Sesame Is Now a Major Food Allergen, According to the FDA: What to Know

In January 2023, the FDA released a statement that sesame is now considered a major food allergen—here’s what this new categorization means for you.

Spoonful of sesame seeds on red photo treatment

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The new year didn’t just usher in a slew of resolutions, but also a novel allergen warning on labels. As of January, sesame is now recognized by the FDA as a major food allergen, joining a list of eight other allergens that includes milk, eggs, soybeans, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, crustacean shellfish, and fish.

This means that manufacturers of foods containing sesame will have to declare this allergen on labels. There is a caveat, though: This applies to foods produced only after January 1, 2023, which means existing sesame-containing foods produced before this date don’t need to be removed from store shelves, says David Morris, MD, chief of allergy and immunology at DaytonChildren’s Hospital in Ohio.

The rationale for updating labeling of this allergen? Simple: More Americans are being diagnosed with sesame allergies.

“Sesame allergy is growing at a faster rate in the United States than other food allergies,” says Duyen Nguyen, DO, allergist at Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas.

Many experts believe this is being driven by the increased prevalence of international cuisine in the American diet. An estimated .2 percent of children and adults in the United States are allergic to sesame, which Nguyen says approaches the prevalence rates of well-known allergens like soy and pistachio.

While sesame allergy can occur at any age, a 2019 study from Jama Network Open indicates that the median age of diagnosis is 3.5 years old for children, Morris says. The same study also found that one in four individuals with sesame allergy developed it as an adult, and sesame allergy sufferers were more likely to suffer from allergic diseases like asthma and eczema.

Avoiding Sesame

Symptoms of a sesame allergy can range from mild to life-threatening, Nguyen says. Mild symptoms include an itchy skin rash, while tongue or lip swelling, difficulty breathing, wheezing, diarrhea and decreased blood pressure are the life-threatening ones. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult with an allergist to find out if you have a sesame allergy, something that can be determined through a skin or blood test or even a food challenge where you eat food with an allergist present.

Avoiding this allergen starts by educating yourself about sesame-containing foods. Sesame is most commonly found in baked goods like breads, dressings, and sauces (particularly those fromAsian and Middle Eastern cuisine), and hummus. There are also ingredients that may contain sesame, even though they don’t sound like it.

“Sesame isn’t always listed and may appear on food labels as other names, even as vague descriptions,” Nguyen says. These other names for sesame include benne, benne seed, benniseed, gingilly, gingilly oil, sesamol, sesamolina, sesamum indicum, sim, tahini, til, vegetable oil, natural flavoring, spice, and seasoning.

And while labels may not always tell the full story, reading them is a critical step you shouldn’t miss, especially because until they’re phased out completely, there will be sesame-containing foods without the warning on store shelves, Morris says. Don’t only read the label at the store:Do it again when you’re putting the food away at home and right before eating it.

“This should help prevent accidental ingestion of your food allergen,” he says.

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  1. Warren CM, Chadha AS, Sicherer SH, Jiang J, Gupta RS. Prevalence and Severity of Sesame Allergy in the United States. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(8):e199144. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.9144

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