of mustard 3 yrs ago at age 3 and it still is not being labeled though we were not alone with this problem. If anyone can write to the Congress it may help.. alot of innocent people. It is absurd that a severe allergen is not being labeled when all the other civil countries are doing so. It is not even labeled period in most cases as an ingredient at all (except for eg Kraft Co. seems to voluntarily label) but the majority of USA companies don't label because they don't have to..except for exportation purposes I imagine. Maybe in time this will change so that this country can be on the same page as the rest in food safety re this allergen ..I just hope that it is sooner for the degree of difficulty trying to avoid such a lethal and hidden allergen is quite a task that could be made so much simpler if the labels and education would appear.

Anonymous said...

Sesame labeling still appears to be on the back burner but getting more attention. See the paper below... not sure if it will do any good, but at least someone is paying attention.

Need for Sesame Labeling

Anonymous said...

I agree, the list isn't complete yet. I have a gluten allergy myself and 'wheat' alone isnt enought to tell me it's Gluten Free. They should either add 'gluten' to the list or be required to stamp 'gluten free'. I am sure sesame isn't the only allergy overlooked either.