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Sesame to join other allergens on food labels

A woman wearing a face mask looks at a package label in a grocery store.

May 4, 2021—Are you living with a sesame allergy? Thanks to a new U.S. law, in less than two years, you may find it easier to find out which foods and products to avoid. That's something you need to know to stay safer.

The FASTER Act, signed into law April 23, adds sesame to the list of food allergens that must be listed on food labels starting in January 2023.

Why does that matter?

In the U.S., a growing number of people are allergic to sesame, which is now the ninth most common food allergy, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). (Other common culprits include milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.)

Some people with a sesame allergy can have mild symptoms, like hives, if they eat sesame. But sesame can also cause a serious allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening without immediate treatment.

Where's the sesame?

People with a sesame allergy need to read food labels carefully to avoid it. But right now, that's not as easy as it sounds. Sesame seeds, oils and pastes can be found in a lot of different foods—including Asian cuisine, bagels, buns, breadsticks, soups, veggie burgers and more, according to experts. Sometimes the sesame in these foods is obvious—for instance, on sesame seed buns. But sometimes it goes by other names, like tahini. And sometimes a food label will only refer to sesame as natural flavorings.

The FASTER Act should help clear up things. But until then, you can use these tips to help you look out for sesame in foods and other products:

Watch for these ingredients. According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), people with a sesame allergy should avoid:

  • Benne, benne seed, benniseed.
  • Gingelly, gingelly oil.
  • Gomasio (sesame salt).
  • Halvah.
  • Sesame flour.
  • Sesame oil.
  • Sesame paste.
  • Sesame salt.
  • Sesame seed.
  • Sesamol.
  • Sesamum indicum.
  • Sesemolina.
  • Sim sim.
  • Tahina, tahini and tehina.
  • Til.

Carefully consider spices. Some spice blends or flavorings may contain sesame, but it might not be listed as an ingredient. If you are unsure, you can try calling the manufacturer.

Don't overlook surprising places. Sesame can appear in some protein bars and processed meats, according to FARE. It can even appear in cosmetics, medications, supplements and pet foods.

Ask the chef. Before eating food that you did not prepare, you should find out if it contains sesame. Make this a habit at restaurants, delis and whenever you're someone's dinner guest.

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